News, and Other Four-Letter Words.

When you’re a writer, and one of the country’s best literary festivals is on your doorstep, you can’t help but pop your head around the door. The Dundee Literary Festival closed yesterday after five days of events.

The highlights included Dundee International Book Prize winner Amy Mason, BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor choosing his favourite books, the STV Digital Spark Award to develop a Web-based project, topped with off with Sonny Carntyne performing ‘alt echo rock’ and novelist Zöe Venditozzi with her hilarious antidote to a hypnosis CD. For a more in-depth flavour of the programme, visit their Twitter account, Facebook page, and the Dundee University Review of the Arts (DURA) blog.

If you only look at one thing, make it The News Where You Are by James Robertson (below). I had a debate with one of the DURA bloggers over whether it was a story or a poem, but it’s a hilarious satire about what is implied when the national newsreaders hand over to the local newsrooms.

 

This year, I’ve become Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month in Dundee. I arranged our Kick-Off Event to coincide with the festival. It’s impossible to tell how many people will come to a given event, but we ended up with ten members altogether, and we listened to last year’s MLitt graduates each reading his or her magnum opus. Our regular write-ins will begin on Saturday, and I’ll no doubt write more about these throughout November.

The cast of Avenue Q performs "It Sucks t...
The cast of Avenue Q performs “It Sucks to Be Me” at Broadway on Broadway, September 10th 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In between all that, I found time to see Avenue Q, the show that’s broken out of Broadway and crossed the Atlantic. The actors stand on stage and sing alongside the puppets, but this soon ceases to be a distraction as they settle into the story of a new graduate coming to town, Kate Monster’s fight to have monsters recognised in society, and Rod’s reluctance to admit his sexuality. Content-wise, there is very little actual swearing. If this was a film, it’s the adult concepts that would probably earn it a 15 classification.

It’s also hard to see why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which I also caught this week, was given a 12A rating, when I could find nothing that would it earn it any more than a PG.

I don’t often swear in my own writing. The intention is often to shock, but when everyone does it, the words lose their impact. Comedian Bill Bailey summed it up nicely when he compared effing and jeffing to road humps: one or two isn’t an issue, but a constant barrage is. By contrast, Quentin Tarantino takes the view that, “I’m a writer, no word is in jail,” but from watching his films, I do see the F- and C-words being given more parole than any other.

That said, I’m not above including blasphemy, as that’s commonly used and – generally speaking – is no longer thought of as swearing. There’s a 90-page study from Ofcom on the matter if you have the time, but the relevant sentence is: “There were a small, but vocal number of participants who found the use of holy names unacceptable.”

But in the right hands, swearing can be done well. I’m thinking mostly of John Cooper Clarke’s Evidently Chickentown, in which the F-word appears 83 times to produce an onomatopoeic effect of a chicken’s squawking. When he recorded it in the early 1980s, though, he had to replace 80 of these with bloody.

I was going to end this entry with a word that sounds a bit rude, but I shan’t.

Advertisements

JC Superstar. (CC: @Sultonna)

After making my fifth post here, my attention was drawn to a service called Headliner, designed to allow bloggers to cross-promote each other. I thought I’d sign up just to see what happened. Today, Mellie Miller promoted this very site on Twitter, so if you’re reading me because of her, a thousand welcomes to you. You can find Mellie’s blog on WordPress and her Twitter name is in the title. What a tangled World Wide Web we weave.

And it’s a good time to join me. Over the next few days, I’ll be headed to Dundee Literary Festival, which attracts some heavyweights of the writing world. It’s possible to see them all, but more prudent to be selective and allow a little time for reflection between speakers. It launched yesterday with a debate over potential Scottish independence, hosted by the neutral Five Million Questions organisation.

Poetry is my weak suit, so I’ve made a point of seeing events with that theme. Today, I heard Robert Alan Jamieson read a little verse, as well as a lengthy extract from his riveting novel Da Happie Laand. Over a ham roll and crisps, I heard Michael Hulse read in a measured, definite voice echoing Tom Baker. I rounded off the day with non-poet Lesley Riddoch, who argues that our country would be better off with localised communes such as those found in Northern Europe.

I mentioned in my entry The Shock of The New that I intended to revisit the subject of poetry, particularly the performance type, although neither Jamieson nor Hulse fell into that camp.

At the start of the year, I was listening to the soundtrack album of Plan B’s Ill Manors when I heard a peculiar part that began, “Pity the plight of the young fellow, too long abed with no sleep…” I looked at the track information to find it featured a John Cooper Clark. I hadn’t previously heard of the guy, probably because he totally disappeared off the radar from the early 1980s to the mid-2000s.

But for the last few years, he’s enjoyed a resurgence. I’ve seen him once live on stage, then once via video link at the cinema earlier this month. His piece I Wanna Be Yours was included in the GCSE exam syllabus alongside poets like Maya Angelou, while Evidently Chickentown was featured prominently in The Sopranos. As well as Ill Manors, his lyrics also feature on The Arctic Monkeys’ AM album. Both of these reached number one.

His amazing story has me wondering if I have what it takes to write a poem for performance. There are still people out there doing exactly that; in particular, one of his live support acts, Luke Wright. But where I find that Cooper Clark often rushes his delivery, probably a result of cutting his teeth at punk gigs, Wright understands his audience, and his delivery is clearer as a result.

Comedian Phill Jupitus has also returned to his roots, performing The Misunderstanding at the Edinburgh Festival, along with another poem comprising solely of titles from its brochure. Craig Charles of Red Dwarf also started his career in a similar manner, before turning to acting.

One omission I’ve made so far is Pam Ayres. I’ve been listening to her recently in the car. She’s a homely, motherly poet, who focuses mainly on domestic matters. I hesitate to criticise because her wit and observations are sharp, and she’s loved by millions across the world, yet her delivery can be forced, for instance using, “On the brinked,” in place of, “Brink,” to rhyme it with, “Extinct.” And she occasionally expresses the same thought in two neighbouring lines, but this can be a useful skill for holding her own on radio panel show Just a Minute against comics like Paul Merton or Graham Norton.

The groundwork has been laid for me, but the question I have to ask myself is: can I produce material for performance that isn’t derivative, especially when it’s something so alien to me? With Wright emerging, Jupitus returning, and Ayers with a new collection on sale, I have a suspicion that performance poetry is about to become massive once again, and I want to ride this upcoming wave.

You can say you heard it here first.