We’re Just Back From Happygate

…. and had a great time. We (Kathryn & myself) called down to Valley Gardens this morning to see our good friends Stewart and Karen perform (independently of each other) at the first ever Happygate. I was knackered from a night of ill thought out scheming but the weather was mainly dry but for one or two showers.

Run by a committee of volunteers with any profits going to local community groups and charities, this all-day event is packed with events and is open to all. It is the first of, hopefully, many, festivals to grace Harrogate’s Valley Gardens. Why would Harrogate need another festival I hear you ask? Well, because this was geared towards showcasing the local talent that Harrogate has in abundance. Harrogate’s arty jewels were bought out and polished and – they did indeed – shine brightly.

There was everything from acoustic songwriters and covers to gabba – it was excellent.

I got there just before my mate Stewart (DJ Scooby) started his Big Band set – to paraphrase the compare, DJ Trev, there was nothing more British than hearing a man with an impenetrable accent (Stewart) play Big Band, Swing, Speak Easy & Trad Jazz on a Sunday Morning in the confines of a public park that is located in a Spa town whilst we sat near a pencil-stick sign post. The highlight of Stewart’s set was Teddy Bear’s Picnic – of which I never tire of.

Then, a couple of acts later it was Karen and a Bellydance troupe she performs as part of. The belly dance troupe she performs as part of is called Houriat – please take your time to check them out as they were fantastic. There were Isis Wings, Shimmys and Bum Wiggles (?) and it was the biggest crowd I saw at HMS Thunderchild (the second stage at Happygate) that morning. I managed to get a few photos of the crowd and my mates so will post them on the bottom of this post.

We stuck around for Rory Hoy’s set. Rory Hoy has a very bright future in front of him – Why do I say future? Well, the man looks to be in his twenties and he is already getting gigs supporting the likes of Craig Charles, he is mates with Fatboy Slim and his music is incredible! His DJing puts all other contenders in the shade (as they will admit) and yet he is so down to earth and approachable! I really wish the best for the man in all of his coming work and it is great to have been there at the ground floor for his career.

Then, we all headed to Major Tom’s to take the weight of our feet (beer) and we felt thoroughly relaxed. A funny occurred when Andy Foster spilt beer all over his lap and it looked like he had a misfiring. Pizzas were ordered and the mickey was taken. Good times.

Me and Kathryn headed up to our place for Kat’s Famous Home Made Sweet & Sour Chicken. I don’t know how she does it but by combining Lemon Juice & Ketchup she makes something amazing!

Kathryn has just headed back out to catch a few more bands but I have elected to stay indoors tonight – I woke at 00:30 so I am pretty partied out.

Happygate’s main aims were: to promote the vibrancy of the town, encourage community cohesion, showcase the fantastic artistic and musical talent in Harrogate, support local businesses and donate to local good causes. This all-day celebration of everything local will be raising funds for Fighting Ependymoma, Craft Aid International, a Harrogate-based charity run by Susie Hart MBE, and Harrogate Homeless Project. The organisers of Happygate, the first-ever grassroots arts and music to be held in Harrogate’s Valley Gardens, say they aim to make this new event truly inclusive. I believe they managed all of the above and more power to them. I wish them every success for Happygate 2017.

A Review Of The Unthanks In Harrogate

So, where does someone (me) start when reviewing a band that they do not know much about? Well, this is a review of The Unthanks in Harrogate. There are far more qualified people who could lay claim to being an authority on the matter – Indeed, I know very little about the scene they come from. However, they have a new fan out of me.

There are no easy one-liners to capture who or what The Unthanks are. You might find them singing in a Tyneside folk club one night, and playing to 2000 Londoners the next, having performed to a primary school in the afternoon. You might find them collaborating with Adrian Utley (Portishead) one moment, and writing the score to an archive film about shipyards the next. Or visiting Africa with Damon Albarn, Flea and Joan As Policewoman and then presenting a TV programme for BBC4 about traditional dance. Rubbing shoulders with Robert Plant, Adele, Elbow and Radiohead at the Mercurys, or in a bunkhouse on the coastline of Northumberland cooking for 50 fans on one of their residential singing weekends. Running singing sessions in the back of a pub on a Monday before heading off to tour America or Australia on the Tuesday. Signing licensing deals with EMI while continuing to record vocals in broom cupboards under the stairs. Spending 9-5 managing their own careers without agents or labels, and heading down the studio in the evening to write scores for a project with a symphony orchestra. Collaborating with Orbital while championing songs from the folk club floor singers of the North East and re-presenting them to anyone who wants to listen. You’ll find them played by the folk show on BBC Radio 2, but equally by cutting edge BBC6 Music, Radio 3 and Radio 1 DJs. You might find them on the cover of a folk magazine like fRoots or in the pages of NME. Definable only by their restless eccentricity, there are no easy one-liners to capture who or what The Unthanks are, or much point in guessing what they’ll do next.*

