What becomes of the broken-hearted? – or – The Ballad of Richard Bolam – Valentine’s Day 2015

Adam and eve graphics v1.001

What becomes of the broken-hearted? They go shopping, get drunk and have unprotected, meaningless sex. I have done all of those things at one time or another, and many other acts of lust, self-loathing and despair. But, like, whatever.

I believe it to be a common thing that bitterness, loneliness and hate are far more effective motivators of artistic expression than contentment, love and tolerance. Perverse but true.

Years ago I went with a friend to see a theatrical performance which was little more than a ball of fluff. Afterwards my friend said “Well, that was not written by an unhappy man” and I know what she meant. We met the cast afterwards and one of their friends immediately said to us “Wasn’t that just the loveliest thing, ever?”.

Although I was polite, I declined to agree, and he took me to task on what I thought was wrong with it. There was nothing wrong with it, I guess, but I just do not find smug, self-satisfaction to be a moving artistic experience in the least. I talked to the director later and he looked down his nose at me, in both senses, and I recognized that quality in him that Willard observes about Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now” (1979 Francis Ford Coppola).

“He was just one of those guys with that weird light around him. He just knew he wasn’t gonna get so much as a scratch here.”

I’ve met people like that before and since: young, good-looking, talented people who just know they are going to succeed. But why? Because they always have done. They make comfortable middle-class art that is enjoyed by comfortable, middle-class people and, most importantly, selected for funding by other comfortable, middle-class people.

But I’m not bitter.

In 2003, after being in a relationship for 15 years, 10 of which were mostly happy, one thing led to another, and I betrayed my partner with another woman. At first emotionally, and then sexually. Those are the facts, but it took several years to pass before I realised that I had been the unfaithful one. It felt like the relationship was over years before, and so it took almost no effort for me to cross what seemed to be an inevitable bridge. And so I guess it wasn’t my fault?

The next few years were very chaotic, emotionally, and I went out with more women in two years than I had in the previous twenty. However, despite all the problems, there is only one woman that I got involved with that I wish I had never met, although several of those liaisons were unhappy and inevitably doomed.

But what I have come to realise is that some people do not invest what people like me invest in a relationship, because for them it’s just a transaction, or maybe they have that weird light around them.

I remember that time as very productive, creatively, if not emotionally.

Anyway (getting back to the misery and self-loathing), I had one of my “brilliant” ideas; I would collect the poetry I have written into a small volume and call it “That bitch broke my heart (and other stories)” and self-publish it. I know I have a small collection of poems about relationships that were written at a very particular time in my life (the that bitch bit) and, although it is not going to amount to a collected works, it might make a slim volume worth publishing, along with the other stories.

However, when I came to look at what I have from that period (the stuff that is worth publishing), there is nowhere near as much good material as I thought.

It turns out I’m not really a poet, but I did have a few moments.

The upshot of all this navel-gazing is that the emotional upheaval was highly motivational, creatively, and I miss it in that sense. However, I do not miss the loneliness, frustration and years of low self-esteem. I met my wife in 2008 and I haven’t written a poem since.

I will be publishing “That bitch broke my heart (and other stories)” in some form. Online initially, with a low production value printed version available soon after.

Via Black Daffodil Press.


Everything X – Visions, variations & versions

World X v04 - 2012.032

Several years ago I decided to treat every piece of art as an ongoing work and to publish or show them in versions, rather like software is published, and I found this approach extremely helpful in combatting that old tyranny of the “is it finished?” question.

I am not a painter or sculptor, nor any other sort of artist that makes discrete objects. I use a number of media that are reproducible, sometimes infinitely, and working with digital media allows any number of versions to be made of any work, and that’s the rub.

Q. In a world of infinite possibilities, and infinite versions, how do you finish anything?
A. You just stop working on it.

“World X – A Speculative History” is a prose-poem I wrote in 2008 for an event entitled “Life 2.0”, and is an allegory on the dangers of technological advance without recourse to morality or ethics.

The first time I read it at the event I had a slideshow of appropriate images, maintaining a circular motif throughout. Version 1.0.

A friend told me she didn’t really listen to the words because the visuals were so arresting, but also said it would be good as a book.

Seeing as the text was the important part, I expanded it slightly and the next time I read it was without the slideshow. Version 2.0.

Screen shot 2013-01-14 at 17.27.57

I expanded it further, and it’s only about 1,500 words, but I read it again at a performance event that I organised with artist James Price in 2009 (above). Version 2.1.

The last time I read it (with very slight alterations) was at one of the Northern Lights spoken-word nights at the Rutland Arms, Sheffield, UK, organised by Jude Calvert-Toulmin in 2012. Version 2.1.1.

Part of me still wants to write more in order to make it longer, so that it will stand on its own as a performance work, but that just hasn’t happened. Maybe it never will.

Also, having struggled on and off for a few years trying to lay it out as a book, suggested by my friend, I am currently laying the original monologue out, page by page. There is no print version yet, but an ongoing PDF can be viewed online here. I hope to finish draft version 1.0 of text version 2.1.1 by the end of this week.

