With a busy year ahead – working on 2 new novels and a possible poetry collection and/or chapbook, plus the promotion of my new Wordcatcher titles as well as those of Original Plus authors, plus the editing of The Journal – I am not going to be blogging as regularly as I did in 2018. Nevertheless, here goes....
So much of art can start as a happy accident. Although for that accident of itself to be considered art could be a tad premature.
It is usually not enough to rely solely on assemblage, to gather together sounds for instance and to call that gathering music. Or to collect colours and textures together and call that assemblage visual art. Or to put words together on the same page and call that page poetry. No, these gatherings are but the beginnings.
Now, the gathering complete, is when the internal editor/critic/compiler takes over. If a composer one tries laying one sound partially over another, asks if that could make a viable chord. Does it respond to that click sound? Should it be repeated? Could the pairing become the motif for a larger piece? (See Neil Carter CDs.)
While for the colour splashes now is the time to consider the dynamism of any juxtaposition. Or what you may want the piece to become. Or, and more likely, what the piece may want to become. Are those large then small splodges creating an unwanted perspective? Do those four colours so close together look possibly representational? Could that hint of an image be put to use? Or will it then look too much like so-and-so's work? Or could this smudged photo become art if...?
A red pen is required for the word-gatherers. With no preconceived narrative in mind it could be that there is a sense of something lurking in this wordy gathering, a possible otherness asking to be conveyed. A couple of words might be preventing that. Remove them. Change the order of some others? Make it present tense? Past? Now it is starting to become art... That is if Art should end/not end where wonderment/imagination begins.
© Sam Smith January 1st 2019
What happens to certain people in their forties and onwards that their language changes and they become these pompous establishment types who trot out things like, “Your dad used to be a bit of ladies' man.” Instead of, an expression appropriate to my generation say, “He was always after getting his end away.”
Let's call them premature-previous-dotards, because these people my age can often also be seen wearing ever-pressed trousers and the women getting their white hair precociously permed.
Could it be that hormonal changes have these premature-previous-dotards feeling that they are now living the second, maybe even the third part of their lives – childhood, then their busy breeding age, and now their imminent dotage? - that they are now different people to what they were? So they have to adopt a new persona? Have to use other terms of reference? And the only models they have were their aged parents, uncles and aunts, and what they used to say: “In my day...”
All our physical components change, cells renew, die, some get replaced... Every 7 years apparently, and like Buddha's ox-cart we become composed of different parts. Our thinking processes though, our emotional responses, remain largely the same. Could that be what these peculiarly old-fashioned responses are, an attempt to reconcile our extant emotional states with the wreckage that has become of our bodies and, because of our age and adult circumstances, our now limited opportunities? So do these premature-previous-dotards resort to archaic platitudes: “When I was your age...” “I'll give you what for young...”
Could it be that, after all the uncertain fumblings and errors of youth, wrinkles and grey hair have bestowed upon them an unexpected and unlooked-for respectability, and they want to exploit this new role to the full: “Youngsters these days...” “Think life's hard now...” “What they need is....”
© Sam Smith 4th February 2019
I cannot afford heroes. Hero-worship is a static state and creativity demands a continually changing perspective. Which means that I am uneasy whenever anyone is made a hero, especially when they are made heroes by the media. One knows from experience that no sooner has the media conferred heroism on them than somebody else in the media, maybe even within the same periodical, is looking for the new hero's clay feet. The story can then run and run.
For hero read celebrity, and given tabloid intrusion into the lives of celebrities I find it difficult to believe why anyone would even dream of becoming a celebrity, a media hero. Hence I do not allow myself even the fantasy of celebrity, of heroism. I am a common-named fool, have done and continue to do many foolish things. (Could these here, for instance, be the diary entries for another gross Nobody called Smith?)
Given awareness of my own clay feet what I also find difficult to understand is the near religious adulation offered up to singers/performers. For me the performance, the posturing gets in the way of the material. I prefer always a self-effacing interpretation to a virtuosic display. Unless of course the performer is the material, which is why I do so enjoy kitsch and camp.
I cannot likewise understand the loyalty given over to sports teams. I enjoy watching some soccer, some rugby; but I admire technique, skill and prowess, regardless of which side wins.
My distrust of the process of heroism, my own fallibility, is probably why so many of my own heroes have been damaged people, often failures by their own light – John Clare, Jack London, Edward Bibbins Aveling, Phillip de Marisco, Van Gogh, Bothwell... And why I am drawn now to those – not shock-jock controversialists being scandalous for its own sake, or to establishment pets like Fry and Perry, become parodies of themselves – but to those whose principles dare them to be different – Meredith Monk, Laura Riding, George Galloway, Tariq Ali, Caroline Lucas, Bjork... Equally poet friends like Paul Sutton, Alan Corkish, Jan Oscar Hansen: their obstinate outspoken existence I approve of, purely for the light they let into any exchange-of-clichés debate.