So where do I start reviewing such a stellar band? Well, I will approach them as someone who’s hometown they played. I will approach this review as a gobsmacked audience member who witnessed a spectacle. I will approach this review as a new fan.

I was one of the younger audience members. Most were grey of hair (lots of beards) but very welcoming. I snuck in to my seat quite late, just before the gig started, and managed to strike up a conversation with the chap next to me (he started it). There was no support act for the evening – on walked the band. The band comprise of  a core, creative five – Rachel and Becky Unthank (real names), Adrian McNally as writer, producer and pianist, Chris Price on guitars and bass, and Niopha Keegan on fiddle. Price grew up on the same street as McNally in a mining village near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, while Keegan was born to Irish parents and grew up in St Albans on the London Irish scene. This five are The Unthanks, yet since 2009, only twice have they toured as a five. More commonly, they have toured as 10 piece, adding drums, a string quartet and trumpet to their ranks in order to bring their expansive album arrangements to the stage in the full glory. So pictures of the five of them give a misleading impression of what to expect live, and so frequently they keep it simpler by just having Rachel and Becky Unthank in press shots. But that creates a bit of a lie, because the musical director and creative nucleus of the band is McNally, but a shot of the trio would deny Chris and Niopha, while a shot of the 5 of them denies their physical reality as a 10 piece on stage, which can’t be photographed with any meaning because the add-on 5 are composed of session musicians who are rarely the same twice, even though a few have become valued regulars. It is just another respect in which The Unthanks are hard to label or pin down, and why they’re unlikely to win any band or duo awards because no one knows what they are!

I was first introduced to The Unthanks by Scooby on the Sound Of Wonder Radio Show – he really rates them & I have tracked down their album Mount The Air** off the back of that. What drew me to love this group from the outset was that they seem to regard folk music the same way Miles Davis regarded Jazz: almost as a launch pad for further possibilities.

Both of their voices are true wonders. Good folk music is the interpretation of older songs: presenting them afresh for a new generation – this is what The Unthanks do so well. The Unthanks represent old working songs and ballads to a new generation – a generation not so enamored with the traditional heritage of these isles. I admit that a lot of the crowd were Radio 2 listeners – I am not in that demographic. Most folk listeners are in the Radio 2 demographic – I am not in that demographic. All of the audience members enjoyed the gig – I am in that demographic. I truly was a spectacle. Whilst there was no ‘Hi-dum-diddly’ there was a lot of clog dancing (a bonus). It is rare that I listen to music for comfort – but The Unthanks – yes – I have a soft-spot for them.

There were two highlights for me. The first was a beautiful rendition of The King Of Rome – I found the above recording of a live version above on on their Soundcloud. They sang pitch perfect and the band were awe-inspiring – however, by the time they had finished their set I was disappointed; they did not play ‘their magpie song’. The audience went crazy for an encore – everyone wearing sensible shoes was stamping and hollering. Then the core members of The Unthanks returned to the stage and gave a spine-thinglingly-gothic rendition of my favourite Unthanks songs – I was all smile (as much as someone who dresses in black can be).

*Borrowed from their site

**Best album at The BBC Folk Awards

Celebrating ‘Capability’ Brown & The Yorkshire Landscape

My wife and I took advantage of the hottest day of the years so far and journeyed in to town. First stop was Major Tom’s Social, where we supped, however the destination was always going to be The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate. Kathryn had spotted that there ‘was an exhibition about trees’ on at the gallery and further research yielded the familiar name ‘Capability’ Brown. It was part of a two stunning exhibitions and a series of events celebrating the tercentenary of the birth of the Landscape Artist, Lancelot Brown, and new art inspired by the Yorkshire landscape.

