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Wrecking Ball Press

TALKING DOORSTEPS – BLOG ENTRY #1

 

JOEHAKIMROAD

 

Photo by Graeme Oxby

Wrecking Ball Press have teamed up with The Roundhouse and the BBC in a global project that will see Hull performance poet Joe Hakim travel to Trinidad & Tobago. Talking Doorsteps is for spoken word artists aged 16-25yrs and offers an accessible and interactive physical and digital community to share and platform work centered on the theme of HOME. Starting from next week, Joe will be observing and participating in workshops with young Caribbean poets before returning home and working with young Hull poets, then bringing the two artistic communities together for a performance in September as part of the “Contains Strong Language” Poetry Festival, which will be programmed by the BBC and Wrecking Ball Press. Joe will be writing daily blog entries so we can follow his progress. Here’s the first: 

I didn’t sleep much the night before. For some reason, I kept replaying that scene from Airplane over and over in my head, that bit when an obviously distressed Ted Striker sits next to the little old lady on the plane, who turns and asks:

‘Nervous?”

‘Yes.”

“First time?”

“No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.”

Fortunately, my girlfriend, who has flown many times, took charge of the packing. It was a good job too, as I took it upon myself to have a couple of glasses of wine and start ringing round people to tell them things like: “If anything happens to me, I just want you to know that I’ve always been very fond of you.”

General Zod, my cat, usually wakes me up by planting himself on my chest and sticking his paw in my mouth, but on this particular morning he seemed to be a bit subdued, so I immediately took it as a bad omen, a sign that he was aware that something was about to happen, utilising that creepy extra-sensory pet sense that people often attribute to animals.

I like to think that I’m a rationalist, someone not swayed by vague non-existent spiritual forces, but like most people from Hull, I have a large superstitious streak that emerges during times of stress, and the fact that I was flying on Friday the 13th was all a bit much for me.

Eventually my girlfriend managed to tear me away from touching all the wooden surfaces in the house and shepherded me out the door and dropped me at the train station.

The extreme cold weather that the news had been warning us about for days was starting to hit, and as the train passed through Leeds the snow had started to fall, becoming a thick white blanket that covered the ground by the time I arrived at Manchester Airport.

My anxiety about flying for the first time was compounded by the fact that I was travelling alone, because I had no one to guide me through the whole thing. The first big test was passing through customs. As anyone who knows me reasonably well will attest, I have a very shady looking face, so it was almost inevitable that I was searched on my way through. After being manhandled by a bear-like bloke, I was let loose into the departure lounge. My original intention was to settle down to some work, but I was just too jittery, so I occupied myself by pacing up and down the lounge trundling my case behind me.

Eventually the big moment arrived, and I, along with my fellow passengers, was huddled into a big metal tube on the runway. Despite my nerves, I was chuffed to see that I had a window seat, so I sat down and prepared myself for the big moment, and it didn’t take long for my anxiety shift into pure exhilaration. For the first time, I was leaving the borders of my country.

Mercifully, the flight was smooth and uneventful, aside from a bit off turbulence that kicked in just as we were landing in Barbados, the place where I was due to catch my connecting flight. As I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, the warm air filling my lungs felt incredible. After a very brief stop it was time to board another plane for the next leg of the journey. I felt confident now, bordering on cocky, as I strolled out onto the runway. This new found swagger was short-lived however, because we got closer to the plane, I realised it was a small two-propeller craft. Once again I had been given a window seat, but I wasn’t as thrilled as I was last time, mainly due to the fact that the view from the window was that of the one of the engines. It was a bumpy, juddering flight, and my hands gripped the armrests every time we hit a pocket of turbulence. Not only that, the plane stopped off in Grenada, meaning I had to go through the whole take-off/landing again.

I was a bit burnt out by the time I landed in Trinidad, but buzzing. I met up with Debris and Pip at the airport, and after a gruelling trek through customs, I had finally arrived at my destination, Trinidad. Debo and Jean Claude, our man in Trinidad, picked us up at the airport.

It was dark out by this time, and our place was up in Lopinot, a village located a few miles outside of Port of Spain. This journey entailed driving up a long, thin, unlit winding road, bordered with thick bushes and trees, and the odd sheer drop. Jean Claude tackled the drive with much aplomb; foot down almost all the way, navigating the all the twists and turns with the speed and determination of a rally driver, even swerving to avoid the stray dogs did little to put him off. Indeed, he was so at ease that even managed to turn around and converse with us directly.

