The Fairy Fountain (some more poems)

Hello everyone, thought I’d pop in with just a quick update as I haven’t posted anything for a few weeks. I’m pleased to see the blog ticking along with a handful of views every day even when I don’t post anything, and am currently well on my way to the goal I set at the beginning of this year, which was to reach 1000 views for 2017 and grow from there.

It might not seem like a huge number, but its an important milestone for me. When I think of 1000 people all in a room, and then think that each of those 1000 people read something I posted here, it makes me happy. So thank you for reading, if you can see this.

I’ll be returning with my favourite albums of 2017 at the beginning of December, and am about to start revisiting favourites/filling in the blanks before creating my final list. I’ve listened to perhaps more music this year than ever before, and 2017’s Albums of the Year will reflect that. It’s going to be a top 50 rather than a top 20, running through the first thirty with a quick sentence or two and then moving into proper reviews in the top 20, as per usual.

Also upcoming is an article about Johnathan Blow’s magnificent and mysterious puzzle game The Witness, which released last year but I’ve only just got around to playing. And there’ll be a couple of other bits throughout November. So stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s a couple more poems from my collection The Night and the Moth which I recently finished, and wanted to share 🙂

The first is about dreams, memory, and The Legend of Zelda. The second is a mirrored sonnet I wrote after going to the Tate Modern and seeing a bunch of Rothko paintings. And the third is about…sex, pretty much. Enjoy.

 

The Fairy Fountain

A wall of water is running down
To a marble turquoise pool.
A pilot star encircles
Sheets and sheets of memories
Stacked in rows like server farms
With tiny blue lights
All these tiny blue lights…

Remembering is a cloud save:
The corners get rubbed away
And leave the outline
Malleable like flesh or javascript.
When it waterfalls into life
It keeps me up at night.
It keeps me up for hours.

It cups the sift of selection
And everything we think is lost
Is only saved in suspension:
Passing on through each new century
Like the wisdom of the old Great Deku Tree
And breaking in a flood
That bursts the dam.

Like on the cusp of dreaming
When I can feel forgetting
Gauze and glowing…
Take me to the fairy fountain.
Quickly, quickly:
Before it pounces
Come in, and light the torches.

 

Seagram Murals

Rothko’s Seagram Murals were hanging,
Hind-legs coiled, in a dim mahogany
Corner of the Tate Modern,
Beckoning like a campfire.
My breath made red mist
At the door of that vermilion room,
Diffusing into the petrified cold of museum air con,
Adding layer upon layer to six sharp, thick frames.
But then, playing at their crooked games
With all the downy violence of a swan
A herd of children burst into the gloom
And monolithic thoughts are all dismissed.
– Should I be grateful when they come
To disturb my doom of purple?

 

While You Beat a Tambourine

I want to
Bathe in your fleshes melt
And suffocate in smoke
I am your bodies belt
The darkness is your cloak
And tiny fish are swimming
In pools among your feet
You crush them all while grinning
And splash inside their meat.

When honey lips surround you
They sip your midnight ink
When stars wrap rings around you
They sparkle mercury-pink
And all the slaves are raising
A temple inside touch
They set a fire blazing
But the fire burns too much.

The body needs its heat
But the hand recoils away
That bitterness turns sweet
When the night engulfs the day
And all our bones begin to mesh
Into one bony dream:
I bathe inside your flesh
While you beat a tambourine.

i write poems.

Yup. I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, and just yesterday I finished a big project that I’ve been working towards for about six months, and wanted to share. I’ve edited and collected all the best poems I’ve written (about 60 of them) into a collection titled The Night and the Moth which I’m going to attempt to shop around to some publishers. The collection is split into three chapters – The Night and the Moth, Secret Names and Waveforms – and comprises probably about six years of writing all together.

I’m well aware that poetry is pretty much a dead medium in 2017 and is mostly read by other poets, but I did this because it was important to me and because it brought me pleasure, solace and sometimes power in the process of creation. It would mean a lot to me if anyone else got some kind of pleasure from reading, so I’m posting a few selections here for people to read. Can post more in the future if people enjoy them 🙂

 

Being Ill is Comforting

Being ill is comforting
Like stillness after a bell.
Mind retires, murmuring
– Go tend to body’s shell.

