........NOVEMBER 2013





There are certain things a person understands about themselves even before the age of 5. One of these for me was being an idler. Of course, to articulate this to myself at the time would have been impossible. After all, I had nothing to compare it with. Only when I was old enough to reflect on the world around me and how I saw my situation, was it clear I had always known this. I must have been around 10 or 11 by then.

To recognise a deep-set trait in oneself that other people appear not to share is one thing, but to realise the trait is also taboo is quite another. As I say, being an idler was just one disposition. Later, when I thought I knew everything about myself, I recognised yet another (of already several) taboo dispositions: this was that some crucial part of my brain was stuck in infancy. That is, regardless of age, my brain continued to think in the same way it always had. From the psychological angle, it seemed that I was failing to grow-up like other people; I was failing to see things from a 'mature' point of view.

Together with the underlying idleness, this ‘immaturity’ only enhanced the unorthodox nature of my perspective on everything around me. The world as I saw it, apparently, differed significantly from how it appeared to other people. I didn’t know that directly, of course. How could I feel what it was like to be inside someone else’s head? I could only go by what people said and did. But almost everything I witnessed in those days told me this difference I experienced was real.

Over past decades there have been frequent lapses in this inclination to idle, and also in my ‘juvenile’ view of the world and events therein. These lapses have been inspired from within myself and from outside. They are sprinkled throughout my life. You might say, idling and 'infantile' thinking (among other things) were - are - my default condition; and although they predominate, they are not beyond conscious control. Hence periods of activity, and intervals of ‘mature’ thought, have occasionally prevailed. But the lapses, I always knew, were digressions, moments of distraction; they were a contrived, sometimes contingent betrayal of my true nature. When I reflect and see such instances of bad faith driven from outside, I feel contrite; either they were occasioned by expedience, or by appeal to some base instinct: ie, greed. But there are also instances when driven from within that have proved enormously beneficial; most notably travel, but including 'mad' ventures like writing (which usually demands some level of effort).

But I didn't intend to dwell here on my 'shortcomings' or otherwise, except to explain how and why I've been inclined to follow chance in certain directions and not others. You see, I believe in myself... always have; and trust the way I am whether accepted in the wider world or not, taboo or no taboo! No question there. So it was inevitable I would adopt an unconventional lifestyle. I'm reminded of Copernicus - who discovered that the earth encircled the sun and not the other way around as nearly everyone else preferred to think. His position was taboo, but he knew he was right, and stuck to it, even if he had to pretend on occasion not to. The question is: does maintaining a taboo position actually cause harm to anyone? Haven't many of the advances in society been inspired by mavericks who refused to capitulate? Maybe one could ask: why the taboo? Breaking taboos, from my observations, usually harms only bigots - or releases them from an irrational mindset. Not all taboos are irrational, I know, but to betray one's authenticity and deny truth in order to conform stifles autonomy - hence freedom - and creative potential too. Moreover, others who share that position, whether or not they're conscious of it, might feel buoyed from the knowledge that they're not alone, so might start to believe in themselves. Ultimately, the repercussions are potentially considerable.

The other day, wandering in Hastings Old Town, I ran into a character I know well. This guy is much better travelled than me, and is always good for conversation. When he's around, I frequently find him working in a popular little junk-shop. The proprietor often attends auctions, so calls on this guy to stand in for him. On this occasion, he tells me he’ll be working in the shop the next day. So, ever eager for a chance of intellectual banter, I turn up and, as usual, peruse the chaotic stacks of old books.

Among the junk there, I unearth several promising tomes for 25p a TRICK. One of these 'No Other Country' is by a Canadian writer of prose and poetry I’ve never heard of: Al Purdy (1918 - 2000) - a man, I soon discover, of some renown. The essays in this book are outstanding. One is about Malcolm Lowry - author of 'Under the Volcano' - who once lived near Vancouver where Purdy visited him... It doesn't take long to conclude that more research is in order.