After being given a warm welcome by our host Hyacynth, we each retired to our rooms, knackered by our journeys. After taking off my shoes, I headed out onto my veranda to type this, the first of my blog entries.

Tired and sweaty, surrounded by the unfamiliar noise of thousands of exotic creatures, it suddenly dawned on me: I had made it, I was here, in Trinidad, and the real journey was just beginning.

FROM HULL TO TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

Flag_of_Trinidad_and_Tobago
Wrecking Ball Press have teamed up with The Roundhouse and the BBC in a global project that will see Hull performance poet Joe Hakim travel to Trinidad & Tobago. Talking Doorsteps is for spoken word artists aged 16-25yrs and offers an accessible and interactive physical and digital community to share and platform work centered on the theme of HOME. Starting from next week, Joe will be observing and participating in workshops with young Caribbean poets before returning home and working with young Hull poets, then bringing the two artistic communities together for a performance in September as part of the “Contains Strong Language” Poetry Festival, which will be programmed by the BBC and Wrecking Ball Press. Joe will be writing daily blog entries so we can follow his progress. Keep your eye on the Wrecking Ball Press website and the usual social media outlets.

We also have some very exciting books lined up for 2017. Adelle Stripe’s keenly anticipated novel about Andrea Dunbar “Black Teeth And A Brilliant Smile” will be launched at this year’s Bradford Literature Festival in the summer. We’re working on the cover right now and ARC’s will be available come the Spring.

Internationally acclaimed poet and Hull favourite Helen Mort will publish her debut short story collection “Exire” with us in 2017. Helen’s prose is every bit as wonderful as her poetry and we are very proud to get behind this landmark book.

Hull poet Mike Watts fourth collection will also be appearing in 2017. We’ve yet to decide on a title, but it’s Mike’s most mature and accomplished work yet. A brilliant addition to an accomplished canon.

And lastly, local magazine Tenfoot City ran an interview with our shy and retiring Chief Editor Shane Rhodes in their latest issue. Turn to page 36 here:

Sisters In Spitfires – A Free Poetry & Film Event

 

 sisters

 

Alison Hill & Ian Duhig.  

 Saturday 20 August , 7.30pm

Artlink Community Arts Centre Princes Avenue

Hull

HU5 3QP

TS Eliot Prize nominated poet Alison Hill will read from Sisters in Spitfires (Indigo Dreams, October 2015), her latest collection celebrating the women who flew with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War.

‘This collection is a real labour of love – a celebration of the unsung heroines of the civilian organisation the ATA … Alison Hill has been meticulous in her research and as a result the women come vividly to life, all of them larger than life characters.’ 

Pippa Little, The Lake

Alison will be joined by Ian Duhig. Ian has won the National Poetry Competition twice, and also the Forward Prize for Best Poem. His collection, The Lammas Hireling, was the Poetry Book Society’s Choice for Summer 2003, and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and Forward Prize for Best Collection.

We will screen Laura Mulvey’s 1980 film AMY! – an evocative and mesmerising film that enquires into what it means to be a heroine.

‘The film is not so much about Amy the woman as about the power of representations to fix the meaning of events. Amy becomes a legend that can be consumed and her action loses its subversive potential.’

Jane Clarke, Spare Rib.

PETER KNAGGS & ANDY FLETCHER – Highly Commended!

Two of our poets have had their work praised by The Forward Poetry Prize, who selected “Badger The Cadger” from Peter Knaggs’ “You’re So Vain (you probably think this book is about you) and “The Atlas” from Andy Fletcher’s “How To Be A Bomb” as being “Highly Commended”. The two poems will feature in Forward’s Book Of Poetry 2017.  DSCF1419how to be a bombyour-so-veinIMG_4842

“The librarian is the first to notice him …” Kingdom Prologue

 

library prison

 

Her Majesty’s Prison

Library

8.40 am.

 

The librarian is the first to notice him. To suspect that something is amiss. He looks out of place, somehow, in a way that she cannot immediately identify. Not his face. An ordinary enough face; dark chin length hair, sun-starved pallor, five-day growth of beard. A face you’d find in any prison or public institution. His clothes, perhaps; plain and anonymous enough on the outside, but incongruous here; black overcoat and dark trousers, worn and shabby looking, but an expensive cut. Not the usual jeans or logoed-up tracksuit of the enhanced or the standard grey sweatshirt/green polyester trouser combo issued on induction. And shoes, proper shoes, not trainers. Staff, she thinks at first, a recently arrived tutor she hasn’t been introduced to yet, or a visiting civilian perhaps. But something about him is vaguely troubling. His bearing. Not for him the sullen head down subservience of the newly arrived, or the slumped blank eyed stare of the hardened. He sits bolt upright in the corner near the computers, set apart from the rest of the men, surveys their babble with a tightly wound unease, a contempt bordering on fury, almost. Tight knuckled fists gripping the arms of the chair. Heels hammering the carpet beneath the table.

