The Dead Queen of Bohemia (New & Collected Poems)

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Dead Queen of Bohemia, The

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The Dead Queen of Bohemia (New & Collected Poems) has been published by Polygon, Birlinn Ltd. It features 120 poems and goes all the way back to the early years of Urchin Belle & The Dead Queen of Bohemia (published by Blackheath Books in Ltd. edition – you lucky ducks if you have one) and now encompassing over 65 new poems as well. It has been emotional, to put them all together and take them out into the world but I love the book and really love the production values. I have effectively drawn a line under the last few decades of poetry and I am starting over with a new body of work now. I was lucky to get drawings by Nathan Thomas Jones on the front cover and in some of the illustrations inside as well. I’ll write more on the poetry later, the picture above is of myself and Nathan at the York Hall launch in East London. York Hall is an amazing old boxing club with stunning art deco features. I read to a beautiful crowd, they roared, they drank, they were present, my brilliant publisher from William Heinemann was there alongside newer film acquaintances, it was a great moment to remember, Jx

A Monkey Born in the Afternoon & Hidden In the Shadows

I am watching the elephant man and thinking about the elephant woman. That of course, was not her name but she had the same thing, she powdered her face, had a friend who powdered her face too, the two of them would drink in The Scotsman lounge at 5am. I  knew this because it’s where I’d sometimes find myself on a first date or after last orders, or just as a place to be in Edinburgh in the middle of the night when I’d not went ice-skating in Princes St. gardens with a man I would never really know. 

 Once I was waiting outside the bar, street rainy, lamps on the road like orange orbs, while the cleaners finished up, me peering in the window with a guitar on one shoulder and a cigarette in hand, always a cigarette, seven years now since I smoked really but that’s how it was and peering in the bar window, willing the cleaner to hurry up and unlock the door and as I cleaned bars myself on and off at certain times, I knew this (being watched while you finish sweeping floors) to be a moderate annoyance. 

That reminds me of a woman in fact that used to drink two bottles of wine on her shift cleaning each floor in the Venue, she’d finish at 11am (a bit smashed I presume) she was in her sixties and that was her days work done by then and of course to think of the Venue is to imagine gigs where I was carried over the stage, a boy with a black rose proposing, sneaking to dance clubs with a friend at fifteen and seeing our physics teacher out of his mind on ecstasy, an ex who robbed a chemist telling me he saw the flatline … you know got so high all he could see was this flat line of light and nothing, but it was a different Edinburgh then and I don’t have much idea of it now, now it’s just the lights across the water. 

I have moved to Burntisland where the street lights have incidentally, just gone out and I’m thinking of what it was like to be in The Scotsman bar at 5am and feeling David Lynch about things, staying upright was the idea, I was so upright then, so aware of the curvature of the earth.

 

It led to six years without a drop, tai chi every morning, trips to the buddhists to learn how to meditate, taught me how to make incense from coal, I got very into cycling and climbing up rocks to read in places with views, but that lady – I used to see her around and her face tumour (a growth so big) it looked painful, it was omnipresent and her eyes, looking out, her face powdered, we would see each other around all the time. I’d wake up in the middle of the night then and go out cycling (I found it a cure for nightmares and a time to have almost the entire city to myself) and I’d see her on a street somewhere.

Sometimes I would wonder if she could see in me what others might not see in her, you know, a beauty (something I did not see in myself) a sense of self undefined by aesthetics.

 

I always understood beauty was unquantifiable, elusive, not what we are told it is but the merry-go-nowhere we are meant to judge our-selves by …. well, the thing is to look in a persons eyes, all the sadness of a thousand walks home at dawn.

The lights are across the water and I used to watch them the other way round and write poems when I was twelve years old and in a car I should not have been in on a school night. It seems like a time so long gone, just a kaleidoscope of images to wonder about and right now the rain on my window and my toddler nearly two and a girl at fifteen playing gigs in punk clubs she was three years too young to drink in and writing, always writing, squirreling away words, notes, drawings, etchings and knowing even then that beauty had nothing to do with illusion yet that too will always have its draw, its place but craving something real in a world without streetlights where cats eyes still find a way to glint, the light is what we seek. 

