the last of…

Fantasy, Film, Ghosts, London, Modernity, Poetry, Poets, Writing

So here’s Iain Sinclair, talking about London while wandering in Haggerston Park and Bethnal Green:

He’s sadder here than I’ve ever seen him. He talks in the film about how London has changed into something he can no longer engage with – that writers in general can engage with – in any particularly constructive way. But I think there’s also something very personal behind his grief.

Tom Raworth, a very major, often astonishing poet, died back in February. There’s more on him here. Sinclair knew him well and was – is – greatly influenced by him. He mentions his death at the end of this LRB piece, a companion to the film. I think the film is in part an elegy to him, and to a particular milieu which once surrounded Sinclair but is now slowly and inevitably slipping away.

And of course Sinclair’s more overt concerns about London are both very genuine and very incisive. Most of the film was shot within a few minutes walk of my own final London flat. I once knew that area well, but when I visit it now I feel a very absolute sense of slippage. London has moved away from me, too. There’s a sense of radical change afoot that is hard to keep up with, and both painful and (for someone less closely involved with the city) fascinating to watch.

And I write this on the day that Theresa May’s Article 50-triggering letter reaches Brussels and Brexit proper begins. I’m European as much as I am British – I spent my early years in France. I speak French, some German and Latin, which lets me read Italian and Spanish. I’ve found deep riches in all those cultures. And I’m British as much as I am English. My family on both sides is ultimately Scottish and I spent four immensely formative student years up there.

Brexit is at best profoundly suspicious of and at worst deeply corrosive to those international parts of me, and more broadly to those of England and Britain; to that positive, open European identity that the best parts of the 20th Century fought so hard for. So I felt for Iain Sinclair as he wandered through streets that he’d once felt lost in, and that he’d worked so hard to understand, and that were now puzzling him all over again. His film helped crystallise the sense of loss I’m feeling, without once directly referring to its cause. If you have fifteen minutes today, I’d recommend watching it.

a weekend at nine worlds

Cons, Crashing Heaven, London

Much excitement as I’m doing a panel and reading at Nine Worlds next week, plus a Google Hangout and some Courtly Fantasising beforehand.

So, on the Thursday 6th August at 3pm I’ll be doing the hangout with Alex Lamb, Aliette de Bodard and Anna Caltabiano – I’ll post a link when I have it. Then I’ll be hitting Fantasy in the Court. It’s a friendly meetup for genre folk in Cecil Court, should be lovely. You do need a ticket though, details are on the website.

And then on Friday I’m at Nine Worlds, doing a panel and a reading:

Architecture of a great character
Room 38, 10:00am – 11:15am
Al Robertson, Leila Abu el Hawa, Lucy Hounsom, Danie Ware, Sebastien de Castell, Liesel Schwarz

A good character can be timeless but what does it take to build this character and what jigsaw pieces make up the things that make our characters live on?

New Voices
Royal C&D, 10:15pm – 11:30pm

Readings from Francesca Haig, Lucy Hounsom, Zen Cho, Tom Toner, Al Robertson and Stark Holborn

The official schedule details are here. Apart from the reading and panel, I’ll be there all day Saturday too, taking everything in. So, it looks like it’s going to be a lovely, chatty, literary weekend. See you there!

A walk with Zali Krishna

Landscape, London, Photos, Psychogeography, Travel

Zali and I went for a walk the other day. We started at Thamesmead, then moved down the Thames past City Airport. Halfway through, we stopped and dug random quotes out of some books we had with us. I took several pictures. Here’s some of them, plus the quotes we found:

Dark water, distant towers

‘You will never know what just happened, or you will always know what is going to happen.’

Unbroken landscape

‘Here, once again, the machine could be used as a real liberator.’

Breakers pause

‘Inside the apartment, Coltrane played ‘My Favourite Things’. Outside, the builders shouted at one another.’

Fence in bloom

‘As I came through the desert, thus it was.’

Broken quay

‘As I came through the desert: all was black.’

Private sky

Here are the rest of the pictures I took. Here are Zali’s. And here’s a documentary about life in Thamesmead during the 70s:

Enclosing Wild Orchids

Landscape, London, Memory, Modernity, Music, Novelists, Travel writers

For today’s post, allumination brings you – Iain Sinclair live! He’s reading from ‘Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire’ at the British Library, with musical and spoken word accompaniment from John Harle. Together, they create a rather wonderful aural collage; and, although my little N95 made them look rather blocky, it caught words and music pretty well. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Oh, and the single, full length film, lasting about twenty minutes, is available here at Vimeo, or here at Blip.TV.

William Blake understood as a West London Shopping Mall

Aliens, Ballard, Fiction, Film, Ghosts, Landscape, London, Modernity, Poets, William Blake

On Sunday, I went to the William Blake 1809 exhibition at Tate Britain, reviewed here in The Guardian. It’s absolutely fascinating; it restages his first and only public display of prints and paintings, and sets them in a context which helps explain their abysmal critical reception.

I wanted to do a video review of it, but unfortunately (as I discovered) you’re not allowed to take pictures in the Tate. This raises fascinating questions about copyright, and the Tate’s understanding of differences between reproduction and interpretation in a digital world; more on that in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, I still wanted to do a video blog entry reviewing the exhibition, but of course I couldn’t show any of the images. So I decided to follow Ballard, and understand it in terms of a West London Shopping Mall – which led to this short film:

 

It’s available in higher resolution at Vimeo here:

William Blake understood as a West London Shopping Mall from Al Robertson on Vimeo.