Lost inside a game of chess
Against the evening air
You’ve all the time to convalesce
Into another’s care.

Sickness holds its honey sway
And empties out the port
Making space to put away
Ecologies of thought.

While wet beneath a sweat-stained sheet
Body’s ships are whispering
That there is pleasure in that heat
And being ill is comforting.

 

Ravens

Do ravens see
Eyes gleam blue?
Shrine a hipbone
Tomb it in with me:
Each curve to carve
Swooping through
A spear inside the tree.
I nest my own
And reap when sparrows starve
Harp the neck and hush:
When it sleeps
It sleeps in me.
When it speaks
Open throat to thrush
Claim and call my name
Nothing, nothing, nothing
But the sound and smell of rain
And when it
Comes down on the concrete
All the bony vermin scatter
Softly through the storm and sleet
Kissing a firecracker
Whipped up in a gripping mist
Slowly this tsunami
Everything in negative
And ravens all around me

 

Empathy

Empathy is a forked fox-quick that stalks
With padded paws                   down to pace upon
Thought and snout, stumbling
There upon truths:
A panoply of golden garbage cubes.
Empathy makes a hoard-tail flick and
Flash of red rubied
Eyes in darkness:
Hunger of a stomach rumbling.
Carcasses lead nose, lips and sweet smells
Outside the self                        down towards
Shelter, and a fox-fast savannah where the
Heaving ground swells.
And all across that desert of dry clay
A pantomine of paw tracks softly play.

 

Pear

Happiness is a pear
With a cold, inviting skin
If left too long in the air
It shrivels and grows thin.

But if you sip too soon
At a cup of unripe joy
Your mouth becomes immune
To the sweetness you destroy.

 

I Know the Reason

I know the reason why the heron
Sleeps inside its neck
And orange flowers camouflage
The cricket’s singing-speck

I know the reason why the river
Murmurs in the night
And shimmering birds make silhouettes
In beams of purple light

I know the freedom of the forests
Secret habitats
And hidden among their leaves I find
One hundred hanging bats

And I know the reason why the rain
Still falls on the silver sea
But to tell the reason why would stain
Elemental privacy.

 

A Feline Flame

There is a feline flame
That moves in me some nights
A fox upon the snow
Which feasts upon the sights
Of memory’s half-painted gallery.

There is a frozen stag
Which paws among the roots
Of gnarled and crooked trees
With gnarled and crooked fruits
For anything to salvage.

There is a quiet thought
That wrestles with the locks
My fox becomes a stag
My stag becomes a fox:
There are two kinds of love.

Why All Music Criticism is Shit (an ode to Lester Bangs)

(If you read this whole article, I love you. Mwah)

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A Legendary Critic

I’ve just finished reading Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of music criticism, scattered notes and other pieces of writing by Lester Bangs. For anyone who hasn’t heard of him, Lester Bangs was an American rock critic from Detroit who basically wrote the idea of punk rock into existence. He was an alcoholic, nihilistic, typewriter-trashing madman who was touting the Stooges and the Velvet Underground as a revolution in music while everyone else in the sixties was busy writing them off as too silly, too amateur, and too gay (they soon came around). Bangs was the kind of guy who saw through the bullshit mythology of rock music and could tear it down in an instant, but likewise was talented enough to write whole new mythologies that glorified noise, energy, and not giving a fuck about anything at all.

He was completely unique, and his writing style seems to me almost shocking in how it dares to approach music criticism with actual personality and, you know, a sense of humour. In retrospect it makes so much of today’s music writing look codified and predictable: too cool, and trying too hard. A typical Lester Bangs piece would begin as a straight out review or interview or whatever his poor editor had tried to wrangle him into. But it would quickly devolve into a digression from the tangent of a digression: ten pages in you’d find yourself reading an elaborate fantasy in which Bangs imagined himself eating Elvis Presley’s corpse and transforming himself into Elvis, then segwaying into a psychedelic essay on the power of celebrity, taking a detour through the history of jazz music from the perspective of Jack Kerouac, and then ending with a flourish by returning to the album in question: “Oh yeah, it’s pretty good. You should go buy it.”