We are all the ages we will ever be at once.

That’s a thing. A subject I discussed with an artist I’ve never met, a picture sent and on my wall and the rain still pattering on the window and tomorrow a writing day, a precious five hours to spend immersed solely in words, I’m averaging two thousand an hour, that’s five hundred every fifteen minutes, I don’t get enough hours to write so when I do I really go for it. This time is fiercely guarded and I’ve worked out ways to write faster (I start thinking of the next days writing — sculpting it in my head about twelve hours before) speed is no surprise really, I type as fast as I think. It’s the best thing I ever learnt (to touch type) has brought me endless benefits in writing, in unthinking, or has it? In actual fact I might write my next novel out by hand just to contrast and compare, why not, but this one, half trance, a focused, waited for, carefully protected state that is then held up to said light, in all its grainy early morning brutality — a bruise, a monkey born in the afternoon and hidden in the shadows, a way to learn to dance, seventy years old and a dance hall, London and a museum near, a man who understands time and me in a burger bar realising I have not enough to give — my words need that great staked out area of minutes, a place I can inhabit and invade.

 

Space hoppers.
Space invaders.
Space men.
Pickled onion. 10p a packet. Monster Munch. 

 

I have nothing more to say.

 

For Books Sake

Sometimes people get something, they get it and they give something back. That means something to a writer. We spend endless hours spend putting one word in front of another, it’s a way of life, a way of being, and sometimes — it’s good to be got. For Books Sake made my day with this review, so thank you … Also to everyone else who has been putting their support behind this novel, this last week or two has been amazing. Word on the street is the literati are swapping it, the cool kids are quoting it, and there’s a drag queen in Akron who does a mean Anais. Their is a rumour that there will be a lit tug of war held at Trafalgar Square, the Panopticonites vs the living dead, my bet is they’ll win easy — gin in one hand, vintage shot-gun in the other.

I will be having the book launch at Word Power Book Shop on West Nicholson St. Edinburgh, 16th May 7pm. All are welcome.

Here is the review from For Books Sake — a great online source, picky, discerning and wholly passionate about literature.

24TH APR
THE PANOPTICON BY JENNI FAGAN

The Panopticon is the début novel by Scottish poet and writer Jenni Fagan, and my favourite novel so far this year.

It’s the first-person story of Anais Hendricks, a fierce and irrepressible narrator with a vivid and original voice, like going on a joyride with Irvine Welsh‘s teenage sister while off your face on amphetamines.

Aged fifteen, Anais finds herself in a police car, on her way to the Panopticon, a detention centre for chronic young offenders. Across town, there’s a policewoman in a coma and Anais has been found with blood on her school uniform. And although she’s committed all sorts of other crimes, when it comes to this one, she’s adamant that she’s innocent.

Fucked or fucked over by almost every adult she’s ever met, Anais’ life so far has been a never-ending cycle of care and foster homes. But for the most part, she’s blase and upbeat about the violence and despair she’s witnessed; Anais is a survivor, and she’s smart and funny with it.

Sharp, intuitive and self-assured, she’s upfront about her sporadic escapes into drugs and sex, and honest about her fears of the mysterious and sinister Experiment that track her every move.

Although tentative at first, she soon forms a makeshift family with her fellow inmates at the Panopticon, but the authorities are watching and waiting. And if Anais makes one wrong move, she’s had it.

Her predicament and personality alone are enough to keep you turning the pages, but as you might expect from the subject matter, there’s a dark heart to The Panopticon.

Parts of it are uncomfortable and potentially triggering, with prostitution, rape, self-harm, animal and child abuse all playing their part. But Anais has seen it all before, facing extreme situations with bravado and defiance. And those are at her moments when she’s at her most heartbreaking.

Crude, honest and often hilarious, she is impulsive and unpredictable but always believable, coming out with all sorts of caustic put-downs, wry observations and classic claims:

“[The word] vagina sounds like a venereal disease. Or like the name for some snobby rich German countess’ daughter; her entry into society would be announced in some glossy magazine, and underneath it would read…Vagina Schneider at the débutante ball, wearing an electric blue Vera Wang – a true glory to behold.”

