A doughty champion of his local culture.(Poet Tom Hubbard)Your performance at the city hall was soooooooooo good! Christoph thought it was excellent! (Carolyn)



so you’re in print with a small press
a little press for a short arse

well I want my poems in a big press
a large press with big breasts

with poems that talk to the world
with spirit in every word



back again


two cultures

Simon Jenkins
The Guardian Thursday 23 July 2009

This is a tale of two cultures. Towering over Walsall town centre is an acclaimed icon of 20th-century architecture. There is another in Gateshead, another in Salford, another in Cardiff, another in Edinburgh, and many in London.

The Walsall art gallery is adorned with two sure signs of big art, a clutch of architectural awards and a clutch of deficits. Nothing embodied the extravagance of millennial Britain so much as the stupefying sums spent on large arts buildings, with little idea of what to put in them. One day they may yet lie like the Greek theatre at Palmyra, a silent ruin in an empty desert.

These monuments cost huge sums. The Sage Gateshead cost £70m, Salford's Lowry Centre £106m and Tate Modern £134m. The British Museum's new courtyard alone came in at more than £100m. Nor did anyone think of running costs. Within three years of opening, visitors to the Walsall gallery needed a £9 subsidy a head from local ratepayers and a further £2 a head from the Arts Council. At a capital cost of £21m it has stumbled from crisis to crisis, but at least houses the world's most expensive Costa coffee bar.

The chief stimulus to the splurge was the national lottery, taxing mostly the poor to spend on mostly the better off, followed by the wild ambitions of the millennium. The dream of culture politicians was not art but buildings. Intense debate in the mid-90s was about whether lottery money should go into people or structures, into revenue or capital. Capital always won.

Politicians and private donors alike wanted something "lasting" – and with their names on it. Grants were denied to endowments for upkeep. So-called business plans were not worth their weight in paper, let alone the fees charged by their mendacious consultants. The lottery became a breeding ground for white elephants, the bills to be sent later to local councils or Whitehall. It was what Tony Blair, in a speech just two years ago, rightly called the "golden age" of arts support.

Now it is apparently over. A certain victim of the impending cuts is the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Today's Guardian carried news of a £100m "black hole" in the department's budget. Under threat are such echoes of the glory days as Tate Modern's new wing (£50m), the British Museum extension (£22m), and the British Film Institute (£45m for a project supposedly funded by the Imax cinema). The Royal Opera's new Manchester outpost may also go. All these projects are said to be at risk.

Alan Davey, director of the Arts Council, predicts a "perfect storm … a spiral of decline", with arts organisations so damaged that "it would take an enormous amount of money to get them going again". Davey is clearly no enthusiast for the art of anarchy or for Bohemian garret culture. To the Arts Council, an artist not clothed in state ermine is like a BBC executive without his expenses, shamelessly "dumbed down".

A survey by arts and business revealed that its member organisations now depend on state funding for 54% of their total income, with a further 13% received from private sponsors. A mere third comes from people actually enjoying art by buying tickets and shopping. Such an imbalance between direct and indirect income leaves institutions vulnerable to public spending cuts. As Anthony Sargent of the Sage Gateshead says, it is like being "on an island waiting for a hurricane to come. The rain hasn't started but the streets are uncannily empty."

His streets may be empty, but in the rest of cultural Britain they are not. Such grim faces and empty pockets are a million miles from this summer in Britain. Here are events and attendances booming as never before, abetted by a favourable exchange rate, families holidaying at home, young people with time, and old people with money.

From the vales of Glastonbury to the tent city of Hay-on-Wye, from Latitude to the Glade, from V at Weston to T in the Park, from Womad to Wychwood, from Reading to Leeds, festival promoters are having a year without compare.

Nor is this a phenomenon confined to popular music. Even London's West End, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre are posting record audiences. There are festivals for poetry, books, theatre, dance and music. There are "boutique" festivals and "no-VIP" festivals. There is this weekend's eccentric Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire, which stipulates fancy dress. There is hardly a valley, meadow or disused airfield in Britain that is not hosting some event.

These events are not cheap. Latitude's tickets are £60-£150. Winchester's Glade clocks in at £115, Eastnor's Big Chill at £145, and Knebworth at £157. Even Hyde Park's supposed expanse of free repose charges £45 when occupied by Hard Rock Calling's "pretend-fest". Promoters such as Mean Fiddler and Virgin are not losing money.