© Sam Smith 20th February 2019
Sometimes it can seem that throughout the whole of my writing life I've been forced to undo lies. Some of my own, youth's boasting, and those lies that seemed necessary at the time to get me into or out of love affairs. Into jobs as well. But like all readily-believed liars what I instead wanted was to impress with the truth. But lies were easy, the truth hard, and people seemed to prefer the familiar off-the-peg lie.
Most of my lifetime's lies though have come from the lives surrounding mine, clothing mine.
Let's take the '68 anti-Vietnam war reporting – of the Vietnam war itself, and of those many who were campaigning to have that war stopped. Even now, harking back, there continue to be deliberate misrepresentations. In the USA the National Guard did shoot and kill several unarmed demonstrating students. While here in the UK, in Grovesnor Square, the police horses did come charging into us protestors before any horse ever got hit with a placard stick.
Sometimes it feels as if I should pitch into every FaceBook thread to say No, it wasn't/isn't exactly like that... Set the record straight, tell the young, “But it's true. It wasn't some game. The threat of World War Three and nuclear obliteration was real. Politicians believed it. Governments built bunkers to hide themselves in. Just themselves.”
Nor is it solely the young and new to life who get it wrong. I made this note to myself in 2010: 'Live long enough and our own lives become a fiction. Which could be why old men talk so much – to try to recapture the reality of their lived life?'
Before that, in 1997: 'Self-mythologies are the stories we come to believe about ourselves, stories that make our small lives more than pathetic.'
What I have always wanted, in writing, has been to accurately describe the real, the actual. Unequivocal accuracy though is difficult verging on the impossible. And it's the totality of truth where I most often fail. A detail unconsidered, or deemed inessential, omitted, the context unexplained; and so I too add to the misrepresentations.
Plus all my writerly efforts are reliant on my readers' knowledge/expectations/prejudices; and whether they have come to my work to have their views reinforced, or they came with the intention of pulling it apart. The latter happens especially when I have penned a piece where I have attempted to defy the direction of the words, to bring them back to what I actually wanted to describe, shake them out of the mould the words had made for themselves.
I believe that it is because we are alone when we write, just ourselves and the page, that we can achieve an honesty rarely found elsewhere in our lives. Try for instance criticising a book in the author's presence. There can then be no pretence at objectivity because most people won't want to be unkind, will possibly, sociably, even seek to make themselves well thought of by the author. Or, if they have taken a dislike to the author, they may find themselves being wantonly cruel. Alone with the page however they can, either way, caution themselves to be dispassionate.
Alone with the page is where I am myself.
© Sam Smith 5th March 2019
Going by these kept jottings 1997 must have been even more changing than I realised at the time. I was busy.
'Odd that although I am happy to accept other people being different to me they are not happy to accept my being different to them. Christians refuse to believe that I'm not [being an English-born ex-choirboy] a patriotic Christian. Performance poets that I honestly do not enjoy performance poetry, etc.' (3.3.1997)
'Rimbaud in reverse: I did my living early, gave it up to write at 25.' (29.4.1997)
Explanation for that last note to self:- From adolescence onwards I'd been eager to sample each and every aspect of life. But as a recipient, not an actor. So I took my curious self to strange places, into new situations, to see what would happen to me, how I would react. Which was how I've been both street-fighter and pacifist. Singularity, wholeness, was never my objective. And in all my doing, in action, had not been desperation, nor a frantic sadness, more a tempered exhilaration. What next? While at the same time I was wary of causing unnecessary offence and thus depriving myself of the possibility of yet another new experience. Small wonder that I left both lovers and acquaintances confused.
1997: when I was full of having had my first collection, 'To Be Like John Clare,' finally in print, my mentor and friend Derrick Woolf asked me, “What's worse than a first collection by Salzburg?”
I face-shrugged a Don't Know.
“A second collection by Salzburg.”
How soon are our bubbles pricked. Which probably led to this:- 'Seeking now, not an impossible permanence, more a point of rest, a comfortable predictability.' (8.7.1997)
That year however there were some beneficial changes to my psyche. This note to self was written years later:- 'Never try to repair machines in a hurry or in anger.' (13.6.2008), but was a cautionary reminder of my having read in 1997 Pirsig's 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.' That was the book that physically changed my life. Pre-Pirsig I had broken coffee tables that got in my way, had thrown malfunctioning telephones the length of hallways, and I had chucked unco-operative lawnmowers over garden hedges. Post-Pirsig offending tables got moved, phones put aside, and lawnmowers mended.
O the power of literature.
© Sam Smith 19th March 2019