Anais subverts stereotypes and the judgements of those around her. Acknowledging that the authorities expect a uniform of ponytail, gold jewellery, tracksuit and fake tan, Anais is nostalgic for the romance and glamour of bygone eras, inadvertently showing her softer, more sensitive side with her secret fantasies of painting in Paris:

“I adore dragonflies. I adore the sea, the moon, the stars, vintage Dior and old movies in black and white. I adore girls with tits and hips and class and old men in suits who have that dignified look about them.”

Although the system may be broken, Anais is sticking to her story, and The Panopticon is as memorable and exhilarating as its narrator. Published next week by William Heinemann, you can pre-order the hardback for £8.44, or pre-order the Kindle edition for £8.04.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended for: Anyone who loves an underdog, or who has ever had cause to rage against the machine; rebels, delinquents and daredevils of all ages will love Anais’ strength, boldness and bravery.

Other recommended reading: For more rebel girls in over their heads, read Colleen Curran‘s Whores on the Hill, Bella Bathurst‘s Special, or Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth when it comes out later this summer. Or for another stubborn, defiant and memorable narrator, try Nell Leyshon‘s The Colour of Milk.

Jane Bradley

Now, here’s Kurt to play you out.

The Panopticon

I once read a book that said you should be careful what you do when you step out your front door, as you never know where your feet might take you. I wrote my first poems around the same time. I was seven, living in a caravan on the outskirts of a mining village, and the library van came around once a week. I read everything in that library van. A few days ago a friend from that time rang me up, she works on a library van now, and she was really excited — as The Panopticon had just come in on her list of new releases.

It’s funny how things go. I watched my son go into the sea the other day, naked, happy, one-years old and fearless. I drove past places that once were fiction. What is a place that once was fiction? It’s a place in your heart where your mind does not plan to return too. I picked up a pen, and it became a chisel and I hammered on a great ugly hulk of stone — stood back one day to see what it had become.

The Panopticon, is a wisp of a dream that has now become a solid thing. It is a beautifully crafted hardback book, with an exceptional attention to detail. I adore it. The colour on the inside is a perfect, deep blue, the moon on the front would glow a little in the right light, and the front cover is a scene from the novel come to life. Does that happen?  It seems it does. I don’t believe in crocodiles, and by that I mean I don’t believe in being hugged in never-ending circles toward death — and passing that off as life! It’s grim. Pointless. We have to take risks, go for it, quietly repeat to ourselves at regular intervals — fuck it! We can sit at the devils crossroads and refuse to trade our souls for guitars, or gold. I’ve sat at a lot of crossroads, in fact I’ve slept at a few, and many other, stranger places. And, this morning I picked up my novel from the doormat … how unbelievably cool!

I wrote this novel in bed in Peckham (mostly) with a view of a tree and a church spire from the window. The next door neighbour had (among other things) a couple of mattresses outside in their garden. Over a summer I hammered out the first draft. While everyone I knew seemed to be off travelling or at festivals, I was doing twelve hours a day, seven days a week, immersing myself in it. I’d look up at night and the house would be dark and I’d go and pour a drink and wonder why I was doing this, but I couldn’t stop. Whoever tells you it is easy to write a novel … lied. It’s not easy. It changes you, it takes you somewhere and alters your chemical make-up. At least — the good ones do, or it has done for me. At the end of that summer the leaves on the neighbours mattress had turned from green, to brown and gold, then black, sodden with mulch. I had 140’000 words to begin sculpting with, it was — the start. I went back to uni, thinking of the experiment, and cigarillo smoking outcast queens, and wondering if swimming feels like flying if you have fins, and live in the sea.

I sat in my publisher’s office a few months ago, we were going through the final edit and having a whiskey. The sun was going down over London and all the chimneys and rooftops were golden. It felt like a moment I would always remember. I have been extraordinarily lucky to work with some great people on this novel, who created a stunning book to have, and to hold. They are quite old school, my publisher, and agent. By this I mean — they have a genuine and deep abiding love of literature, of well made quality hardback fictions, of allowing a writer to take risks and respecting why it is vital, and necessary. Heinemann is one of the oldest literary imprints still publishing today, and were first founded in 1890. As you might imagine by a house that published Dostoevsky, or Oscar Wilde, they still make books that are built to last.