In the heat, we trundled in to the mercer to immediately see a day-glo redition of a deciduous tree. This was part of the exhibition FALSE PERSPECTIVES by Kate Whiteford OBE. In this exhibition, Kate Whiteford explores the reality and the artifice of the landscapes of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown with her large scale, sometime pixelated, images of trees. Also on show were the artists excellent watercolours. Kate’s watercolours were created on parchment paper – creating a viened web much like a root system – I loved it!

300 Years after the birth of Capability Brown, The Mercer is celebrating his work in Yorkshire with an exhibition of paintings, drawings and manuscripts. There was also a moving image element to the exhibit with a film by Simon Warner that depicts a group of Capability Brown’s Yorkshire landscapes as they are today. The exhibition are presented in partnership by the yorkshire Gardens Trust and the Mercer Gallery. The Yorkshire rust in 1996 with the aims of protecting and prooting the parks, gardens and designed landscapes of Yorkshire.

So, that was the blub – wheat about the review? Well, I can’t give one: art is something that happens between the ears and who am I to tell you what you will get from it. Yes, there is a whole load of official critics who can wax lyrical on the beauty of such work – but – all I can tell you is that I really enjoyed both exhibits.

I have recollections of covering Capability Brown at College – reading a book about him, I believe. So this was him coming full circle – leaping out of the dusty tomes of academia and grabbing my tipsy attention.

An Obituary

Whilst paying a visit to leafy Warwickshire, I happened upon this article in the Leamington Courier …. This is the most personal Blog post I have written – yet I did not write it. The subject matter involves me (I am one of the 11). As people who are close to me know – I respect the privacy of others – that is why I have tried to omit the surname of my family from my whole blog. However, with the right tenacity, it will be very easy to track me down on the web. But, as I mention on the About page, I am a bit weird (after a long history of ill health) but please do not hold my point of view against my family.

Obituary for Dr. Thomas B_________ 1922-2016, by his son David B_________.

Thomas Wynter B________ was born in Horwich, Lancashire, the only son of Canon Thomas B_________, vicar of St. Catherine’s Church in that town and Mary, nee Wynter or Winter.

Along with many other sons of the clergy he went to Dean Close School in Cheltenham and was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps into the ministry. However, after his ordinary certificate exams in the classics he decided that he wanted a career in medicine, so there was some rapid catching up to do in the sciences. Despite evacuation of the school to Monkton Combe during the early years of the war he must have done reasonably well in his exams in order to read natural sciences at Queens’ College, Cambridge, in 1940.

In due course he moved to the Middlesex Hospital in central London to pursue clinical studies.

At university he continued with sports. While at school he had played for the AFA Public Schools XI earning a write up “although a head shorter than the Whalley Range centre forward, and easily brushed aside, [he] came again and again into the thick of the fray like a wasp at a picnic.” At Queen’s, hockey was his main game, and in addition to college colours he earned a full Blue in 1942 for hockey. In London, later, he played for Southgate Hockey Club. His medical supervisor had suggested that he needed to choose between playing hockey every Saturday (an England trial was at stake) and studying if he wanted to pass his exams.

In the later stages of his training, so the story goes, after an operation in the theatre the senior surgeon suggested that his junior, Tom, take the theatre sister, Margaret Gratze, out for a date. With the help of a colleague sports car for trysts in Hyde Park, and war time price-limited dinners in Greek Street, the bonds of a lifetime were cemented and they married in 1949.

After initial qualification as a surgeon he had the long slog of National Service in the RAF, further professional exams and eventually decided to specialise in the rapidly developing field of radiotherapy, spurred on by the surfeit of young surgeons leaving the armed forces at the end of the war. Eventually, in 1957 he obtained his first consultant post  in the Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital in Coventry, and the family moved from Ruislip to Kenilworth with a fourth child, making four boys, arriving a year after.

Dr. B_________ became head of department some ten years later and oversaw the development of a new cancer treatment facility at at the new Coventry hospital at Walsgrave in 1970. He served on the management team of the Coventry hospitals during the 1974 reorganisation of the NHS. This was a time of rapid change in his field as new treatments became available and the specialism became Oncology  rather than Radiotherapy. As early as 1966 he was reporting on the use of a new cytotoxic agent in the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease. In 1973/74 he served as President of the Radiology section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and he helped steer the Royal College of Radiologists through these challenging times, elected as Vice-President (Radiotherapy and Oncology from 1980 to 1982. But the outlook for some patients remained difficult and there was an increasing need to support patients and their families during the later stages of cancer. In 1979, Tom and the Bishop of Coventry, with others, launched a fundraising campaign, and in 1984 opened the Myton Hospice in Warwick in a converted children’s home. No doubt there are many patients and relatives who remember him for his humane care and attention at very difficult times.

