Birmingham

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I was in Birmingham, England yesterday, for no important reason. This is the polished bit of their city center, where the nice shops and the good shopping center are. Isn’t it nice. It was a 20 degree day as well, with a warm breeze. I sat at that cafe and drank two beers. Two icy cold Stella’s, in those classy rounded pint glasses with a stem. It was lush. My walk to the museum afterwards took me past all the heavyweight Victorian-era monolithic stone buildings, with their carvings and engravings. Belfast city center has ’em too, like Birmingham it was also a player in the industrial revolution. But Birmingham is more impressive in that regard I’d say. The museum was a washout for me. I was pretty tired, didn’t really didn’t have the energy. But it was a good one, I’d go again. A series of rooms took you past a real bounty of stuff on the walls, mostly religious, as is the way of it it seems, moving backwards through the centuries- the last room being chock-full of 14th century Church ‘triptychs’ and ‘diptychs’ produced by individuals who were probably certifiably insane by modern standards. I exited the museum and immediately slumped down on the steps outside, basking in the full glare of the sun for a few minutes. In my knackered state I had the less than inspired idea to tilt my phone when taking this picture of the town hall to my left:

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It looks like a snap in a cheesy language-learning school textbook: ‘Marta and Elena took a bus to the city center. Marta loved the town hall, but Elena wasn’t so keen!’

Brief Rant

Seamus Heaney, who won the nobel prize for literature, died this time two years ago. I studied a few of his poems in the course of my schooling. I wasn’t crazy about them then and still wouldn’t be now. The ones I remember studying, ‘Digging’ for instance, were very much centered on life in the Irish countryside. Sods and bogs and spades. I hate the sound of that life, the lack of glamour in it. Heaney looked like a farmer too with his flyaway white hair and woolen attire. I would have preferred a glowering, gym-buff Heaney. I’m willing to accept that he was a good poet and a nice man though. What I find strange is that he appears never to have written a bad poem, never mind a bad collection of poems. How can that be? He was human. Was there not one where the rhymes were really shit or where he might’ve gone with a different set-up or different word choices? Apparently not. You only get infallible figures like that in the likes of poetry, painting, opera, classical. The ones where elites call the shots. It’s pretty conspicuous.

I Know a Good Man When I See One

Yesterday I felt like writing some poetry. I want that experience I’ve sometimes felt when writing, probably on fewer than ten occasions in total, when a satisfying line pops into existence out of nowhere- it seems to be not of your own volition yet there’s no question that it’s exactly what you were after. It hits the spot. Anytime that’s happened it’s been at least an hour or so into writing. It doesn’t happen walking down the street. My thought was that poetry might be a shortcut to that. Or that that’s maybe the essence of poetry? Which is why I was in the mood to try it yesterday.

Sitting there, my first thought was that I’d write a Haiku because I thought there’d be good bang for my buck that way. But I looked Haiku up on wikipedia and became discouraged. You need a cutting word at the end of one line, separating two distinct moods, and it usually incorporates some ideas about the seasons. I didn’t want to have to do that kind of work. My hope was that I would hit on something I felt deeply about and then the poem would arrange itself naturally into a meaningful or attractive form.

So I started to mull over what I could write about. Immediately my walk the other day came to mind. I was walking up the residential backstreets off the main road on the return leg of my journey and I stopped to change what I had playing on my earphones. As I was stood there on the pavement a diminutive old guy, who looked a bit down on his luck, passed me and said ‘There’s a good man, I know a good man when I see one’.