Lester Bangs was not afraid to embarrass himself, which is just about everything he stood for in music, too. Sometimes his rants and detours go so far off the rails that its a wonder they were ever published (and a fairly extensive ‘unpublishable’ section in this book shows just how much wasnt). But this is what makes his writing style so electric and alive even forty odd years after the fact: nobody else could jump so carelessly from anecdote to fantasy to wild opinion with no care for structure or pacing. His whole life is like an unclosed parenthesis. And half the time Bangs seems so buzzed off his nuts on drugs and cheap wine that he probably couldn’t even remember the last page he wrote, let alone edit it for quality. He writes with pure, uncensored and unedited passion, the kind that makes you want to listen to every single record he reviews.

There are some absolute gems in this collection. Firstly there’s the review of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks where Bangs approaches the album with all the reverence of a Sacred Text shining into his life like a vision, ending by comparing the lyrics to the title track with a Fernando Garcia Lorca poem in a manner as casual as it is revelatory. Then there’s the review of the Stooges’ Fun House which grows into a ‘program for mass psychic liberation’ over the course of 22 incredible pages. There’s the hilarious story ‘John Coltrane Lives‘ in which Bangs recounts a particularly strung out acid trip where he stole a friend’s saxophone, then chased his terrified landlord around her apartment blaring out bum notes before being arrested by local police. There’s the brilliant Kratwerk interview where Bangs asks them about groupies and drugs, and they respond by explaining behavioural modification through technology and the morality of experimental music. And then there’s the lengthy piece where Bangs goes on tour with The Clash and reports on the British punk scene from the inside out, which is a fascinating historical and personal document.

In between these moments of brilliance there are inevitably some passages where Bangs’ unedited, rambling style gets the better of him. One in particular finds him reviewing some shitty TV-guide B-movie called Teenagers From Outer Space, devolving into a fifteen page rant about…something that is borderline incomprehensible. But that’s part of the appeal of Lester Bangs in the end: the sense of having no filter and absolutely no restraint. It’s both his superpower and his kryptonite.

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A Whirlwind Tour Through the World of Contemporary Music Journalism

Where else today can you find anything even close to this in the world of music journalism? If you asked me to, I couldn’t name a single critic working today with a style as unique, exciting or interesting as Lester Bangs. There’s Pitchfork, whose writing is actually of a pretty high quality but is hidden behind so much trendy agenda-pushing bullshit that half the time it’s not worth the effort. I mean lets be honest, a Best New Music isn’t really a distinction of quality as it is a distinction of popularity, one which lost all meaning when they started being handed out to Future and Young Thug and whoever else. And the Pitchfork news section is no more than a second-by-second update on Kanye West/Father John Misty’s respective Twitter accounts, with some social justice controversy thrown in for good measure.

Music magazines are basically all dead. Q is completely without personality and is just an echo chamber for a certain kind of old-school rock-ist circlejerking. NME is exactly the same except swap out classic rock for Britpop and just basically get Noel Gallagher’s opinion on fucking everything because he’s so naughty and cool. Fuck Noel Gallagher, fuck Damon Albarn and fuck every boring jangly Smithsy indie band that NME shoves down the throats of impressionable teenagers and hipsters who’ve never bothered to explore music further than the kinds of albums that appear on countdown TV shows of the Greatest 100 Albums of All Time where we all collectively bukkake on the corpse of John Lennon for an hour.

The only music magazine I can sometimes stand to read is Wire, which walks a delicate tightrope between being utterly pretentious and genuinely thought-provoking, usually while trying to convince me that an album of lo-fi sheep recordings is the best record of 2017. Once I was reading an issue of Wire, and the following actually real sentence appeared within an album review that was so perfectly pretentious and symbolic that I couldn’t stop laughing at it: ‘…But if you’ve come for the high conceptualism, you’ll stay for the beautifully rendered field recordings.’ I mean, that’s just perfect, isn’t it? You have to be so far up your own arse to write that sentence that it becomes strangely elegant in the end. But on the flipside, Wire have put me on to some incredible experimental artists like Richard Dawson and Julia Holter, who have made some of my favourite albums of recent years. So they’re not all bad.

