Saturday, February 28

Moved blog and website: now at

I've got out the brown boxes, and now I'm over here at

Come and join me!

Why the move? The gentle sliding into journo-world. See my latest article at The Independent.

Saturday, January 10

Duffy: Balancing Power & Tripping It Up

Whether considering differences between abuser and victim in ‘Lizzie, six’, the woman posing ‘nude’ as opposed to the artist who is ‘possessing’ her in ‘Standing Female Nude’, or the distinction between the more experienced and less-experiences lesbians in ‘Oppenheim’s Cup and Saucer’, Duffy delves into the power imbalances within relationships.

In ‘Lizzie, Six’ the most obvious power imbalance is the young girl’s lack of physical space to speak; for every three lines her abuser has, she is permitted only one. The distinction between these two voices is heightened by Duffy’s italicisation of Lizzie’s speech, which visually clarifies the polarisation of the two characters. Indeed, Lizzie is shown to be overpowered by the prominent speaker of her abuser, who simultaneously interrogates, instructs, and threatens. Parallelism of various ‘what...’ and ‘where...’ questions highlights the overwhelming question of the final stanza, which shows the abuser’s complete inability to empathise for what he is doing to the victim. Through a structural patterning of a question followed by a response, Duffy increases our awareness of the abuser and victim’s dialogue, going on to use the poem’s form against the unsettling subject matter.

References to fairytales arise with the image of the ‘moon’, ‘wood’, and the ‘fields’, an illusion to a sense of innocence encouraged by iambic lines that give a nursery-rhyme like feel. And yet the form simulatenously disturbs, for by presenting such even quatrains it is almost as if Duffy stresses the inevitability of abuse. The imbalance of power is obvious through the several threatening allusions to sexual abuse:‘when I get up there’, ‘when your bottom’s bare’, ‘I’ll give you the dark’, plus a reshaping of the connotations of ‘love’. Looking at the verbs we can see how passivity is enforced on ‘Lizzie’; the abuser seems to be chasing the girl, following her up ‘stairs’, and the continuous repetition of ‘I’ll give’ leaves no doubt about who holds the power to ‘give’. In fact, this idea of ‘giving’ is made all the more ironic as the abuser is actually deliberately confiscating any power ‘Lizzie’ might have been allowed.

In ‘Standing Female Nude’ Duffy shows us a greater fight for power between the two characters, the ‘nude’ woman and the male artist. Nevertheless, the woman is once again shown to be subordinated to the male’s wants (yawn yawn, I know – hold your horses for ‘Oppenheim’s Cup and Saucer’!) Even though the female speaker remarks, ‘It does not look like me,’ the artist wants her to be ‘represented analytically’. Through the dramatic monologue, the woman’s self-awareness and direct tone provides liberty of power through language; she possesses the litanies of titillation, ‘Belly nipple arse’, the way they run without punctuation making it sound routine, a daily occurrence. Her body, perhaps, does not have as much value because she prostitutes it, whether to be ‘hung/ in great museums’, or to ‘sell’ the ‘arts’ of ‘a river-whore.’ She is not represented truthfully, but as the cubist ideal, which yields back to the adverb ‘analytically’, since cubism used to sometimes be called ‘analytic’. The ‘nude’, then, has been duly appropriated for the artist’s own purposes, ‘for a few francs’.

Whereas the artist and the gallery go-ers ‘gaze’ or speak indirectly, ‘You’re getting thin,/ Madame, this is not good’, the female speaker ridicules and holds the situation up to light (wahey!). She uses the diminutive ‘little’ to reduce the artist (Freudian thought, anyone?), sceptical about what they call ‘Art’; ‘Maybe’, she says. And yet despite being an object of exploitation, possessed ‘on canvas’, despite the imbalances of power, both male and female aligned: ‘Both poor, we make our living how we can’. As the artist remarks, ‘There’s no choice’. Still, the ‘female nude’ has words and language as a way to ‘possess’ and ‘concentrate’ on showing the artist. As much as the artist is attracted to her, ‘stiffen[ing] for [her] warmth’, or showing her the painting ‘proudly’, the woman holds triumphant power over the man. She is deliberately illusive, her ‘smile confuses him’. He ‘lights a cigarette’, reminiscent of post-coital moments, whereas she concentrates on her ‘few francs’, bringing the poem to its cyclical finality: ‘twelve francs’ and a ‘Standing Female Nude’ that does not look like her, but what the ‘bourgeoisie’ will pay to ‘call’ ‘Art’.