As thought this were not enough he also became involved in the parents’ association for Warwick School, attended by all four sons, and went on to become chair of the governors for a few years in the 1980s, battling to improve the facilities for boarders at school.

Other local organisations benefited from his patient and considerate membership.

After retirement in 1987 he enjoyed more time for travel and relaxing. He was one a group of four Queen’s men who kept regular meetings together, with spouses, as long as they could. With the “walkers” he explored south Warwickshire, taking in pubs that served Hook Norton Beer where possible. But as an antidote to relaxation children with families descended upon the house at short notice, or indeed none, as a temporary abode, and grandchildren based themselves with “Granny & Grandpa” while working or studying in the area. In 2006 the local Rotary Club nominated him Kenilworth Citizen of the Year.

Tom B_________ died on 1 July 2016 survived by Margaret, his wife of 67 years, four sons, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Ô PAON

So, I logged in to Facebook – to try and catch up on shenanigans from the weekend; to see what my nearest and dearest had been up to. I have the good fortune to follow Dylan Carlson on Facebook – the legendary guitarist from Earth. This post from him made me stop in my tracks –

I had the good fortune to see Ô PAON when she supported Earth at The Brudenell back when they were promoting Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II in 2012 – simply the best gig I have ever been to.

Ô PAON stole the show for me. To be honest, I did not know anything about her before seeing her. At first I thought she was crew as she slipped on to the stage and fiddled with something on the floor. What she was fiddling with on the floor was a looping pedal – she picked up her stratocaster guitar and gave a soul-piercing performance. It felt like it was just me and her in the room. I am unsure if I breathed the whole performance. It was mesmerising.

I did not know that Geneviève Elverum was ill. Geneviève died on July 9, 2016. She was my age.

She was born in Loretteville, Quebec and later lived in the Pacific Northwestern United States. She was married to musician Phil Elverum, the leader of the indie rock groups The Microphones and Mount Eerie. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015, shortly after the birth of her and Elverum’s only child. In June 2016, a GoFundMe account was set up by Elverum to assist with their finances.

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A British Person’s View Of Brexit

Where to start, really. I woke up on Tuesday in Great Britain and will fall asleep today (Friday) in Little England.

Hats off to the Leave Campaign. They fought a very aggressive campaign and won. We live in a democracy and ultimately we will suffer the Government we deserve. I am grateful that I have the chance to still complain about the state of the British – however – I will ask you this; when did Noah build the ark?*. I know some people (who I will let remain anonymous) who said they were voting Leave. Their reasons were manifest, but it boiled down to Xenophobia and Bigotry. Excuses to veil this Bigotry & Xenophobia were given as things like “But you have to wait weeks for a GP appointment!” :: Solution = Don’t vote in the Tories who slash NHS spending. “I have two grown kids at home, they can’t afford a house” :: Solution = build more houses and invest in the infrastructure. “I walk down the street and don’t hear English” :: Solution = live in a cave.

The referendum has left a divided nation. With nearly half the nation backing the Remain Campaign (48.1% back the Remain Campaign Nationally – Me included) this will leave a lot of dissatisfied & disgruntled people who feel they do not have a voice any more (Me included). Will this lead to revolution or apathy? If Russell Brand is anything to go by it will lead to apathy. The referendum showed a deeply divided nation by geographical region: England was predominantly Leave, Scotland massively Remain, Wales strongly Leave & Northern Ireland a firm Remain. Does this mean that Northern Ireland could now claim it has more in common with Éire than mainland UK if it wants? Will Brexit prompt another Scottish independence referendum? If they vote to leave I may claim my right to hold a Scottish passport.

The Leave campaign was based on Hate and whipped up a fury. It encourage binary thinking / black or white / in or out. There was no compromise and it was all or nothing. People nailed their colours to the mast early in the campaign and very few people I know swayed from what their initial snap judgement was when the poll was announced. If there had been a third option “Remain but with amendments” then I would have voted for that – and, I believe that that is the Campaign that would have won. However, testosterone driven blinkers led to a lot of people who are now worried about their future. I know of artists who live in this country – they came over here to study and fell in love with Blighty and did not want to return to the continent. They do not have a regular job so will be forcefully deported back to Europe when we exit. What ever happened to trying to work together as a team to achieve a greater whole.