Beyond the fleeting gales of print media there’s Anthony Fantano of theneedledrop, whose opinion I respect an awful lot. One thing Fantano is very good at that magazines like Wire completely miss, is explaining clearly and simply whether or not he thinks something is good. Choosing not to give an album a rating is fine, but if you make that decision, I think you have to be even clearer with qualitative judgments on a record. Some experimental music is just aimless wankery masquerading as intellectualism, and the critics job should be to sift out the shit. Fantano is as good as anyone as this, and has a sense of humour to boot. I think Youtube is probably the future of music journalism, just as it is the future of targeted advertising, music videos, dank memes and ASMR videos. Our generation are truly at the frontier of life.

 

TL;DR

You’ve already stopped reading this article, so it doesn’t matter what I write here. Just more proof that printed/written media is dying because nobody has any attention any more (myself included). Will it even be possible to have an individual style in the wordless future of criticism? Will everything just be reduced to snarky, 140-character opinions and clickbait? Should we all just make like Lester Bangs and shove valium up our butts and drink ourselves to death because nobody is even reading the 2000 word article we’ve just written ranting about obscure websites and magazines and books that nobody else even cares about?

No, no, no. The point of this (pointless) article is not by any means to glorify punk or nihilism or any of that leather-jacket Rock God machismo bullshit that accumulated throughout the 1960s and 70s. Rock music has been imploding further and further in on itself for about thirty years now, through post-punk to grunge to metal to today’s indie rock, which is so detached from its own sentience it might as well be a bearded brain in a jar.

The point of this article is simply to celebrate individuality and style and writing the way you think things OUGHT TO BE and not the way they currently are. To celebrate tearing down all forms of cultural mythology and idol worship before they inevitably build themselves back up again like silt collecting in a river bend. If Lester Bangs had lived past the age of thirty three, this is exactly what he would be preaching in 2017. He would be stripping trap rappers down to their underpants, declaring that Weird Al Yankovic was bigger than Katy Perry. It’s a tragedy that he never got to listen to Swans’ To Be Kind, or black metal, or Merzbow. But his writing and life should encourage everyone who encounters it to pursue passionately all the weird fucked up stuff they enjoy, just as he did. Ergo, this indulgent and impenetrable blog post that nobody cares about. Rest in peace, you brilliant piece of shit.

 

 

The Representation of, and the Relationship Between, Childhood, Happiness, and Virtue in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations

Great Expectations – a story of moral redemption, a parable about the corrupting influence of wealth, and a look at the nature of virtue as it relates to class, crime, and childhood. It’s a novel that deals with weighty topics, and constantly blurs the lines between right and wrong, moral and immoral, as it sees Pip through his journey of understanding and discovery. Along the way, we as readers trace this journey, from naive child to grown man, and all the discoveries and realizations of the self that come with it. At the heart of Pip’s many revelations is his childhood, a restrictive and often unhappy period which holds the key to a great deal of repressed guilt, desire, and ambition.

Pip’s guilt in the novel is complex and multi-faceted, and in it we can find much about his understanding of the notions of happiness and virtue. In the first sense, Pip feels a criminal guilt for his association with Magwitch at the start of the novel, and his committing of a crime in stealing from his sister. This first kind of guilt coincides with a sort of awakening in the young pip, who claims his meeting with Magwitch to be the time when he first develops a “vivid and broad impression of the identity of things”. David Trotter (Penguin 2004) suggests that this awakening of the senses means that “Pip feels uneasy from the moment he begins to feel at all”. Perception itself is guilt, and it infuses Pip’s domestic world with the visual symbolism of crime – Pip imagines the bread shoved down his trouser leg as an iron chain bound to him, a “part of his consciousness”. He likens the sound of flint and steel to a pirate rattling his chains, and he imagines his journey up the stairs in the dark as a solitary journey towards his damnation at the Hulks.

