Tell it like it is

IssueMarch 2010
Comment by Jeff Cloves

The greatest pleasure in writing for PN has always been that its editors let me write about whatever catches my fancy. And my fancy is to write about anything I fancy will interest PN readers.

However, my piece on cowardice and bravery is currently on PN’s website and exemplifies how the net has changed my notion of “PN readers”. I used to regard them as comrades-in-(harmless)-arms; now they could just be serendipitous surfers.

It’s too late to change my writing habits though, so here are some fancies. As ever they are subjective, emotional, partial, and informed by friendship and acquaintance. I assume that you dear reader, like me, prefer to heed the warm recommendations of friends rather than the lofty musings of a professional critic. So google “Pat VT West” and see if she catches your fancy.

Human hurricane

Pat was a poet, feminist activist, peace campaigner, occasional PN contributor, human hurricane and friend since 1971. She died in June 2008 and I wrote of her life and death here.

Last year her selected poems were to be published by Rive Gauche (Bristol) and I looked forward to her fierce, often sexually explicit and witty commitment, getting its proper, unequivocal due. I imagine her editors, Sheila and Rachel, are still fighting for breath beneath piles of Pat’s chaotic papers. May her poems reach daylight in 2010.

Pat loved plants, flowers and her allotment…..

Not faddy or manic
I’m organic – don’t panic!
It just makes my blood boil
to destroy the topsoil.

I met Pat via PN stalwart Dennis Gould and met the composer singer and pianist Bill Fay the same way in the same year.

Still some light

Pat loved Bill’s songs and I have written admiringly of his work many times in PN. Bill’s latest double CD Still Some Light (Jnana records, £12) contains 43 tracks and this commitment: artist proceeds to go to the major charities active in the poorest places in the world. Bill’s music has a small but devoted (the right word) following and one of the CDs contains 26 tracks recorded in his front room using basic recording equipment and an electronic keyboard and synthesiser.

Collectively the songs are a hymn (the right word) to peace and harmlessness. Like Dennis Gould’s poems, Bill’s songs owe much to William Blake – and are profoundly religious. You won’t find Politics in his work and although this suite of songs is avowedly Christian they empathise with Buddhist thought.

In her old age my mum was often moved to tears by Bill’s songs and they have always powerfully affected my atheist heart. Years ago Bill played a benefit for PN and his drummer, Alan Rushton, had strong links to PN too.

Bill’s songs on his front room recordings are deceptively simple and all have more or less the same tempo. They achieve an almost trance-like state.

I regard them as a suite rather than a collection of songs and this work seems to me a distillation of all he has written over the last 40 years.

The first lines of the first song I ever heard of Bill’s announced:
I’m planting myself in the garden
between the potatoes and parsley
believe me – believe me

Pat told me she was amazed when she heard this song. Google Bill Fay and Jnana Records and you’ll be amazed too.

By happenstance my friend, the poet Philip Rush, has just published A Short Guide To Mediaeval Spain (Yew Tree Press £9.99). These poems celebrate the landscape of his pilgrimage along the camino francés from Pamplona to Santiago in northern Spain.

Philip is a poet of the commonplace and the miraculous and, on the face of it, I’m an unlikely admirer. Google “Football Poets” and “Philip Rush” and you might understand what I admire when you read his poem “Pledge” on this site.

It’s about the death of a young Muslim woman in the London bombings and his consequent scarred love for West Ham United…..
And in my prayer for
Shahara Akther Islam
will be compressed my prayers
for all those whose lives

were stolen
from them –
they were not lost,
those lives,

they were stolen
from their rightful owners,
as others in my stolen name
have stolen lives elsewhere…..

Read the whole poem and weep.

Topics: Culture
See more of: Jeff Cloves