Joan Vollmer and the lizards

Since finishing the MA I've read a lot about the Beats.  The biographies are entranced by the writers' literary genius, and make their lifestyles seem great fun.  Sometimes I want to read a book that's more balanced – their work may be great, but they left death and unhappiness in their wake.  Burroughs shot his wife dead, his son destroyed two livers drinking himself to death; Kerouac too killed himself with drink, dead at 40.  Howl, for all its power, is a poem of despair. The same openmindedness that allowed Burroughs to take staggering leaps of imagination also left him prone to grotesque errors such as his misogyny and (later recanted) support of scientology.  Maybe every critical flattery, every collaboration by Burroughs with right-on acts like U2, REM and Kurt Cobain should come with an outline of his grotesque side to provide a sense of balance.

One of the most tragic figures in the Beat Generation was Joan Vollmer.  Furiously smart, she was fated to die at 27, shot by Burroughs.  I've been reading Jack's book, an oral biography of Kerouac by Barry Gifford and  Lawrence Lee.  This book has a sad glimpse of Vollmer during a period when she was addicted to benzedrine and barely sleeping.  Helen Hinkle, wife of Al Hinkle, describes the scene:
"Joan, of course, never slept.  And because the kids would be sleeping, and Bill would be sleeping for part of the night, she had to do something.  There was a barren tree right outside the porch.  The house was L-shaped and porched all-round, and there was this dead ghastly tree.  It was just covered with lizards, and she used to rake the lizards off the tree at night.  I don't think she killed them.  Of course they went back.  That was their home.  It just gave her something to do at four o'clock in the morning in the moonlight"


Last night was the second anniversary of Wordplay at the Sanctuary.  The event opened with poetry from Rosy and Byron Vincent.  Rosy was excellent (of course I’m going to say that, but she was) and everyone seemed to enjoy her new material.  Byron was someone I’d heard about and enjoyed watching perform.

I also got to see Bunty once more.  Bunty performs alone on stage, sat on a chair,and builds a series of improvised loops she then sings over.  I bought a copy of her album Licking La Lune after her set.  The packaging on this is incredible, beautiful illustations on the case and booklet.  The back states "All tracks recorded live on the 5th December 2006 using a Boss Loop Station, Boss DDS Delay pedal, one SMS8 Microphone and Bunty’s Mouth".  The tracks are so quiet and funky – sultry perhaps? – and sound like nothing else I’ve heard.

The next event is February 12th – no idea who’s performing there though.

Who’d want to write a novel?

One of the best things I've read recently is John Lanchester's introduction to BS Johnson's novel Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry.  The essay opens:
"Many people, entirely reasonably, regard the novel as an exhausted form, one whose heroic period at the center of human culture has passed.  Others choose to dedicate all their creative efforts to the novel, as if it were still an all-important medium.  It is difficult to belong simultaneously to both groups, but BS Johnson did, and the resultant tension fuelled the extraordinary decade of creativity he enjoyed between the publication of his first novel… and his death by suicide"

Johnson is quoted as saying "If a writer's chief interest is in telling stories… then the best place to do it now is in television, which is technically better equipped and will reach more people than a novel can today".  In a world where adaptation to a film seems to be the crowning glory of a novel that seems pretty obvious.  After all, how many stories have been successfully adapted from film to book?

Johnson is interesting as someone who acknowledged the limits of the novel.  I've been finding the idea of a straightforward novel increasingly difficult.  The linear novel, written in a single unified voice, is obsolete.  Life is a series of intersecting texts, with fiction simply part of a stream of information, alongside messages from friends, adverts and 'news'.  House of Leaves is far closer to my experience than Wuthering Heights, as great a book and an achievement as the latter is.  The world needs books whose form reflects it.

NaVloPoMo Screening

Yesterday was the NaVloPoMo screening in Brighton, as organised by my housemate Beth.  NaVloPoMo was a project by a group of videobloggers who aimed to post a video for every day in November 2007.  The screening showed a selection of these videos, featuring participants from around the world.