In ‘Oppenheim’s Cup and Saucer’, Duffy revels in the eroticism of seduction which lies in power shifts and role play, extending these ideas as she recounts a lesbian encounter. Through naming the poem after the fur cup and saucer, there is an immediate subtext of expectation; connotations of hair, namely pubic hair, are raised, as Duffy arguably refers to what Freud called the ‘Fetish Object.’ This idea of dining blurs naturally into the concept of sexual appetite/ hunger, and the normality of human sexual desires. Sexual experience becomes encoded in the everyday, just as we drink or have lunch, suggesting the normality and necessity of such. By constructing the encounter through delicate couplets, Duffy slows down the action, increasing the tension and the idea of an inevitable climatic build-up: there is time for the reader to pause, to ‘remember’, to imagine. Moreover, the deixis of paralleled ‘this’ brings an immediacy to the situation.

From the first couplet, women hold the power: they choose to remove themselves from the unsubtly of ‘loud’ men, taking their sexual pleasures ‘Far from’ this. The idea of a ‘secret life’ sounds exciting and illicit (quite true, no?), a combination of meetings which brings a sense of being alive and awake to the mundane repetition of other daily events. The metaphor of a ‘slim rope of her spine’ (dun-dun-dun...), which is heightened by the seductive, suggestive sibilance, creates an image of potential bondage or restraint. No doubt, power exchanges and power negotiations already figure. Although both women are active, the ‘She’ of this poem is leading, suggesting more, asking and encouraging. She prompts with ‘fur’, ‘rope’, and a ‘cup’. In this poem Duffy revels (she revels twice?! Twice, thrice...) in appreciating that power exchanges are not necessarily demeaning, hurtful or abusive, but can be extremely pleasurable if negotiated: notably, ‘She asked’, and did not presume.

Although there is a power imbalance with regards to one of the women being in charge, using imperatives, ‘Place’, and directing, ‘that’s right. Yes’, physically the two women are balanced. They both have the ‘sweet hot liquid’ which seems to connote cunnilingus, ‘her breasts were a mirror’ of the speaker’s own physical self, extended by the idea of ‘mirrors in the bed.’ The eroticism and sexual response comes from the a realisation and appreciation of women’s own physical identity, which is rooted in the recognition of physical sameness, rather than that of ‘the other’, i.e. the men.* Whereas in ‘Standing Female Nude’ the woman does not enjoy being objectified by the male painter, here the two lovers eroticise the act by deliberately objectifying it (choice, what a delightful thing!) and having the power to watch what they are doing.

The resounding ‘Yes’ can be seen as a response to the initial question of an initiation into a lesbian encounter which ‘Stirred’, just beginning. Contrary to both ‘Lizzie, Six’ and ‘Standing Female Nude’, ‘Oppenheim’s Cup and Saucer’ is the only poem (out of these lot, ye understand) which celebrates potential power imbalances, recognising the mutual agreement and underlying balance. Certainly, the leading woman has power and control: ‘she undressed me’, explains the speaker, yet this is sexy because it is agreed and allowed. Duffy shows us how power can, and is abused, by those who ‘do not care’ about consent or the other in the relationship, just as the ‘female nude’ loses eroticism through what is primarily only a power exchange for money: ‘for a few francs’, to then ‘wine and dance’ and forget about having prostituted one’s body. Crucially (dazzling lights and curtains open please!), in ‘Oppenheim’s Cup and Saucer’ it is only ‘Far from’ men that power imbalances can be successful negotiated to create something ‘sweet hot’ and seductive, rather than something that reeks of abuse, be it a male painter telling a woman that her body is ‘not good’, or chasing a six year old child till her ‘bottom’s bare’ and she’s ‘crying’, rightly ‘afraid’ of her abuser’.

*Interesting point of contrast is almost all descriptions of hetero relationships. Check out attention to 'the other'. Simone de Beauvoir's 'The Second Sex' springs to mind as fantastic theory on this, and the delightful Desdemona's ruminations on her darling Othello would prove interesting too.


Pro or anti essay? I might make more of a thing of this. Show off some other stuff, not just Duffy essays.

Everyday Kicks

how do you like the new name? (Or not?)

I think it's more appropriate - it's what art, for me at least, is all about - reliant, exciting everyday kicks. What more could anyone dream of?

Tuesday, January 6

Unwanted Christmas present? Clothes that don't fit?

Stuff you're thinking about chucking away?

Don't add to the statistics.

Resist the allure of the bins!

Look here if you want someone locally to come and pick them up from you and put them to good use, or here if you fancy getting rid of them yourself and plumping up the shelves at your local Oxfam.

Monday, December 1

remember those sweets you haven't eaten for years?