[digg=http://digg.com/arts_culture/William_Blake_understood_as_a_West_London_Shopping_Mall]

Return to Albertopolis

Fantasy, Fiction, Gigs, Groove, London, Novelists

A very enjoyable night last night, as I hit the rather wonderful Book Club Boutique (and here on Facebook) for a London Short Story night set up and MC’d by Tony White. Some excellent writers – particular stand outs were Will Ashon‘s subtly fantastical biscuit opera, and Matthew De Abaitua‘s Ballardesque tale of North London inter-dinner party combat.

It also marked an allumination first. Inspired by Christian Payne on Friday, I’ve decided to start expanding my technological and media reach. So, I recorded Tony reading from ‘Albertopolis Disparu’; the video’s below. Visual quality is ok, but the sound is perfect, so sit back and enjoy:

 

The full text is still available here at the Science Museum – and I also managed to stop recording a little too early; if I hadn’t, you would have heard about an upcoming six zeppelin sonic attack…

Dispatches from a moving time

Essayists, Fiction, Landscape, London, Modernity, Novelists, Poets

Well, the process of moving continues – silence for the last week or so as I’ve been deep in final moving and decorations (with hugely invaluable help and support from H) before the new carpets go in at Allumination Central. More busy-ness continues – furniture ordering, sorting estate agents, etc, before the upcoming move to Stoke Newington. Yup, the Allumination Central mothership is relocating! More news on this as happens.

So, a quick post today, because there really hasn’t been too much pondering time of late. And, in salute of my upcoming new neighbourhood, let’s hear from Iain Sinclair as he wanders Abney Park Cemetery, our soon-to-be-local nuttily gothic burial ground, and discurses fascinatingly on the literary and general history of Stoke Newington, Hackney and London in general.

And I’m off to walk round the flat barefoot again – why didn’t I get new carpets years ago? Hey ho…

 

 

 

Inspectors of the Heart

London, Poets

Apropos of nothing at all, here’s a poem I wrote a few years back. I was walking up St John’s Hill, past the hairdressers, when a siren cut through the moment and everything seemed to stop:

Inspectors of the Heart

A violent sound puts streets in shock –
cars stop to let the siren past.
It almost seems that nothing else is there;
just lights, that wailing and a fifth gear howl
that hurtles by, then up the road and on.

Lord, let sirens quiet and silent traffic flow;
protect us from inspectors of the heart.

Uniforms are knives to crowds,
slicing through them to arrest
someone maybe wanted, maybe not.
Pedestrians avert their eyes and freeze
resisting implication in this mess.

Lord, let sirens quiet and silent traffic flow;
protect us from inspectors of the heart.

They’ve gone, have left a space
where something trusting used to be.
Abusing stop and search they’ve shown us all
that they’ll invade us as and when they need;
remembered charges clog the muted streets.

Lord, let sirens quiet and silent traffic flow;
protect us from inspectors of the heart.

Smashing the piano

Gigs, Groove, London, Music, Radio

Well, it’s quite the weekend of music coming up.

On Saturday night, Stoke Newington’s legendary Drones Club hosts the awesome testosterone rush that is synth duo Raagnagrok, plus mash up Arabist mayhem from Djinn. More details here, it’s going to be a blast.

On Sunday, as part of Resonance FM’s Month of Sundays sessions, Raagnagrok offshoot Grok is playing with the even-more-legendary M. John Harrison, plus techgnostic Erik Davis, at the Corsice Studios down in Elephant and Castle. Details here, again it’ll be truly mind expanding.

Oh, and there’s also going to be comedy from Simon Munnery, science chat from Little Atoms, Dexter Bentley, Marvin Suicide and more.

I’ll be at both – see you there!

Flesh eggs, scarlet tracings

Essayists, Landscape, Literary, London, Novelists, Poets

Bringing Iain Sinclair’s book of poems, ‘Buried at Sea’, into work this morning made me think about the impact his selected poems ‘Flesh Eggs and Scalp Metal’, and his novel ‘White Chappell Scarlet Tracings’, made on me when I first read them.

I was at a very conservative boarding school in Dorset; every so often Ted Hughes’ ‘The Thought Fox’ would get dusted off by some corduroy jacketed English teacher as an example of the finest, most dangerous poetry that modern Britain had to offer; appreciation of the contemporary novel stopped at Ford Madox Ford.

After Hughes’ tepid, self regarding, bankrupt Romanticism – a poetry that had and still has all the allure of a fly-blown egg salad sandwich rotting in an over warm chiller unit in a barely used Little Chef just off the A303 – and FMF’s (admittedly excellent, but simultaneously) seventy years gone Modernist novelising, Iain Sinclair was a revelation.

I’ve come to read his work as a driven Cockney response to writers like Ezra Pound and Charles Olson; people obsessed with the way history and geography combine to create an environment that the self cannot but rely on for definition.

He built on their methodologies, marrying berserk pulp mythologies with the seedier scrag ends of the Matter of London to look at how popular culture and mythology shape us.

London becomes a dense palimpsest of experience, a place where figures as diverse as Jack the Ripper, Stephen Hawking, Mithras and Nicholas Hawksmoor create intertwining narratives that echo in an absolutely contemporary way through the lives of all Londoners.

Within it we are are perpetual slaves to our environment, unknowing flaneurs being perpetually remoulded by the city that we are always strolling through, always observing, always being observed by.

There’s an obvious political edge to this, as well; those with the power to shape the environment have the power to shape us. Picking up where the Situationalists left off, riffing off the pulp innocence of H. P. Lovecraft and Victorian Penny Dreadfuls, Sinclair forces us to beware of such designs.

Iain Sinclair was using fictions I was deeply engaged with to build an argument about the nature of place, memory (both personal and cultural) that I found very exciting and relevant. Set against Ted Hughes and his dustily savage nature poetry – what took him a career to achieve was done better by Tennyson in four lines in 1849 – there was no real competition.