The Urban Crow Plays in Traffic

The urban crow sits on some stone hero’s head
watching folk pass below.
He briefly contemplates tweaking off a pair of specs
or alighting on a bald patch or
dicing with death among cars where
a drunk has dropped a takeaway
but decides it would be more prudent to
make for the park where there will be
kids with ice cream cones or popcorn.
He can con popcorn from an infant nae bother
with a wee stare from his beady eye
but he treads carefully.
See they buses, says the urban crow,
they’d run you down as soon as look at you.

Introducing the Urban Crow

So there I was, a few weeks ago, walking about Glasgow, when I spotted a large black bird, wandering in and out of the parked cars, as though deep in thought.
That was the start of it. I came home and wrote a poem called The Urban Crow.
Then - about a week later - I saw the crow (Was it the same crow? Who can say!) sitting with his mate in a cherry tree.
And later still, I spotted my crow perched on one of those big open waste bins, examining the contents.
There are six or seven Urban Crow poems now, with another one coming roughly every week. I'm growing ever more fond of him. He's nothing like his elemental alter ego - Ted Hughes' wonderful, savage and highly intellectual beast - although I'm beginning to think he has certain aspirations in that direction.
No - he's a bit more craven, and equivocal: an urban crow, who casts a wry and beady eye on the goings-on round about him. I've tried out some of these poems at poetry readings and the crow invariably gets his own little round of applause. He seems to appreciate the attention, because (uncannily) I've started to see him all over the place. Only today, I caught a glimpse of him sifting carefully through cut grass outside the Burrell Collection in Pollock Park....
Tune in regularly, to find out what the Urban Crow might be reflecting on next.

The Intellectuals and the Masses

I've been meaning to read this book for a long time, but finally managed to get my hands on a copy. It is subtitled 'Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880 - 1939'. Having read John Carey's 'What Good Are the Arts?' some time ago, and found myself agreeing with just about everything in it, I wanted to find out what he had made of Lawrence, Woolf and the rest. Now - about half way through - I find that it's one of those rare books that I am reading VERY SLOWLY in an effort to prolong the sheer pleasure. It's witty, sharp, intelligent and full of profoundly disturbing insights - but written in the most elegant prose imaginable. Beware though. You may never feel the same about certain parts of the literary canon again.
Just to give you a flavour of the whole, here's Carey writing about sculptor and designer Eric Gill and others like him who - keener on the cult of the peasant than they were on the great 'mass' of humanity, which they persistently tried to dehumanise - pretended 'to be peasants themselves.' Gill, seemingly, wore a variety of 'peasant' costume, including a 'belted smock and, in winter, loose scarlet silk under drawers.' But all the same, he wasn't too keen on the idea that everyone should be taught to read and 'hoped that a bomb would fall on Selfridges.'
This is a clever and entertaining assault on the founders of modern culture. It was first published (to establishment consternation) in 1992. Wish I'd read it sooner: the kind of book that you want to shout 'Yes!' and applaud after every chapter. Not only that, but I began to see disturbing parallels between this and so much of what passes for commentary on 'mass' culture nowadays. I was amused, though, to find a Louis MacNeice quote, about hospital nurses spending their savings on 'cosmetics, cigarettes and expensive underclothes.' His snobbery and sexism were strangely echoed in a letter which I received only a few years ago from somebody in a position of authority within a major literary organisation. When I had said that I simply couldn't afford the fees (this was nothing less than the truth) he - it had to be a he - accused me of spending my earnings on lunches, cosmetics and the like instead. A true inheritor of MacNeice's prejudices!

Poetry and Other Things

Recently, I've been talking to several other people, artists of all sorts, about collaboration and wondering where all these ideas are coming from. Not that I'm giving the game away about the exact ideas on here - well not just yet, although when any of these potential projects get off the ground then I may well be blogging about the process. But it's the ideas, and the novelty of them that is engaging me right now. I don't necessarily mean originality here, although I do think that at least some of what's in the air for me is original. But I've been meditating about why I've suddenly been possessed by a number of creative ideas that seem to bear little relation to anything I've written for some time.
I think it's partly because I've been working with media studies students and their excitement about their own projects has proved inspirational. I had forgotten how wonderful it could be to engage with a piece of work simply for its own sake.
The best way of explaining it is maybe to relate something that happened to me in the past.
Once upon a time, I studied a long, ancient and mysterious poem, as part of a university course. And no, I'm not saying what it is, because I have a feeling that somewhere down the line, I'm going to want to go back to it! But it's the process that interests me. I laboured over this difficult piece of work for weeks, until I was bleary eyed and confused. And then suddenly, it was as if some strange correspondence between the words, their meaning, and the shape of the poem on the page slotted into place, and I understood it and its implications all at once. It made me dizzy, like looking at an infinite panorama or up into some great dome. And of course, it may simply have been fatigue! But that doesn't invalidate what in retrospect was one of the key experiences of my life.
Well, it faded. Other things took its place. Until recently when some of that excitement seems to have come back. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I've given myself permission to take myself seriously as a writer again. I don't mean that I'm going to write relentlessly joyless stuff - but I do mean that I'm going to try to write with a real sense of experimentation.