Nor are these cultural manifestations all outdoor. The blockbuster festival of the year will again be Edinburgh, with a whole city as venue. Most of its 2,100 shows have no need of multimillion-pound architecture, just a church hall, garage or even a park. This month's admirable Manchester international festival, likewise, used its city as locale. Brighton festival staged 300 shows in 33 different venues.

A conceit of ageing arts directors is to be erecting a structure, be it a theatre, concert hall or museum wing. They can thus consort with rich architects rather than dry curators or angry actors, building a memorial more eternal than any contribution they might have made to art. Time and energy go on inducing the government to give them money – with accusations of philistinism and no more party invitations should it be denied.

Museums' elites rarely muddy their hands with tickets or charging. They boast their generosity while millions of pounds walk out of their door each year, with the taxpayer footing the bill. They are thus unable to benefit from the surge in attendance and ticket revenue now benefiting most visitor attractions.

Nemesis is at hand. Those who live by the state die by it. But big art and its custodians cannot get away with the plea that any threat to their overhead means doom to British culture. Davey's identification of art with public money is as corrupt a thesis as that art must be free at the point of delivery.

Millions of people are this summer participating in what they regard as the arts with no aid from the state. That much of this is music and in the open air, rather than entombed in concrete, does not strip it of cultural value. As the sociologist of the public realm, Barbara Ehrenreich, wrote in Dancing in the Streets, such collective enjoyment "reclaims a distinctively human heritage, of creatures who can generate their own ecstatic pleasures out of music, colour, feasting and dance".

It is truly encouraging that so many people, young and old, are finding goodness in the arts, unmediated by grandiose overheads and a grandiose state. Their art is consorting with nature and the city, and it is prospering.


o'ceallaigh's, groningen 2009

a room with a view


dat gaat naar den bosch toe

dat gaat naar den bosch toe

That goes to Den Bosch, sweet sweet Gerritje,
That goes to Den Bosch, sweet sweet girl.
What will we drink, dear sweet Gerritje?
What will we drink, dear sweet girl?
Brandy with sugar, sweet sweet Gerritje,
Brandy with sugar, sweet sweet girl.
Who will pay dear sweet Gerritje?
Who will pay dear sweet girl?
The first farmer's best, sweet sweet Gerritje,
The first farmer's best, dear sweet girl.

'Sweet sweet' Gerritje may very well be a notorious outlaw who operated between Antwerp and 's-Hertogenbosch. 'Sweet sweet girl' may be a reference to the fact that he was disguised as an innocent woman when he robbed people. Brandy with sugar at the time was a gallows drink, which means that in this song Gerritje was sent to the court in 's-Hertogenbosch where the death sentence was given.


back in amsterdam


Simon Vinkenoog (Amsterdam, 18 july 1928 – 12 july 2009)

Your star will shine again, Amsterdam The magic will work its way again, Amsterdam Spring is drawing near, Amsterdam You will fall in love again, Amsterdam You will move freely again, Amsterdam We will laugh again, Amsterdam

This poem by Simon Vinkenoog


gormley's angels

Richard Ingrams’s Week
The Independent, Saturday 11 July 2009

'Ordinary' works are far harder to explain

So-called great art – music, writing, painting – is only for the elite. The "ordinary people" have no special liking for it, and it is pointless to try to help schoolchildren appreciate it.

The sculptor Antony Gormley, famous for his massive Angel of the North (which bears a strong resemblance to a Nazi memorial to the Luftwaffe), is only the latest to articulate what is now the general consensus.

Gormley is currently enjoying a huge amount of publicity as a result of his Trafalgar Square stunt, allowing punters to pose on the famous empty plinth and enjoy 15 minutes of being miraculously transformed into a work of art.

What a difference in this lively scene, Gormley says, to the nearby National Gallery, which is to most people "off limits", and where "you need background to know what a picture means and to access emotional content".

It will be news to quite a lot of people that you need background in order to appreciate, say, Constable's Hay Wain, above, or Van Gogh's Sunflowers. As for accessing emotional content, I don't know what that means and I suspect that neither does Gormley.

If you think about it for a moment, though, you realise that the truth is exactly the opposite to what Gormley suggests. You don't need any background to appreciate those great paintings in the National Gallery.

But what requires considerable subtlety of mind and philosophical expertise is to explain to those so-called ordinary people how a boring-looking man in a suit standing on a plinth sending text messages is a work of art. That surely is a very obtuse intellectual concept well beyond the capacity of most of us.