Walking home, a girl passed me who smelt of refreshers. Refreshers the sweets, the ones which fizz and feel like they're bubbling in your nose. Beautiful.

Wednesday, November 12

The name in my inbox. It lights up all on its own. Magic!

Several emails lately from friends who I've not spoken to in a while. People with whom I have very erratic correspondence, but that's okay with, because neither of us gets angsty about it.

Beautiful to see the initials and names flash up. Probably more so than getting a buzz on your phone and seeing the name. Handwriting on envelopes, however, that's a whole new matter...

(Especially when there's an invitation to visit a place which, in one of my friend's words, 'may actually be the prettiest place in the world'.)

Bought new for £2.95 - how many years ago?

I'm reading a book which is enjoyable. It's exciting, quite frivolous, and not too hardcore. It's not particularly experimental, it doesn't try to be very flashy; it's actually understated. Not the best of her works maybe, but still worthwhile I'd say, especially to provide the context of the others. My problem isn't with the novel itself at all - rather, I'm curious about why it has never been taken out of the library before. Why, to be precise, this has gone unread by so many potential readers.

This is a pretty key author I'm talking about; someone who's neither obscure nor rarely discussed. Not one of her key works, but still, why hasn't it been read before me? If the book (a beautiful hardback, with an equally glorious cover - have to admit it!) was bought for £2.95 new, then it must have been bought several years ago.

Problem is, this book isn't on the shelves. Instead of being on the shelves (where there is lots of nice, 'light' reading) it is rejected, only allowed space in the basement. My quarrel with this is that, as someone who largely discovered reading through picking stuff up off the shelves (in libraries, second-hand bookshops, charity shops, shelves of my friends' parents etc.) I worry that people are missing out.

Sure, it's a good feeling when the pages are untouched, nice and clean, unsmudged, without any wear... but it begs the question of why these books are going unread, and what people are missing out on.

I admit it freely: if I find witty or pertinent annotations in a book, or perhaps even a post-it stuck in or a note referencing another work or an essay, I am intrigued. I'm nosy, curious, whatever you want to call it: I want to know. About books, and about what the people before me have thought. I like picking up a book and having some kind of a link between the people who've enjoyed it (or not, as the case may be) before.

We need to bring these books up from the basement. Put them in between the trash (like in charity shops, sometimes!) Put them amongst the chick lit or smuggle a few into the precious 'teenager literature' section. Let people find them and develop their own tastes for what they enjoy. Let them have a choice to read the amazing literature, to write faint comments in the margins, to pause and think and go back and read again and keep on discovering.

PS: The book is a novel of Woolf. PPS: A great deal of what I have come to love has been through these forays where I have stumbled across works I hardly knew anything about. PPPS: I'm not too sure about defining 'key'. Maybe someone else can!

Friday, October 24

Read This magazine

Up for encouraging new, fresh writing, Read This magazine is not one to be turned down. The team is an Edinburgh ensemble, with Claire Askew, who was this year's Poet in Residence at the London Poetry Festival, as chief ed. If you're up Edinburgh way, they're having a party on Wednesday 12th November. Exciting poetry, a few drinks, and a beautiful city - sounds great to me!

You can check out it's online edition which features various poets at different stages, and includes my poem 'Vodka's Punch' at the moment. Click and have a look at the 'Poetry & Drama' which you'll find on the left.

[poem was here.]

[poem was here.]

Monday, September 29

Delete, delete, and delete till they're gone.

Clearing my inbox (pretty much, only 30 or so left out of hundreds of email) was surprising. I'd forgotten that some people had ever emailed me, realised I'd left far too many emails unanswered, and that horrible things such as 'social networking sites' were clogging it up. This is the first time I've ever almost-cleared my inbox; so far I've somehow managed not to. I also happened upon an email from someone whose emails I thought I'd totally got rid of. One had slipped through. I opened it - at least it was a happy email. Supposedly happy. There was talk of photos and how we look so happy on them, and aftershave, and birthday presents; an overall isn't-life-great-just-now tone. Why say it so much, if it is? Did we really need to say it? I can't remember replying to that email. Of course, I probably did. Or maybe that was when we weren't talking for a while. I can't remember, it was so many months ago. This one got deleted too.

Tuesday, September 23

Today, not yesterday or the next day.