   A voice raised in complaint at the desk, some angry squabble over an unreturned DVD. The librarian turns her attention away from the man in the corner and deals with the complaint, sends the aggrieved offender away with a list of available titles and his local paper. She returns to her desk behind the panels of glass and wood that serve as her office, but no sooner has she sat down then another offender is at the door, bugging her to chase up a certificate from a previous prison, his fifth identical query in the last two days. Another offender wants to know about Story Book Dads, is his CD ready yet Miss, the Gruffalo at Christmas, Miss, and if not why not? The first of the day’s minor dramas.

   The day’s major drama starts with a phone call; Control asking for a headcount. The librarian reads him the number from her tally and replaces the receiver, returns to her typing.

   Ten minutes later the phone rings again. The request is repeated and this time she stands and counts the bodies through the glass; relays the information, pauses, listens, nods.

   Yes, she says, yes, that includes Orderlies.

   Five minutes later the phone rings again and the request is repeated and then again, two minutes later, with an added instruction. She puts down the phone and signals to the assistant.

   Stand-fast, she tells her. Don’t let anyone out.

   A group of men at the door holding gym bags and beakers overhear, raise an immediate chorus of complaint.

   Aw, what, for fucks sake …

   Again? What’s up Miss, can’t they count?

   Useless bastards!

   Beyond a fucking joke, this …

   Gonna miss me fucking session …

   The head librarian looks at her assistant.

   One extra, apparently …

   Jangle of keys from the other side of the door and the men are forced to jostle back and stand aside to admit the two officers. They lock the door behind them and advance into the centre of the room. The younger officer carries a clipboard with a list and mouths one, two, three, four, as his eyes scan the men sat around the tables or stood at the bookcases. Radios in his count and looks at the librarian.

   What wing are these?

   B, she tells him.

   All of them?

   Yes.

   He scrutinizes his list, frowns, looks around the room again. Moves among the milling group of men, glancing from the names to each face.

   Keep still please lads.

   Fucks sake, guv … I’m missing Cash In The Attic …

   Stay still …

   The officer spots the man sat at the corner table near the computers. Walks across, looks at his list.

   Name and number please mate …

   Kingdom.

   Number?

   The man glowers up at him.

   Not got one, he says.

   The officer keeps his eyes on his list, pen tap-tap-tapping.

   Don’t be clever, he says, I’m not in the mood. Number.

   I’m a man, not a number.

   Sigh from above. Pen slotted into top pocket.

   Stand up, says the officer.

   Say please.

   Titters from around the room. The men have stopped moving and fallen quiet. All eyes clamped on the corner.

   The older officer takes a step forward.

   The younger officer tucks the clipboard under his arm.

   On your feet, he says. Now.

   The man’s eyes widen. A thin, mirthless smile.

   Make me, he says.

In prison, it is often said that time seems to stand still. This is such an occasion. Minute but perceptible shift in the atmosphere, a slight tensing and murmur, bodies braced. The man issues his challenge and time stands still.

   The younger officer has been in the job for three months. The older officer is six months away from retirement. The librarian has being doing this for twenty years. She has already made her way over to the wall, to the green panic button. She hears the words from the corner of the room.

   I said make me. You deaf as well as fucking stupid?

   Five seconds later the morning explodes in clamouring bells, a stampede of boots and a riot of raised voices.

 

 

Write, Noise …

beatles book

 

“I can make it longer if you like the style, I can change it round and I wanna be a paperback writer …”

 Macca may have been having a sly dig at his song writing partner for having literary leanings, but John Lennon wasn’t the only rock n roller to recognise the powerful connection between pen and guitar. As well as being a public mocking of Lennon’s pretensions, Paperback Writer was perhaps also a grudging acknowledgement of his pioneering achievement. Lennon’s two books “Spaniard In The Works” and “In His Own Write” were not just the indulgences of a bored rock star. Both are absorbing collections of Joycean gobbledygook and Goonish surrealism and were made accessible to a new generation of readers by virtue of the rock superstar status of their author. This in itself was another of The Beatles small but important acts of revolution. Because although it may be a curious notion from today’s perspective, where top 40 CD’s and Nick Hornby novels sit happily side by side on the shelves of HMV, back in the day they occupied very opposite ends of the social spectrum.