I know of people who have actually fallen out over Brexit – we are now a deeply divided nation – with the announcement of the poll, Cameron unleashed a political Kraken and foretold his own political harakari. Cameron has announced his retirement back to his Trust-Fund and the UK will have another Prime Minister by the Autumn. The smart money is Cameron’s replacement being Johnson or Gove (God forbid it is Hunt). Time will tell and the majority of British subjects will not get a say in the matter. But, Cameron has gone … that is one small mercy.

The Pound Sterling is already at levels that it has not experienced since 1985 and the Yen is at a ten year high – Bankers seem to be making a fortune out of other peoples misery yet again. Friends in Eastern Europe are now terrified that there is little that can now be done to halt Russia’s hegemony. Nigel Farage. We seem to be the only nation on Earth who would vote to take away our human rights. There is nothing to stop a reformed Conservative Party from taking away compulsory sick pay, maternity pay, paternity pay.

However, we must as a Nation regroup and build on our collective failure. We still have the Commonwealth left over from when we pillaged the world. Will Brexit, a seismic shift in British politics, usher in a new folk art movement – like Art Noveau in the Slovak independence days? I for one am up for playing the role of Alfons Mucha but I do not think that the joie de vivre is the same as in those halcyon days of the birth of the Slovakian Government back at the start of the 20th Century.

 

*Before the flood: as a result I have joined Liberty.

Poetry At The Apothecary

Now then, as regular returners to my Blog may know – I sometimes use Ijo Pona as a way to reblog articles that have piqued my interest. This following article hit the nail on the head. It was published in the online version of The Guardian – a link to the article can be found here – I do not know if it made the print version.

Why have I reblogged this article – well, it spoke to me. I spoke to me because I have a history of ill-health. It spoke to me because I have had to write poetry in my dark nights of the soul. It spoke to me because she understood the situation.

I have not sought permission to repost the article and I have not altered the article – it is intact. I certainly do not hope to profit from the article – except to help those, like myself, who need a bit of “You are really not that bad” in their lives. The article was published on Saturday 18th June 2016 and reads as follows –

“In Dante’s time, books were sold in apothecary shops: literature as medicine. I learned this when I was very ill, during an acute episode of manic depression, and I was struck by the profound metaphor behind this commercial fact. The apothecary of literature can heal, and I would need it desperately.

I had experienced a psyche-fracture, which included hallucinations of wings, seeing my own and others’, these wings a metaphor for thought, the wings of the mind. Although I felt compelled to enact the urges of mania, I had a greater wish to hold very still and see what would happen if I let this madness take a metaphoric route. What happened? Poetry.

I don’t normally write poetry, but in this illness I could write nothing except poetry. I never normally write at night, but I could write only in darkness.

The ancient Greeks thought the gods inspired poets through madness, and in Ion, Plato has Socrates say: “For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses.” This furor poeticus was honoured in the Renaissance as the “fine madness” that “should possess a poet’s brain”, in the words of the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton.

For me, poetry is medicine. The poet Les Murray writes: “I’d disapproved of using poetry as personal therapy, but the Black Dog taught me better. Get sick enough, and you’ll use any remedy you’ve got.” In the 19th century, people in asylums were encouraged to write poetry, while William Cowper (1731-1800) wrote that, in his depressions, “I find writing, especially poetry, my best remedy.” Orpheus was both healer and poet and his lyre could vanquish melancholy.

I was also taking psychiatric medication, but in medicine I saw the science of pain, whereas in poetry I saw pain’s art. Medicine has an anaesthetic relationship to pain – it wants to rid the patient of it. Poetry’s relationship is aesthetic – it wants pain to speak. And the condition that seems to speak more than any other is manic depression. Arguably, it may be the refusal to create one’s art that causes distress in the first place. John Keats, a licensed apothecary, as was Dante, trained unhappily as a doctor and experienced depression accordingly: his brother feared that if John didn’t become a poet he would kill himself. An unanswered calling can take its revenge, and Gwyneth Lewis’s memoir of depression, Sunbathing in the Rain, notes that it was her resistance to writing poetry that made her ill: “If you don’t do what your poetry wants you to, it will be out to get you. Unwritten poems are a force to be feared.”