Following a conversation with a friend, about God and time and hope and possibility (really ought to have been a pub conversation, with empty glasses cluttering the table), I did some thinking. My friend was projecting (as far as I can tell) the idea that it is today we should think about. So although people will naturally have expectations, based on previous time spend with us, or perhaps just preconceptions, we should try to free ourselves from these expectations. We should live each day as if it is a new day, if that is possible. Which lead me to a few questions, and namely one about whether, having made what we feel are mistakes, or done stupid things, whether we ought to apologise for them, or just forge the new, forge the better and concentrate on that? Because when we apologise, even to other people, we are simultaneously solidifying regrets, or concentrating on what went wrong, rather than today, here, these minutes, this evening where the sky is dark and the streetlamps lit. I'm not sure; a lot depends on the context, as Offred discusses (or rather Atwood discusses via Offred) in The Handmaid's Tale. It is a question, like most, of interpretation, but what does saying sorry do? For the people who know you, they will probably know that you are sorry, and for those who don't, I suppose you just have to hope, and concentrate on each day as it arrives.

(And yet we plan weeks, months, years ahead. We're forced to. We can't help looking at yesterday, either: 'we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.' Incidentally, when I borrowed someone else's copy of The Great Gatsby, they'd underlined it as well.)

Language is key. The attention to detail. The peeking out of the sides of our hoods.

In 'The Handmaid's Tale', the female 'handmaids' are named Of + [commander's name]. Our (for she is ours; she is the voice which Atwood has sung in knowledge that the personal is the political) protagonist is called Offred.

If she had simply named the women Mrs + [husband's name], I doubt we would have been asking where the Ms was. Especially since it seems that a lot of women in my generation are hardly aware of Ms. By subverting our traditional naming practices, however, she comments on the possessive power element embedded into our naming system through a patriarchal society. We ask, why should this women be named after a man? (A man, incidentally, with whom in Gilead she has not initially chosen to associate herself. The choice was not there.) Why, moreover, should she be defined in terms of the man? ‘Offred’ insinuates that the most important thing is that she is owned; she is someone else’s; she is Fred’s, and he has laid claim to her more publically than any wedding ring.

We turn the question to ourselves. We can’t help it. The parallel is clear. Why should we be defined (for naming is defining, see 'Translations' - Brian Friel) by our male partner? And what on earth happens if our partner isn't male? (Gilead being a puritan, Christian fundamentalist state, homosexuality or anything verging remotely away from heterosexuality is forbidden. The choice, again, is not there.)

This example from 'The Handmaid's Tale' is a small one, but it shows how Atwood is clearly tackling gender issues: question of power, possession, and patriarchy.

Monday, August 25

a poem was here...

-- poem was here --


Maybe you need to have read Clare Pollard's poem, which is after another poem (gets confusing, doesn't it!)

Thursday, June 19

shoving your hands in the ground and finding worms, centipedes...

a very good feeling. Physically exhausting, lots of aching, stomach knawing for food, but overall an immense feeling. I'd recommend it to all.


Yikes... I have a guest visiting soon and their room is really not tidy yet at all. I also have books (two) to read before the guest arrives. And notebooks to buy (since Tesco is categorically rubbish, after ringing up and being told the notebooks I was after were definitely in stock, when apparently they'd not been at that store for at least a week.)

Saturday, May 17

Expectations, expectations, expectations.

so i haven't updated this for a while. Somebody asked me why. I'm not sure. Little inclination? I think I might stop it (as if I hadn't kind of already.)


I should actually write something about the title. Notice the s-h-o-u... in there. Eek... time to hide, find a corner from which we can peer and hope the thing doesn't take over us.

I had a few thoughts recently, about why people do things, and how sad (depressing? miserable? unhopeful?) it is that some people do things just for someone else to gratify them, to say that they have 'reached' whatever it is that they are supposed to reach, even though of course they can never 'reach' enough. This is people who are never content/ happy/ satisfied who I'm talking about. People who feel so strongly unsettled and unsure, that they strive to be 'enough', foregoing basic pleasures. Someone who will deny themselves things if there is no 'purpose' or supposed academic 'gain'. They like to collect. People, facts, books, so-called knowledge. They can never collect enough, and whatever they do, it has to somehow relate back to trying to prove themselves. Sure, it's not physical posturing, but is it much better? Attempts at intellectual posturing, reading because they have been told, or because someone else (a friend, perhaps) has read the book, and, God forbid, they haven't. Where does it go? When do they realise?

Or do they just deny? Pretend they're learning for learning's sake, or because they enjoy it... enjoy it at the expense of any social inclinations, or any basic enjoyment. Pretend they like not going out to watch a film because they can't let themselves get over the fact that - shock horror - they've spent 2 hours doing something which wasn't 'productive'.