   Back in the late fifties and early sixties, literature was supposed to be highbrow, intellectual, of the academy. Rock n roll’s triumph was to be the untutored scream from the street, the brazenly low-brow yelp that articulated a feeling wrenched up from the gut or groin. DH Lawrence never wrote a book called Tooty Frooty and Buddy Holly would never release a single called The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. Different worlds, different languages.

     Rock and roll and literature first came together in the public consciousness with Jack Kerouac’s beat generation epic “On The Road”. Although the book had been first drafted in the early fifties and took as it’s narrative time frame the be-bop jazz of the immediate post war years of the late forties, it’s publication in 1957 perfectly coincided with the massive impact of Elvis Presley and the emerging teenage pop culture in Britain and the USA. As far as the mass public was concerned, “On The Road”, with its fast cars, wild music and tales of juvenile delinquency was the very first rock n’ roll novel. Kerouac’s love of jazz phrasing directly influenced his writing style, crafting epically long stream of consciousness sentences that meandered across the page like the joyful exhalations of a Charlie Parker saxophone solo. This method of writing to the rhythms of the current music of the times was echoed forty years later when Irvine Welsh laid down the brutal lines of Trainspotting to the hard repetitive beats of acid house.

   The other writers that made up the loose collective of the Beat Generation – most notably William Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg – were to play a huge influence after the first primal beats of rock n roll had echoed from the swamp of a post-Hiroshima America and evolved into the musical counter-culture that reverberated into the sixties, seventies and beyond. Ginsberg’s “Howl” was a massive influence on the young Bob Dylan, who soaked up and spat back out its angry political energy and vivid freewheeling verbosity on his own incendiary early releases. His self-penned album sleeves were writ heavy with the hand of the Beats, all anarchic imagery and amphetamine-fuelled synapse. By 1972 Dylan had took the next logical step and published his own Beat Novel, the largely incomprehensible “Tarantula”. Unfortunately hardly anyone read it, and of those who did only the most determinedly devoted Dylan follower pretended to know what it was about. Thankfully Bob abandoned his literary career and kept his lyrical energy cooped up where it worked best, in three or four minute bursts of melodic bile.

   Over in New York City, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground didn’t so much as wear their literary influences on their sleeve as drag them around on a dog collar and lead. They were named after an S&M themed pulp fiction novel and sang songs inspired by the Marquis De Sade and the poet Delmore Schwartz. During his later solo career, Lou Reed made explicit his debt to hard-boiled realist writers such as Hubert Selby Jnr and Raymond Chandler in his tough and tender tales of New York street life.

   Later on, Burroughs perfected the “cut-up” – a method of writing that involved slashing an established page of text to pieces and re-assembling it at random in the name of spontaneous juxtaposition. By using the cut-up, the artist absolves himself of any authorial responsibility and restrains his own ego from directing the narrative flow. This was an approach that hugely appealed to David Bowie, who at the time was pretending to be a cold-blooded alien from outer space. The idea of formulating song lyrics from such a dispassionate process fitted right in with his then remote outsider stance. When applied to the actual sonic fabric of music itself, the cut-up theory later found it’s natural correlation in the art of sampling. Much of the early hip-hop and electro music that came out of New York in the late seventies and early eighties was the musical equivalent of a Burroughs collage, plundering bass lines and beats from such disparate sources as ancient soul records, UK bubble gum pop and early seventies Krautrock.

  After punk exploded, literature and rock music were locked in a loving embrace, never to be disentangled. Perhaps not surprisingly Irish and Anglo-Irish musicians have always dipped their pens in the deep inky tradition of their country’s lettermen and women, from The Pogues’ early Brendan Behan inspired suits, The Waterboys adaptation of WB Yeats poetry and Morrissey’s early insistence of being photographed with an Oscar Wilde Collection to hand. Other musicians noted for their lyrical prowess such as Nick Cave and Julian Cope have took the next logical step and become credible published authors in their own right. The very best rock music and literature share much common ground – particularly the power to transport the human soul above the mundane. It’s a rich and fertile country. Someone should write a book about it.

 

(This article also appears on Sabotage Times)

Wrecking Ball @ London Book Fair

lbf

Wrecking Ball Press launches its fantastic new website to coincide with our first visit to The London Book Fair. We will be at Olympia on Tuesday 14th 15th and 16th April and you can find us at stand 3A70a. This is a great opportunity for Wrecking Ball to showcase our range of books past and future. We look forward to seeing you there.