A Magritte Museum in Brussels

Since June 2nd 2009, visitors are able to discover the Musée Magritte Museum on 2.500 m² of a building of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Located at the Place Royale, in the very heart of Brussels, this museum was fitted out thanks to the competences sponsorship developed by the French and Belgian GDF SUEZ subsidiary companies and with the support of the Magritte Foundation. The museum will display the works of the surrealist artist, which belong to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and which are mainly the result of purchases as well as of the legacies Irène Hamoir-Scutenaire and Georgette Magritte. Many private collectors, as well as public and private institutions, have contributed to the Musée Magritte Museum project by loaning their masterpieces.
This multidisciplinary collection is the richest in the world. It contains more than 200 works consisting in oils on canvas, gouaches, drawings, sculptures and painted objects but also in advertising posters, music scores, vintage photographs and films produced by Magritte himself.
The Musée Magritte Museum will be, in its domain, the world reference centre for the knowledge of the artist. With the support of INEO media system, the Musée Magritte Museum has developed an online research centre, which will give access to the archives in connection with the painter's life and works.





william martin, poet

The website of William Martin has just come online and includes a special tribute from Keith Armstrong. The site also includes an audio clip of the poem Kildan Fragments, which was featured on Radio 3, as well as digital downloads of tracks from his Selected Works CD. There is also the opportunity to purchase signed copies of his work online. Click on the following hyperlink to access the site:

from penniless press


The laureateship, with its implication of laurels awarded by State and Crown, is an empty anachronism which, like all such forms, survives by claiming it can serve ends it isn’t intended for. So the appointment of a female laureate is, if you read The Guardian, good news for women. How can an award bestowed by a family whose wealth, power and privilege depend on the hereditary principle, assist gender equality? How can association with a government which accepted, to the final detail, the self-justifications and excuses of the so called “masters of the universe” as they went about enriching themselves at the cost of our economic security, serve any kind of equality? Most of the bankers who ruined us were men. Most women remain poorly paid and in lower level jobs. Feminism, which once recognised equality as the ground of its success, has taken on a free market form: so long as few women achieve success, status and wealth, the job is done. I would have thought a public renunciation of the post and of the royals and time-serving politicians who bestow it, could have done much more to advance the cause of equality in general and of women in particular.

Yet even more disappointing is this, from Carol Duffy’s Guardian acceptance article:

“….poetry……matters deeply to a huge and growing number of people in this country.”

Out of an adult population of thirty million, what could be thought of as huge ? Twenty million or so? If twenty million Britons bought contemporary poetry, it would be reasonable to expect the most popular collections to sell a hundred thousand. Even Duffy, a set text, will be lucky to command that. Most collections sell fewer than five hundred. Most poets are unheard of. Poetry matters to hardly anyone as a voluntary activity. Tens of thousands of pupils and students are forced to read the stuff, but, as everyone knows, often with the result they never look at it again once they’ve got the certificate. Editing a little magazine gives a clear sense of how many people take a real interest in living poetry: I’d say between three and five thousand. Not even 0.1 percent of the population. Poetry, as something taken an interest in outside the school or the academy is virtually dead. It matters to a very small group of enthusiasts. Nor does Adrian Mitchell’s old adage explain: people don’t ignore poetry because it ignores them but because it requires effort, is disturbing and clashes with the anti-imaginative narcissism of our culture. Later, Duffy descends simply to the level of an apparatchik:

“..poetry is vital to the imagining of what Britain has been, what it is and what it might yet become.”

The kind of statement to the House you might expect from a newly-appointed poetry czar.

Duffy is apparently going to donate the £6,000 she receives to the Poetry Society for the establishment of a new poetry prize. She would do better to give a thousand a piece to six little mags. Gongs, crowns and prizes are little to do with literary value: they are about commercialism and winning the culture war. The mass imagination isn’t formed by poetry, or any kind of serious literature, but by celebrity veneration and reality tv. If you went onto Oxford St today and stopped people at random, how many would have heard of John Skelton? How many could name a poem by him? Skelton lives and works in the imaginations of the few who take the trouble to read, who see value in the long-term, who have the courage to resist the present. This isn’t as it should be but it is as it is. Ours is a culture of manufactured stupidity, which is exactly what you need to turn people into mindless consumers. Poetry should be sceptical, cynical and oppositional in such a culture. Conversations with the wind aren’t quite what we need to win today’s cultural struggle. The forces of ignorance and reaction are winning. They will continue to win if we peddle illusions about huge numbers of people turning to poetry. If literature is to do its work in fighting the murder of imagination, we have to begin from where we are: beleaguered, struggling to survive, ignored by the majority. But no-one who says so will be poet laureate nor win prizes.


in the grotto!

the jingling geordie

My photo
whitley bay, tyne and wear, United Kingdom
poet and raconteur