I have nothing against learning. Really. I enjoy some sorts of it a lot, and I like reading. But I also like to think that I'm reading for me, that I'm doing it for me, because, you know, we don't really have a great deal of time here, in fact, we have relatively little, and so why would I waste it away on trying to prove? Might I not just give up on this? Or realise the futility of it, learn to learn because I want to, and if that's not whatever subject I've applied for, then so be it. It's not so tragic if one fails sometimes. If we realise that we cannot be the best categorically, and that maybe what is best, is beginning to wake up to these expectations and learn to move beyond them.

Will we flap our arms? Will we forget how to tread water when the mark on the results sheet isn't an A? Will we push the heads of those who read the book/ knew the 'facts' before us under the water? Will we trip our friends up, as we push to read the end of the lane? Will we stop? Will we watch the rain pouring out over drains outside, the diggers bludgeoning through gravel, and the sun warming that particular spot in the top right-hand corner of the pool? Will we lie, naked, and learn to float? Will we learn to be, without having a purpose or goal or aim for everything?

Sunday, April 13

Man on the train.

So, the scene goes like this. There's one of my friends and me. We're sat on a train. Maybe we have our feet up on the seats; probably we have our feet up. On the cluster of seats opposite sits a man, reading a book. Which book,I don't know. I remember trying to read the cover but unfortunately my eyesight didn't succeed that time. Anyway, so we're chatting, me and my friend.

Bla bla bla bla ensues. And I mention how people tell me to spend time/ make effort with person X (this is easiest), but I don't feel like making effort with person X anymore because I'm all out of making effort for person X and there are other people I'd rather give my effort to.

Man on the seats opposite is clearly listening. I don't mind too much, nor does my friend. It's not a particularly private conversation, and it's not as if anybody on the train is going to know this person X.

Man on the train glances up from his book every so often and is clearly listening more. Then, about a stop away from where me and my friend get off, he says that it sounds like I'm trying to convince myself about something when I've already made my mind up. Then we say some other things.

But, you know, I kind of like that the stranger actually said something. I don't mind it when strangers do, unless they're obviously very weird or you've made it clear you don't want to chat. Anyway, lots of people tell me they think it's rude to chime into a conversation like that. I'm not sure. Sometimes people are just too stuffy and unfriendly, especially if you're only trying to be nice.

Plus, through my talking on trains I've met so many interesting people. Like the other day I was at an art gallery and met someone who makes sculptures and is running for a big art prize. Good things can come from talking or just being friendly, I suppose it just depends who you choose to talk to.


Today I re-realised my love of the thing that is sprinting. It's almost as good as diving into a swimming pool, and feeling the oxygen running out, your body climbing to the surface as the supply of bubbles becomes exhausted.

I like the way it makes my throat hurt, my legs ache and feel jellified, and my head rush with the pressure afterwards; the way my body feels so powerful when I sprint, and knowing that I can sprint. I think I'm getting hooked on exercise... if I don't run/ cycle/ walk/ swim I end up unable to just sit down and study. I can't sit and study unless my body is tired, and I like that feeling. Feeling that you can't give it much more. Then having a long, long bath at the end of the day, or a shower when you get back and having the spray on high on my muscles on my back.

I wholly recommend it. Not jogging (that effect is no where near as strong), but sprinting. Sprint, sprint, sprint...

Tuesday, April 1

A post I wrote a while ago and hesitated about posting.

it is the holidays. Which means no more college (6th form/ school... glad I'm not one of those poor buggers who still have a uniform and perky year 7s not yet dulled by years of the mundane, poke-my-head-with-some-thing-other-than-hoop-jumping routine.)

It is now that I realise that, potentially, I learn more at home than at school or college. Does writing this put my under some legal thing to be kicked out? Possibly. Oh well. Not too long left now (just a year... but that's probably not too many actual years of school). I don't like hoop-jumping, or phrase-reciting, or being stuck in a room with other people who don't want to be there (because this most certainly was true; whether it is now, I'm not 100%. I don't think EMA is the best invention either, but that's due for another post.) Here's a statement that's true, reasonably: I like learning, I dislike school. Does there seem anything remotely sniffy about that? A faint whif of something not-quite-right?

Maybe education as coursework rehashed (not mine, but plenty of other peoples) by teachers, or the majority of the lesson being spent trying to persuade a few of the really noisy kids to shut up, sit down, get out a pen and start copying the notes isn't quite right? (Why they don't just give up and tell them to piss off out of the classroom, I don't know. Don't confuse this with some kind of conservative 'let them be fucked up if they will' view. It's not. I agree with giving them support, but not at the expense of the supposed teaching of other kids.)

Who do we blame? The government? The teachers? The other kids? The other kids' parents? Maybe you have a better idea than me. But it's not right, it's really, really not.