Research these days means half-an-hour (or less, though in my case usually more) surfing sites like wikipedia. In the case of a writer, Amazon too for the reviews. Lowry was almost permanently hooked on alcohol - I knew this, but that's about all I knew - and Purdy, apparently, was a keen anarchist. Among other things, both wrote eloquently about the natural environment. Then I was alerted to another Canadian writer, an acquaintance of Purdy, whose writing on anarchy was not only prolific but popular too; namely, George Woodcock (ie, check youtube). For an anarchist to be so highly regarded by all who knew him and his work, struck me as a phenomenon worth looking into.

From what objective understanding I've picked-up over the decades on the subject, anarchy seems to me so intelligent, good and sensible that I'm amazed it hasn't spread and prevailed in the world despite all the disinformation and double-speak. I know, of course, that like socialism, anarchy has been the target of unrelenting negative propaganda. And the public, as ever, are easily TRICKED. For centuries, fair and decent modes of living have been a key target of all elitist groups: governments, establishments, rulers and so on have constantly striven to discredit, and prevent the forming of, any system that works in the interests of ordinary people and, like socialism, protects the weak from the strong - or from anyone who sets themselves up to govern, or to dictate how others should live.

But George Woodcock wasn't the only name I noticed during this search. Bukowski was there too. I have a couple of volumes of Bukowski's 'Selected Letters'. In Volume-2 (1965-70) I find this - To Al Purdy:

October 11, 1965

…people keep sending me poems and novels to read and collec­tions of poesy - I mean people I have never written to or heard of- and all the stuff is bad, bad, bad. I wonder if you realize how much bad stuff is written in all earnestness? and they'll keep right on with it. thinking that they are undiscovered genius. I rec. a beautifully printed book of poems, fine paper, hardcover, and inscribed 'to Buk ..." and etc. an honor, sure, but 1 can't even write this person and thank him because the poems are so flat and drivelling that they are not even bad — they don't even exist, if you know the type I mean, yet I don't throw a book away when it is sent to me in this way and I don't know what to do with them. I guess there'll be another one in the mail tomorrow, there are a lot of dead men sitting at typewriters. I would have quit long ago but when I saw the truly bad stuff that was being done, I couldn't let go...

From one angle, this letter comes over as supremely arrogant - which is entirely out of character for Bukowski.

As a teen, instead of poetry, I was deeply attracted by physics and electronics and got a pretty good understanding of the fundamentals - so when I hear laymen expound on some aspect of electronic theory, I can laugh - or wince - at their weird misconceptions. But it would involve too much, and be a little embarrassing, to try and correct them, and could invite hostility and accusations of arrogance. So I wouldn't do that... unless with infinite tact!

And I imagine for similar reasons Bukowski felt unable to write to his well-meaning admirers on the lines of his letter to Purdy. Because like Bukowski's fans, I too have been - am - baffled by the precise nature of what, in the eyes of 'professionals', makes good or bad poetry. To me, poetry is usually trite, dull, meaningless or obscure. Apart from a few exceptions, it's certainly not something I've enjoyed or ever got enthused about. From an early age I'd heard, like most people, well-known Blake verses and similar - which I saw as sophisticated versions of nursery rhymes: delightfully clever and concise, and it's true, a pleasure to read or hear. But this was extremely limited. Then reading Hesse back in the 80s, and subsequently his prose-poems (ie, Trees - not the best example but it's available), which seemed a fine kind-of transition, I finally examined and could make sense of his poetry. And so, for maybe the first time in my life, I began to see how poetry (beyond simple couplets) really was meant to work: how it revealed images and impressions that would be far less evocative in prose form. Soon after, I noticed likewise for Ginsberg's outstanding work, then Larkin, and so on... Even so, I rarely bother to read it because although I can appreciate some, as noted, most remains as ever way out on the sidelines like something vaguely interesting, perhaps, but not anything to get excited about - and frequently about as gripping as a wet banana-skin (I love that simile). If you live by the seaside, as I do, you might even appreciate my own cheeky attempt below... something remotely Larkinesque maybe: Freedom.

