Gettin’ ‘Pataphysical

Via reading about the Canadian poet Christian Bok, I found about the mysterious world of ‘Pataphysics. This is from the Wikipedia entry:

‘Pataphysics (French: ‘Pataphysique), a term coined by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873 – 1907), is a philosophy or pseudophilosophy dedicated to studying what lies beyond the realm of metaphysics. It is a parody of the theory and methods of modern science and is often expressed in nonsensical language. A practitioner of ‘pataphysics is a ‘pataphysician or a ‘pataphysicist.

And then I realised that The London Snorkelling Team, who I am seeing tomorrow night at The Bishopsgate Institute, describe their music as a ‘Pataphysics of Sound.



Blood, Sweat, Tears and Poetry

Today I spent a couple of hours at the Bishopsgate Institute being interviewed for BBC Radio 3 by Patience Agbabi and her producer Simon Evans. It’s for a programme called ‘Blood, Sweat, Tears and Poetry’, broadcast for National Poetry Day on 9th October at 11.30am. This year’s theme is ‘Work’ so they’ve been interviewing poets who have been ‘resident’ in workplaces (from April to July 2008 I was the Bishopsgate’s first ever Poet in Residence).

Of course, many artists and writers spend their lives in perpetual guilt that they’re not doing ‘proper’ jobs. Seamus Heaney’s famous poem ‘Digging’ – in which the father’s spade is transformed into the son’s ‘squat pen’ – comes to mind.

In other news – I am soon to move into a garret in Aldgate. True enough.

Berets by registered post, please.


Being but men, we walked into the trees
Afraid, letting our syllables be soft
For fear of waking the rooks,
For fear of coming
Noiselessly into a world of wings and cries.

         Dylan Thomas

Birth is a kind of entrance. But how fast the river seems.
Faces turn to greet the moon. You walk into the trees.

Outside the rain collects in pools; a sudden breeze
runs through the Hall, and stops. You walk into the trees.

The city breathes, its pores secrete, it bleeds; streets
unfold, towers cleave. We open up and walk into the trees

and find a girl with knotted hair and matted, rough chemise
who sees herself reversed and flipped and tails into the trees.

The gates of Bedlam swing unhinged, release shale beads
and bracelets from the brickearth. All this turned into trees

will crease and freeze – nothing ceases, but is stored, as seas
hold heat, as a heart grips another. We listen to the trees.

Refugees in borrowed clothes will come in twos and threes,
restock the valley, ford the rivers, walk among the trees,

map the perfect sphere of skull, still fusing, crumpled knees;
your eyes’ dark blues and greens return a forest to its trees.

Being not machines but men, we misremember in degrees.
But then, as Thomas told, we dream and walk into the trees.

New Bishopsgate poems online

A selection of poems written during my residency at Bishopsgate Institute are currently on display in the building. They are also online here, with explanatory notes.

The poems are:

  • The Archive
  • Wake Up Lazarus
  • The Coder
  • Queer things in Egypt
  • The Blackpool Mile
  • Mr Bradlaugh’s Fishing Tackle
  • Bishopsgate, in elevation
  • Bishopsgate, from Bishops Square
  • Mr Goss is Mr Goff
  • Improve Yourself

Any comments – from staff, visitors or anyone else who’s interested – are most welcome!

Don’t forget to book for the Visions of the City mini-series. The opener is next Thursday, with Tim Wells, Simon Barraclough, Jay Bernard and myself. Booking line: 020 7392 9220.

“Black Panther” and Ackerman’s Microcosm, &c.


Today was a good day. First, a meeting with the lovely Will Carr, Director of The Poetry School. Swanky little office in Lambeth Walk, shared with Poetry London (for whom I’ve just written three reviews) and two doors down from Spread the Word. A literary enclave, sort of. Will recently moved down to London from Manchester, where he was an Arts Council head, and is finding his feet in this vibrant scene of ours. We agreed that these are good times for poetry.

Stunning Spring light. Took the 344 back to Liverpool Street. Just beyond Southwark Bridge a beautiful young woman caught her shoe on the paving, stopped, gloriously self-assured in a tight grey skirt, to reheel, glancing back towards the river before continuing her journey with a flick of black hair. I love this City.

After a swift half with Tim Wells in The Golden Heart, Spitalfields, I headed over to The Bishopsgate to meet one the Institute’s most loyal ‘users’. Pensioner Laurie has got to be one of the most fascinating people I’ve met for some time. A former wine butler, amongst other things, he grew up in the East End and has been visiting the BI since his 20s when he lunched in the Institute’s canteen. Thank God I recorded the interview; there’s no way I could have scribbled down all the memories, anecdotes, facts and tid-bits he came up with! His stories about playing in the bomb sites in the 50s were particularly absorbing. Each site had its own schoolboy nickname, like ‘Black Panther’ (Bishopsgate), ‘Chinatown’ and ‘The America Hole’ (Aldgate). My head’s already buzzing with ideas for the poems I have to come up with during the Residency!

I popped back later in the afternoon to join a talk given by the Bishopsgate’s larger-than-life Archivist, Stef Dickers, to an assembly of staff members. I’ll be spending a lot of time in the Library, which houses a great collection of books, magazines and ephemera on London history. Particular emphasis on labour movements and radical politics. They also have a copy of Ackerman’s Microcosm of London, which contains illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson, of whom I’m a big fan. Stef has promised to show me the Archives in the basement, and Clive, one of the technicians there, has promised to take me up to the roof. Yeah!

More from the Bishopsgate next week…