The first book I could read in “recovery” was Richard Holmes’s biography of Coleridge, and I cried for the poet, born before the modern apothecary of psychiatric medication that could have saved him so much pain. Coleridge, describing Shakespeare’s Mercutio, also describes himself, or indeed many a mercurial writer: “possessing all the elements of a poet: high fancy; rapid thoughts; the whole world was as it were subject to his law of association”. Mercutio is moody then soaring; his mind is in flight with the imagery of wings.

In Shakespeare I feel understood, for he catches the signatures of manic depression in many of his characters, from Cleopatra to Timon, Lear to Antonio in The Merchant of Venice. Touchstone, merry-mad in motley, suggests mania, while Jaques, melancholy in his black, stands for depression. The most deft description of mania I have ever read – “frantic-mad with evermore unrest” – is Shakespeare’s, while his love for puns and word creation, his tender empathy, his connotative mind, word association and lapidary compression all suggest to me that he either experienced it or understood it intimately in another. If not Shakespeare himself, my money is on the actor Robert Armin, Shakespeare’s clever clown, the probable author of A Pill to Purge Melancholy.

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Jay Griffiths. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

During my long months of convalescence, I walked alone across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I took with me as little as possible, but the single most essential thing was an anthology of poems created for me by my friends, who had each chosen one that they cherished and that would console, including work by Rumi, Rilke, Borges, Yeats, Lorca, Edip Cansever, Alice Oswald, Mary Oliver, EE Cummings, Frank O’Hara and Tomas Tranströmer. Every day, I would read one, learning some of each by heart, not just to understand but to be understood*. Poetry heals the reader as well as the writer.

To heal is, etymologically, to make whole, and poetry can heal the connective tissues of the mind, making it whole and reuniting it with the world. In the awful loneliness of depression, poetry is the kindest companion when one is keening to be comprehended. The contemporary practice of bibliotherapy makes this explicit, asking people to read specific texts as medicine, and in Black Rainbow, Rachel Kelly explores the curative power of poetry for her savage depression. Sufi stories have long been used as remedies and in Australia I met an indigenous “story‑doctor” who would diagnose someone’s psychological state and prescribe a particular story for them to cure their situation.

Coming home, I bought all three anthologies Staying Alive, Being Alive and Being Human, so I could read a poem chosen by Neil Astley every day. Astley saves lives, I thought, many times. The subtitle of Staying Alive is “real poems for unreal times”: crisis, grief, love and, yes, madness, that state of unreality or – as I prefer – irreality.

For me, writing poetry at night was an enactment of a metaphoric truth: I could see better in the dark.

Jay Griffiths is the author of Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression, published by Hamish Hamilton.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.”

It would seem a bit crass to simply write “get well soon, Jane”. The fact that somebody can so beautifully articulate their feelings has moved me. She has written an accurate account of the troubled times I had in my twenties and I have not even met the soul.

On a positive / negative side twist – I have started writing poetry again. I had a 100% publishing record (as in, I sent one poem off and it got published) but have not and will not submit the newer verse. I am content to be a silent poet.

*my emphasis

A Review Of A Review

I have dipped my toes in to the book, An Eschatological Bestiary, yet again. I am perplexed. How, I wondered, could anybody else take – what seems like – such empty antics seriously? Oz Hardwick is one of the most accomplished writers I have had the good fortune to know, but, where I was expecting to find “language heightened, to any degree heightened” (Gerard Manley Hopkins) or “the best words in the best order” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) I found a text I more associate with my Spam Inbox.

I admit, during my half-arsed stint in academia I would not have got these un-poems. Oz was the first rebel to affront me with 21st Century Avant-Garde Writing & now I am hooked on the entire ouvre. Oz’s book is profoundly political in gesture and in it’s inspiration. An Eschatological Bestiary is a calculated attack on institutional norms and practices that not only shape literary careers but also preside over the formation of obedient, well-disciplined neo-liberal citizen subjects.

When most people protest, they first warn the police. They do not smash windows. Here – in An Eschatological Bestiary – Oz’s outrage against decorum was extreme enough to give voice to his furious bulked desires. In other words, could Oz be protesting against his previous works?