So here it is, only a few weeks to go and The Panopticon goes out into the world on its own, and like the mad monk — I salute it. I’d stand up for it. I’d arm wrestle for the thing in a bar, and while I am now putting one word in front of another and working on new ways to sculpt worlds from words … The Panopticon is off to France where it is being published by  Metailie (I can’t even speak French) and it is also being published in Czech. In the meantime, I am off to read it to my oldest school friend, she died last year — and I know she would be really proud. Salut, salut. Jx

‘Ferocious and devastating, The Panopticon sounds a battle-cry on behalf of the abandoned, the battered, and the betrayed. To call it a good novel is not good enough: this is an important novel, a book with a conscience, a passionate challenge to the powers-that-be. Jenni Fagan smashes every possible euphemism for adolescent intimacy and adolescent violence, and she does it with tenderness and even humour. Hats off to Jenni Fagan! I will be recommending this book to everyone I know.’ Eleanor Catton, author of The Rehearsal.

A Waterproof Swan Staring Into The Wombs of Horses

I have been uber absent this year, finishing my novel, working on a new one, taking my baby to see the moon and explaining to him why the sky is blue. His repertoire of lullabies includes mostly just songs I like, so he bops along to the Cramps, or old sixties stuff, and Nina Simone, Tim Buckley, Sigur Ros, Glasvegas, Nirvana, early Blondie. Of course The Wheels on The Bus Go Round — is always popular too. My debut novel The Panopticon is now in its final edit stages and has changed so much throughout this whole process, and through writing it, I’ve changed as well. I am beyond excited that The Panopticon will be published by Heinemann, on May 3rd, 2012. I have lots more news to blog about it, but I will leave that until January. So much happened this year, having the baby of course, moving country, working on my Masters, reading at Edinburgh Festival, and more recently at Neu Reekie! Neu Reekie is a v.cool monthly event on in Edinburgh, check it out if you can. Other than that I am thinking of my dissertation on works from the periphery, and what does it mean to defy convention and is it even possible to create solely on your own terms? The problem is that the unconventional often become conventional as soon as expectation is placed upon it. Who knows. Not the Ninky Nonk. I am ending this year without one of my oldest, and closest friends as well, and all I can do is have gratitude for the times we shared. So I raise my cup of tea to all those loved, and vow to walk along all the beaches of ever, most especially at dawn. Here’s a poem for all you kitchen sink bohemians, I wrote it recently after listening to Neruda. Also, the lovely Daniel Johnstone to serenade all Santa’s gnomes J xx

 

Poem After Listening to Neruda

 

What we want, it so happens, we are.

I am sick,

a waterproof swan staring into the wombs of horses.

 

I am the still wool,

I am the elevator’s spectacles.

 

You — are how nature is separated,

and it so happens I am sick, and you are fingernails, hair and shadow.

 

A giant hand — so marvellous.

On the stair (where he killed a man with a balloon in his ear) my green knife.

 

A stretched out sleep,

my

breathing.

 

Everyday,

a wounded wheel.

 

Television

reflected

in my windows. Hideous.

 

Come on chicken, hang over the houses I hate, be a coffee pot!

 

Venom is umbilical,

bye bye grandma — under the house,

buzzing gas again.

 

Send out a kite, a kite to catch,

it will fly by your window, go on — look out now, it won’t destroy you.

 

Forget everything.

 

The park-light (is gold) and the people are beginning to point,

the sky  — is opening.

Look out now, it won’t destroy you.

Dwang 3, An Artisan Anthology from Tangerine Press

tangerine press tangerine press: outsider poetry : prose : graphics in handbound limited editions.Dear people’s of the little planet, the next anthology from Tangerine Press is due out soon, I have some poems in there and the company is truly divine. If you have not encountered Tangerine Press before, then you are missing out on some of the most immaculate artisan publishing around. There are many books worth buying from TP – I keep mine in a vault, guarded by a gin soaked gun-toting troglodyte. So, don’t be square all you Daddy O’s, go take a peek through the hole in the wall.
x

Previously unpublished poetry, prose and graphics. Published May 2011. Poetry from: Billy Childish, Ntozake Shange, Kevin Williamson, Charles Plymell, Salena Godden, Geoff Hattersley, Ronald Baatz, K.M. Dersley, Adrian Manning, Gerald Nicosia, Douglas Blazek, Jenni Fagan, K.V. Skene, David Barker, Steve Ely, Joseph Ridgwell, Hosho McCreesh, Ian Seed, Tim Wells, Richard Krech, Paul Harrison. Also, a chapter from an erotic novel by Johnny Goldcunt, translated by Sabine D’Estree.