I wrote a separate section about Adam and Eve that I tried to weave into the main narrative, but it just doesn’t work, and so that will be a separate chapter that happens in the same universe, but not necessarily in the same chronology.

Stay tuned for Version X.X.

National Poetry Day 2012 – One star less than needed

I don’t think I have ever had any of my poems published. At least I can’t remember. Either way, I have a lot of work that has never been seen and I have I have decided to self-publish it.

I have nothing against the classic, minimalist slim volume of poetry, and I have attempted to lay out a book before, but something was always unsatisfying when I put my own words on the page. Here is a poem I wrote in 2003 and a drawing I did at about the same time, although they were not related to each other at that time.

I’ve often been guilty of over-thinking things, but having randomly thrown a couple of elements together, I had a bit of a breakthrough with the layout above, and I have decided to go for a more graphic layout to my slim volume.

Also, I think i might make it into a kinda poetry fanzine, rather than a book. I’m going to publish the pages one at a time before gathering them together, so stay tuned for updates and let me know what you think…


Ten ways to pay tribute to Adrian Mitchell

1. Write a blog post about him. Here it is.

I suspect like many people, I became aware of poet Adrian Mitchell’s work when I randomly heard a recording of Peter O’ Toole reading “To Whom It May Concern” (otherwise popularly known as “Tell me lies about Vietnam”) at some anti-war rally in Britain many years ago. Googling it I can’t find any references and wonder sometimes if I just imagined it, but it doesn’t matter, hearing that poem is what led me to discover Adrian Mitchell.

2. Tell a story about meeting him.

I met Adrian Mitchell once in 1992 when he was touring the country to promote his “Greatest Hits” book. I lived in Rotherham at the time and he and musician Pete Moser came to perform at the local Arts Centre. Because he was quite famous I made sure I got my tickets months in advance, expecting it to sell out. There were just five of us in the audience.

After the show he sold and signed copies of his new book and I took my copy of “For Beauty Douglas” to have it signed (see above). I apologized on behalf the people of Rotherham for the meager turnout. He was very gracious and friendly, and quite philosophical about the turnout, and I’m glad that I liked him in real life.

3. Quote him.

“Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.”

4. Parody his work in a way you hope he would like.

Ten ways to avoid selling fish and chips to any artist

Tracey Emin walks into a chip shop and says “I’d like fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Not everything is about you”.

Damien Hirst walks into a chip shop and says “What fish have you got?”.
The owner says “Shark’s off”.

Pablo Picasso walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “The wife’s busy”.

Renee Magritte walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “This is not a chip shop”.

David Mamet walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Fish and chips, please?”.
David Mamet says “That’s what I’m asking”.
The owner says “That’s what you’re asking?”.

Ridley Scott walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Stop shining that light in my eyes”.

Robert De Niro walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Are you looking at my fish?”.

Laurie Anderson walks into a chip shop and says “This must be the plaice”.
The owner says “Outside.”

Richard Bolam walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “Who the fuck are you?”.

Adrian Mitchell walks into a chip shop and says “Fish and chips, please”.
The owner says “There’s no fish and no chips, but we do have mushy peace”.

5. Spread his message of peace.

Adrian Mitchell was a committed pacifist and social activist. All he wanted was for people to stop killing each other.

6. Repeat an anecdote about him.

Adrian Mitchell included instructions in several of his books that it was forbidden to use any of his work in connection with any examination. An exam board once used one of his poems, without permission, in their ‘O’ Level and CSE level papers. The Guardian newspaper arranged for him to take the same exam and had it independently marked. For the questions about his own work he scored 14 out of a possible 40 marks.

7. Introduce someone else to his work. That’s one of you lot.

8. Reproduce one of his poems without permission. He would approve.

I like that stuff

Lovers lie around in it
Broken glass is found in it
I like that stuff

Tuna fish get trapped in it
Legs come wrapped in it
I like that stuff

Eskimos and tramps chew it
Madame Tussaud gave status to it
I like that stuff

Elephants get sprayed with it
Scotch is made with it
I like that stuff

Clergy are dumbfounded by it
Bones are surrounded by it
I like that stuff

Harps are strung with it
Mattresses are sprung with it
I like that stuff

Carpenters make cots of it
Undertakers use lots of it
I like that stuff

Cigarettes are lit by it
Pensioners are happy when they sit by it
I like that stuff

Dankworth’s alto is made of it, most of it,
Scoobeedo is composed of it
I like that stuff

Apemen take it to make them hairier
I ate a ton of it in Bulgaria
I like that stuff

Man-made fibres and raw materials
Old rolled gold and breakfast cereals
Platinum linoleum
I like that stuff

Skin on my hands
Hair on my head
Toenails on my feet
And linen on my bed

Well I like that stuff
Yes I like that stuff
The earth
Is made of earth
And I like that stuff

9. Write your own poem. He’d like that.

I could die here (extract)

A cough
And then another cough
Then another
And another
And another
In a loop of breath
That has no breath in it
I spoke to a friend without speaking
She said “Don’t die”
And so I didn’t
Even so I remember:

I could die here

10. Publish it. Here it is.