Events like this have a beautiful combination of intimacy and distance.  A room in Brighton has about 40 people watching videos made by about 40 people around the world, some showing intimate glimpses into their lives.  The films ranged from experimental shorts to video diaries to people talking to camera to…  Afterwards people had an opportunity to chat to some of the filmmakers over a drink and I got to talk to some interesting people.

Among my favourite shorts:

The night before I’d been dreaming about listening to the sea with shells.  Sitting next to Ruth and I at the screening was a woman with a bag of shells.  She’d bought them at the beach, as she said she collected them.  I listened to the shell she had, but it was the wrong shape to hear the sea clearly.

The first weekend of 2008

It’s been a good weekend.  I had a quiet night Friday, cooking for a couple of friends, then set out early the next day for London.  I started by visiting the Jeff Bark exhibition, Woodpecker.  The images were incredible, the lighting making the scenes dreamlike.  Sadly  I didn’t have the £10,000 I’d need to buy a print so didn’t linger lest the gallery figure that out.

I walked from Chelsea to Tate Modern along the Thames.  On the way I passed by Tate Britain and popped in to see whether the Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke was currently on display.  It was: the painting is much smaller than I expected, but incredibly striking.  In particular the faces on the fairies are strange and wonderful.


When I reached the Tate I wasn’t much in the mood for looking at pictures, and spent the time catching up with a friend I’d arranged to meet instead.  I then headed back to Brighton, spent a couple of hours writing, then turned North again for a ‘Fake New Year’ party.  I caught up with some old friends, met lots of new people and had a thoroughly good time.  Photos will probably turn up on flickr somewhere.

Sunday has been quiet.  This morning I went to the playground with my godson and discovered I’m a little too wide to comfortably go down the slide.  In town I went shopping, where I found a copy of Murakami‘s Norwegian Wood for a pound.  I didn’t like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles (the aimlessness of the main character annoyed me) but I’ve heard some interesting things about this one.  I also found a copy of BS Johnson‘s novel (although 20,000 words stretches the definition a touch) Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry.  The introduction to the book was incredible and deserves a post of its own.

I’m now settling in for a long slow Sunday evening.  I have nothing else left to do but writing and prepaing for the week ahead.

Happy New Year, War is Over

It looks like the war on terror is over, in Britain at least: "The words "war on terror" will no longer be used by the British government to describe attacks on the public, the country’s chief prosecutor said Dec. 27 …  The Director of Public Prosecutions said: ‘We resist the language of warfare, and I think the government has moved on this. It no longer uses this sort of language.""

New Year

I decided to start the new year with a swim, so joined Mr. Spratt at the beach yesterday afternoon.  The water was cold, but not as cold as I’d expected.  We didn’t stay in long before retiring to the pub, and I was only at the pub for a while before retiring home to bed – the 5am finish the night before had sapped my strength.

Everything is now back to normal after the Winterval celebrations, which means focussing on my goals for 2008.  I’m hoping for a very good year.

The dissertation

On Friday I dreamt I had another dissertation to do, ten thousand words before Easter.  Walking through town yesterday, on the way to Olive’s birthday party, I was thinking about the one I wrote for my MA.

Only four people have read the whole thing through.  I delivered a paper based on the critical section, and Katharine read the creative section.  People had told me about this before, but it still feels strange: the longest complete piece of writing I’ve done has only been read as a complete work by four people.


I spent the Christmas in Derbyshire with family.  I travelled up on Christmas Eve morning with a friend of Rosy’s, then settled in for the holiday.  It’s been good: fantastic food, seeing my neice, watching In the Night Garden with her, and enjoying being out of signal much of the time. I received some fantastic presents including chilli drinking chocolate, the noisiest cup in the world, spy equipment and The Rock’s autobiography.  Wrestling biography is a genre I’ve not encountered before, but it’s very well written.  Boxing Day I entered a small-scale run in the Diseworth village (up here they take their running pretty seriously).  I had a good session, and seemed faster than normal, despite training less lately.  Heading down the M40 back to Brighton now.  Lots to do once I get back.