Since the 1960’s, avant-gardism has had a mixed, complex history as a critical concept. Can an authentic avant-garde still exist? Or, can there only be shallow effete echoes of past movements and achievements? Can an avant-garde ever actually succeed in bringing about revolutionary social transformation? Is it solely an American thing? I call this book ‘avant-garde’ throughout – I have heard of the term ‘neo-avant-garde’ as a way of differentiating between now and the original 1910s and 1920s era of breakthrough associated with movements such as Dada, Surrealism, and Constructivism from the many post-WW-II efforts to revive, extend and adapt aspects of that earlier time. Too easily the term suggests that the later work is inferior or derivative  – however – I do not buy in to the linear narrative of rise, triumph, decline and fall. The avant-garde is a zig-zag branching story-line pocked with discontinuity and new departures. Oz deserves a chance to pursue his own programme, political and aesthetic, that he has mapped out for himself without me pre-judging his next book or his destination. Although, I have immense respect for An Eschatological Bestiary.

One does not have to delve in to the footnotes of Wikipedia to quickly discover that shock and resistance characterise the literary establishment’s response to avant-garde’s emergence. Just look at Ezra Pound, Tom Raworth and Gertrude Stein – as well as ‘edgy’ visual artists Félix González-Torres, Jasper Johns, Kimsooja and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. When Oz handed over An Eschatological Bestiary, my knee-jerk reaction was to side with conservatism against, what I perceived, as a joyfully destructive book. But this is not Oz pressing ‘self-destruct’ – In my eyes, this is Oz’s Phoenix.

This is an exciting book, I have yet to put it down – I read it from cover to cover and then back to the beginning to start afresh. Is this poetry? Why is this poetry? Can someone sustain this mode for more than a few months? How can you draw on thousands of years of verse to arrive at An Eschatological Bestiary? These questions pose more questions. Do you see the similarity between the laptop compositions of Radiohead with the compositions of Boards Of Canada? How does the aesthetic of incapacity and self-impoverishment compare to punk, arte povera and performance art by Beth Anderson and Paul McCarthy? What strata of the global population does An Eschatological Bestiary target? My Mum? Hell no!

An Eschatological Bestiary shows an imaginative virtuosity but also passages of break down and incapacity. In Oz’s haste to recycle words has he lost his voice? No! There is a subtle wit and humour that runs throughout the book that makes me call the man a Friend.

By way of Pound’s Cantos and Sergei Eisenstein’s film theory. I argue that, if collage and montage were central to twentieth century art, literature and music, twenty-first-century artists, authors and composers wrestle with a new aesthetic dilemma, the uninterrupted, omnivorous 24/7 informational flood that today’s global citizen must navigate. Oz draws on all of this in his book, An Eschatological Bestiary, and keeps his head above water – gracefully. Which brings me to my next point – at first, when I first read the book, I called the writing in this book simply ‘text’ – they are poems; this is crucial. With the word ‘poem’ comes railing a set of expectations and situations that imply ‘Institution’ – and Oz is out to smash it. But what institution is Oz trying to smash? The Cultural Institution of Oz Hardwick? Modern Academia, maybe? Only the man himself can say. I refer to the text in this book for the above reasons but also because Oz is a widely respected Poet having had work discussed and printed in many an illustrious institution.

One thing does bug me though. How does Oz’s implicit attack on the old academic order differ from the attempted attack launched by The Beats half a century ago? Nothing. In my humble opinion, Oz chose the wrong medium for the output of An Eschatological Bestiary. Yes, there are aesthetic merits in the written Book (Oz provides some excellent collages within the tome). But this level of subversion needed to be capitalised on to keep the make it a true thing of beauty – (Here is a bold Blog) If I wrote this book I would have published it as a web site, like the Flarf Collective. Yes, there is merit to the written word being in your hand – but, in reaction to a never ending war in the information age; it may have been prudent to present his work as historical specific response to GCHQ cracking down on ‘subversive sites’. By spotlighting the viciousness, hate and intolerance that thrive online, Oz would prod the urban, leftist, educated audience (like myself) out of our melancholy and apathy – that are so commonplace at ‘nice’ poetry nights – and get us back on the streets protesting at Globalisation.

If there is an outcome to me reading this book – An Eschatological Bestiary has inspired me; I have not read anything like it before. The link to get the book for yourself is HERE.