I’m not sure why I’m inclined to get poetic about this rather than say my dinner of boiled potatoes with tinned meatballs. Probably because it was a novel experience and because there’s an unusual interaction between two strangers in it which gives it some charge. A poet shouldn’t need to rely on drama or novelty though, that’s what drama and …novels are for. But regardless, I dashed out my first poem in yonks in 30 seconds. It’s awful of course, being a completely thoughtless effort. What I did learn was that I like the notion of using plain language in a non-banal way and I also enjoy rhythm, so finding a form where rhythm is key would be good. In retrospect, disappointingly, I saw that I had just surrounded the main incident with second-hand ‘writing a poem now!’ ideas. So trying to think outside the box when I start to get moony-eyed is going to be necessary. Finally I got a little mopey right at the end, with a change of direction in the last two lines, in the mistaken belief that doing that would make the poem ‘big’, rather than wank. That’s another hazard to avoid.

Describe the last time you were moved to tears by something beautiful.

The last time I was moved to tears by something beautiful was during a visit to a photography exhibition in an art gallery in the center of Belfast on a Sunday. I had been out the night before and was still in the same clothes and hung-over. I was feeling reckless, sort of mad fer it, which made for an unusually eventful day by my standards. It helped that I loved the outfit I was wearing. Before walking to the gallery I stopped at a cheap chain pub for a pint of lager. I sat by the windows onto the street and drank it while fiddling with my phone. In a wilfully dreamy, gawky way I became fixed on a man standing on the street a few feet from me. He was a wholesome well fed looking guy wearing an outdoor jacket and hiking shoes. He had thick freshly washed hair and a bit of a tan. He was leaning against a post and chewing gum with a reflective look on his face. He looked like he was waiting for something.

I spoke to him outside and it turned out he was waiting for a tour group. He was driving their coach and possibly also conducting the tour. I liked his functional look and tried to tell him so. “You’re so… unhip, I love it” was more or less what I said. I had meant something more like ‘you seem so resolutely unhip’, but I couldn’t find the words in the heat of the moment. “OK, that’s quite offensive” was his reply. He explained that they were his work clothes. The rest of the exchange was tense after that and I was also disappointed that he wasn’t who I imagined. I tried to back-peddle and talk to him about something else but it was a losing battle and he was soon replying to me with his head turned away, at which point I departed with a ‘Well, nice talking to you’.

I had decided on visiting the gallery not knowing what would be on. When I arrived I was happy to see that it was a photography exhibition- Northern Ireland: 30 years of photography. Typically, the photos were mostly of urban decay, violence and disadvantaged people looking miserable. Something had been done right though as I found myself in a trance in front of photo after photo. I hadn’t seen Northern Ireland in an ‘art photography’ light before. Here are some I managed to find online:

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There was an impressive couple, in their early 40’s I’d say, wandering about. The man was a big tall formidable looking guy with a bald head and stubble, a bomber jacket… and wire framed spectacles. The woman had red in her hair and was wearing an overcoat and colourful Nike trainers. They were snorting and giggling at everything and I started to worry that I was one of the objects of their piss-taking. I was sure I heard them pass remark of some kind behind me. I became conscious of my outfit- my perfect little jeans and impractical green plimsolls. I entered another room and stopped in front of the first photo. The couple entered after me and the woman said ‘oh, I like that one’ as they passed.

The whole thing, real or imagined, started to piss me off. My buzz had been killed. I moved further into the room and on a walk from one wall to another I aimed myself directly at them. I kept my gaze on the floor and walked towards them with one foot in front of the other, as if I was walking along a plank leading to them. ‘Don’t fuck with me, I might surprise you  was the message I hoped to convey. I raised my head when I’d reached a point pretty close to them, just before I changed direction. It wasn’t them but rather a different couple, with the woman wearing a similar dark coat. She looked puzzled. I wasn’t too embarrassed- I thought there was the possibility she had taken me for some free spirit and was impressed!

The tears, or welling up anyway, occurred just before all this, while I was still completely engrossed by the stuff on the walls. It was in front of this photo:

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I was willing it a little bit. Full blown crying would have been a great release, but it didn’t come to that. I’m not sure how much credit I should give the photographer (Hannah Starkey) or myself as I welled up several times in front of Titanic on a hangover a month before!