Prose: News From Nowhere: six original pieces by Will Self.

Graphics: dark, disturbing b&w images by artist Jase Daniels. Also, a rare image from R. Crumb.

Special section: As Close As It Gets by US poet Fred Voss. Includes new poems, a critical essay by Alan Dent (editor of The Penniless Press) and an in-depth, exclusive interview with Mr. Voss by Jules Smith, author of Art, Survival and So Forth: The Poetry of Charles Bukowski (Wrecking Ball Press, 2000). Also ‘comments’ from, amongst others, the likes of Gerald Locklin, Joan Jobe Smith and Martin Bax of the legendary Ambit.

General information: 104 pages. Large format, approx. 7″/175mm wide x 250mm/10″ tall. Handbound at the Tangerine Press workshop, using acid-free papers and boards, conservation glue, hemp cord; distinctive Tangerine logo stamped onto the front cover in orange ink (numbered copies) and black ink (lettered copies); 3-colour title page. There are 74 numbered and 26 lettered copies available for sale. Body text set in Baskerville Old Face–three other classic fonts are used throughout the journal.
ISBN 978-0-9553402-8-4

All 100 copies have been signed by the poet Fred Voss.

Now, let Can serenade you with Mother Sky …

Flying Down the Yellow Brick Road

I saw End of The Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios the other day. It’s a play about the last few months of Judy Garland’s life. The theatre is like a small cinema and they sell Revels and beer. Tracie Bennett as Garland makes the play, and the sets, the songs. Also the band that materialise behind a glass stage and accompany her through classic Garland tunes.  Over the Rainbow, of course, is in there. Bennett can really deliver a line, and to see the grown up Dorothy drunk, always itching for tablets she’d hide in her shoes, under carpets, or down the back of the sofa, was tragic. It was also humane and quite often totally hilarious, because Judy Garland was a funny woman. She was a spiky, nervous, neurotic, several hundred miles an hour nut!  When she climbs up on a table in her hotel and threatens to jump (so the hotel manager will stop hassling her for money) she says, ‘This’ll work, nobody wants to see Dorothy splatted all over their red carpet!’ Her husbands are a waste of space, her managers, agents, all hanging off the fame and fortune of a golden goose. In the play she has only a few close friends, mainly her long term accompanist, Anthony, an old gay guy who wants her to come and live with him in Brighton so he can look after her. She seems to consider it as she knows she’ll die soon, but not really. At the end nobody could save her. That live fast, die young punk ethos was manifest in her swagger, it’s there when she tells her fifth husband to ‘suck my cock,’ and reminisces on the role that made her ‘Skip down the yellow brick road? I was so fucking high I flew down it!’ When she goes, at the end, it’s quick and sad. Other than that the script didn’t hold up too well, but it didn’t really need it, great one liners and the truth of an addiction that would not let go, provide enough on their own. Here is Eva Cassidy, singing Over the Rainbow.

Other than that, this year has changed from the last. I’ve a new novel and the old one is getting sent out to publishers. I return to the waiting game that is words and the world. Well, really I return to the words because the world is flighty and waiting bores me. My poetry collection is 3AM Poetry Book of the Year which is uber cool. I’ve not done any readings for a while, I probably will later on in the year. The Marquis de Ridgwell is immersed in his new novel The Jago, which I think (when I can steal a look) is a stunning novel. That whole era in London is an amazing time to document and I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing. Other than that, the new generation’s arrival is imminent, may they always upstage the last!  Onwards, onwards. Watch out for those flying monkeys, the wheelies are grabbing hold of the back of cars and racing each other down the M4. Like the sign says, the Universe is closed – but we can always take the rainbow. Salut, salut, salut Jxx