But Pip’s guilt is also manifest from a much younger age. In chapter four, Mrs Joe and the other guests at dinner are all quick to judge Pip and assign blame to him wherever possible, and in doing so so they reveal a deep-seeded emotional guilt that has followed Pip since birth. As he says: “They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation at me, every now and then, and stick the point into me…I got so smartingly touched up by these moral goads”. Mrs Joe then finally reveals the source of Pip’s guilt, when she expresses to everyone how much of a burden he has been to her: “[she] entered on a fearful catalogue of all the illnesses I had been guilty of, all the acts of sleeplessness I had committed…all the times she had wished me in my grave, and I had contumaciously refused to go there”. Pip’s perpetual guilt is a Freudian craving for the affection of a mother figure, the source of all his ingratitude and restless ambition that he is forced to confront at the end of the novel. Pip is led to believe that he is without virtue, and his journey to emotional redemption can be seen as his attempt to reclaim it from the shadow of his adoptive mother.

Pip undergoes a second awakening when he is introduced to Miss Havisham and Estella, and it is here that he develops another kind of guilt, a guilt for his social position and his working class status. When Estella comments on the coarse nature of his hands and his boots, Pip says that “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before, but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. [Estella’s] contempt was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it”. This moment is the first that leads Pip down a path in which he tries to fill a void of virtue and happiness using money. Pip’s association of personal value with monetary value, however, is deep seeded and again dates back to his childhood. Pip notes in chapter four how Pumblechook always refers to him as “sixpennorth of halfpence”, assigning him a monetary value (a very small one) as it relates to his character. Pip has been conditioned, then, to associate wealth with strength of character, morality, and virtue, and he is forced to confront this notion when he learns that Magwitch is his benefactor – he learns that the rich are not always virtuous, and the virtuous are certainly not always rich.

Joe proves to be a model of such working class virtue throughout Great Expectations. Warm, generous, grateful and content, he is everything Pip has been led to believe he is not, but Pip, blinded by the virtue of wealth, is unable to recognize him as a model of character and virtue. This is perhaps Pip’s most damning crime of all in the novel, particularly his admission in London that “If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money”. In this passage we can see the full influence of Pip’s wealth, how it has replaced Joe entirely and serves some protective, familial purpose towards him. Joe’s virtue is of a pure, almost childlike kind – he finds good in everyone, including Magwitch. During chapter five, when the soldiers are about to take Magwitch to the Hulks and they are all resting together in the wooden hut, Magwitch admits to having stolen a pork pie among other food, from the pantry. Joe’s responds with, “God knows you’re welcome to it…we don’t know what you’ve done, but we wouldn’t have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creatur”. This exchange recalls Pip’s earlier encounter on the marshes, where, having brought the pie to Magwitch, he “[makes] bold to say, “I’m glad you enjoy it””, to which Magwitch replies “Thankee, my boy, I do”. These small moments of kindness are the innocent and perhaps naive virtues of childhood, and although Pip loses them amongst the streets of London, he reclaims them with his eventual redemption at the novels end.

But does virtue lead to happiness? For Pip in his childhood, this certainly seems not to be the case. If the happiness of childhood is blissful ignorance, then Pip is constantly made aware of himself and the world around him, aware of his own faults and the faults of the society in which he lives. His childhood is largely solitary, with only Joe, Mrs Joe and the marshes for company. This is largely adult company, which forces him to understand the world and himself long before many other children do. It would be difficult, in these circumstances, to say that Pip’s childhood is a happy one. His childlike innocence is perceived as nagging curiosity by his sister, while every other adult in his life (save Joe) patronizes and vilifies him seemingly without reason. By the end of the novel, however, surrounded by good friends and, just as importantly, good deeds, Pip is able to find happiness. His friendship with Wemmick restores his faith in the family as a functional unit, his homely fortress Walworth serving symbolically as a last bastion of domesticity in Pip’s life and in the busy streets of London. Wemmick’s selfless care for his half-deaf father, despite his being a burden, is everything Pip’s sister could never give to him as a child, and it is through his association with these characters that Pip is finally able to recognize his own rejection of domestic life, and his deep affection for Joe.

This final revelation is the one that brings him a true and lasting happiness, one founded on a selfless desire to see Joe happy with his new wife and family. This re-embrace of the domestic is the culmination of the lessons Pip learns about the nature of virtue throughout Great Expectations – how it can come from strange and unexpected places, how it cant be bought with money, and how important are gratitude, selflessness, and affection for those we love.