My relationship with music isn't much different: not what you might describe as 'intimate'. And I suppose that reflects me - or my experience... but reading that letter of Bukowski's - whose prose I like, though whose poetry (I often feel) would work better in prose - suggests to me that even if I worked at it a thousand years there's no way I could write passable poetry. And I'm very comfortable with that - I have no wish to write poetry, never have had. Unfortunately, I suspect, most of my prose is scarcely more passable... except in the eyes of Rod who still nudges me now and then. And I guess that's THE TRICK - either keep it to yourself or find someone, anyone, who if they can't advise then will at least regard your efforts kindly.

George Woodcock, Al Purdy... and many others, I imagine, felt as I did as they grew through their teens reflecting that their observations were taboo, failing to conform with the general view. Unlike me, luckily, they failed to see idling as a solution. Unlike me, they were determined to follow what they recognised as true and worthwhile. Unlike me, they did not take 'The Path of Least Resistance' and half-grudgingly go along with things, confronting only what was easy or crucial to their own circumstances as I did. Unlike me they did not cop-out, but decided to challenge the status quo. These people were not alone, as they probably felt. They battled, against the odds - and I'm very glad they did... like Stuart Christie too. Not that their work has achieved much beyond providing periods of musing-pleasure to like-minded (dispositioned) individuals such as me? But even if it does all lead nowhere, which is never a certainty, it still at least makes life richer for us few who retain what we were born with instead of switching, instead of caving-in and conforming with what's a fairly hideous status quo: see Chris Hedges' latest offering for instance: 'Shielding a Flickering Flame'.


(Events as described above - with regard to stumbling on new reading - is a frequent occurrence for me.)

A few days ago an acquaintance mentioned William Burroughs II (ie, as in connection with Kerouac, Ginsberg et al). So idly I scan his wikipedia entry and notice his kid has a link: WSB III, who wrote a couple of autobiographical stories then died - that was in 1981 at age 33. Of all the 'Beats' Burroughs strikes me as the weirdest. He writes well, true, and he was an innovator, but from what I've learned he was just a bit too negligent of others - his son in particular. There's no telling how much drugs had to do with him (accidentally?) killing his wife, but the impression I have is that any 'remorse' was insincere. Maybe I'm wrong about that. He was certainly no fool. I mean with all those narcotics and so on, and living quite well to age 83... he must have looked after himself OK, if he didn't others.

But I mention this because scanning the Amazon reviews of his son Billy's two stories (now published in a single volume), I sense that the whole vast 'Beat' story would be incomplete without them. Apparently, they illustrate the 'other side' of the Beat phenomenon, the less palatable, less exciting, raw earthy downBeat side. And I find on abe-books this volume second-hand for a just few pence (with p&p <£3). So there's yet another addition to my library (some might say: clutter?) here.

The TRICK (from age 5): keep eyes skinned, ignore taboos (intelligently), keep interested in what YOU like/appreciate/dig (not what anyone else thinks you should), take life easy AND take nothing seriously, unless it's life-or-death. That's my take... Why it requires 6-decades to confirm what I knew when I was - well, maybe not 5 for some understandings, but definitely about 11 for most (as too for William Saroyan) or at oldest 15 for the remainder - is a mystery. Is it a matter of confidence, or self-preservation in a hostile jungle? It's clear enough, though, why teens are so frequently accused of knowing nothing while thinking they know everything. What the accusers mean (or should mean) by that, I now realise, is that they know nothing of how cruel and alien the rest of the world is, and how opposed it is to the truths they've seen... for reasons spelled out above. It's as if, symbolically, the world is as aptly emulated in the little 'Five Monkeys TRICK ' youtube animation as the US congress it's designed to portray.

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The Nudist Beach

Come down and visit the Nudist Beach,
The sun, the sea and the sky,
See an old boiler with a bum like a peach,
And hear the seagulls cry.

On arrival we'll strip, and then take a dip,
To dry we'll flounce on the sand,
Then without a care, all naughty and bare,
We'll dance on the edge of the land, the land...
We'll dance on the edge of the land.