Saturday, 26 February 2011

Silence | Music+Painting | Time Heals All Wounds, Time Heals All Tunes

I’ve posted this video on Silkworms before, during the Heathrow Airport debacle that ruined poetry editor Phil Brown’s Christmas – I figured then that Peter Broderick’s take on airport travel was more compassionate than, I don’t know, Brian Eno’s Music For Airports. But I’m posting it again because it also represents the most thrilling use of one of the most thrilling tropes available to the intelligent musician that I came across all of last year. Namely, a moment of absolute silence. A moment of absolute stillness that forms the centrepiece of a song – three minutes and thirty six seconds in, to be precise – and which has a profound impact on how one listens to what comes after it, and how one remembers what came before. Over to Peter:

There are a couple reasons why this particular silence smashed me between the eyes (insofar as silence can smash) so effectively the first time I heard it. The fact it follows immediately on from another extraordinary play on dynamics, the whispered refrain of ‘time heals all tunes.’ The fact I was lucky enough to be watching Peter live at the Union Chapel in Islington, a space which doesn’t so much host silence as gather it up, rolling it around its stonework and shadows until it has swelled to three times its original size.

But mostly because it is what it is, a seam of silence cut into the melodic core of a song. That is, a contemporary manifestation of an only-ever-half-expected spirit which has haunted pretty much every genre of music there has ever been, from Gregorian chants to jazz improvisations, blues rhythms to trance anthems – you know, when that breakdown happens, the one that goes beep beep beep beep beepbeepbeepbeep beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep *half-second’s silence* crash crash everybody’s dancing aren’t these narcotics splendid crash crash etc. etc. There’s an excellent piece, indeed, about ‘how a pause can be the most devastating effect in music’ over at Slate magazine, which does a decent job of tracing a chain of creative silences from Handel’s hallelujah chorus through to John Cage’s 4’33” via Wagner and, best of all, Debussy in Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, within which ‘the faun’s burgeoning dream is punctuated by a sultry silence, like a breath held in reverie.’ Oh my.

What’s perhaps most interesting about Jan Swafford’s article is its entry-point, though, a Vermeer painting entitled Girl Asleep at a Table centring on an empty doorway, a ‘void’ that was originally inhabited by a man who was quickly painted out. ‘Vermeer understood the power of withheld information,’ Swafford suggests. ‘Composers have a similar understanding that in shaping sound, a nothing can be just as expressive as a something.’ Let’s have a look at Vermeer’s painting:

Swafford’s point is a good one, but it doesn’t go far enough – Vermeer’s painting is full of voids, from the creamy jug in the foreground to the decoration on the back of the chair, like a torn-out hole. And when one acknowledges that these solidities also represent voids of sorts, Swafford’s reflection that ‘nothing be just as expressive as a something’ suddenly appears shortsighted – surely nothing can itself be ‘a something’, and vice versa. A constant exchange and inversion of something and nothing, nothing and something seems to me to be what generates the peculiar serenity in, say, Morandi’s still lifes, surely in their way inheritors of Vermeer’s peacefully domestic atmospherics (not to mention their overt focus on, well, jugs – see his Milkmaid, for example).

Indeed, Morandi’s work represents proof of the fact that painted silences – white space, basically – can sometimes represent the densest part of a composition, in that he has a habit of plonking a big goddam wall right in the middle of a street-view piece and working panoramas around it. Here is space and silence as obscuring, as deafening even. Silence isn’t necessarily withheld information, it can also be a glut of it.


What say we draw upon these brief reflections on painting and music in order to reread some of the great spaces, pauses and silences in literature…

Tristram Shandy

The moment of silence in ‘Hello To Nils’ is so effective because it cuts a swathe of emotional intensity through lyrics that are enjoyably low-key on either side – ‘old news: I like the food here’ before, ‘hello hello hello hello’ after – whilst at the same time abruptly halting a melody that is only just beginning to resolve itself into something genuinely affecting. This latter effect is not unlike one of Swafford’s more effective examples, Haydn’s ‘surprise symphony’, what with

his ability to convince you he’s nice and predictable, while he actually sneaks around to kick you in the pants, and the presence in a slow movement of a pause that ends a rather dinky little tune. As soon as we’ve concluded we know how this tune works, things go boom.

I recommend listening to it over at Slate. It’s the antithesis of Broderick’s technique, but a product of almost identical motivations. Consider, in the light of this, not necessarily the lead-up to Sterne’s infamous marbled page, his most elegant pause-for-thought – ‘you will no more be able to penetrate the moral of the next marbled page (motly emblem of my work!) that the world with all its sagacity has been able to unravel the many opinions, transactions and truths that still lie mystically hid under the dark veil of the black one’ – but its extraordinary aftermath: ‘My nose has been the making of me’ etc.


You want a literary equivalent of Debussy’s pausing faun, written into the very cadence of a sentence, physically tangible whether you read it in your head or with your mouth? How about the tiny silences of this:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

The Dream Songs

You want a literary equivalent of Morandi’s big fucking walls? Try reading the following as though you would read, I don’t know, smoothed iambic pentameter:

–Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast…The slot beside her       feasts…What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?

See, I always used to read these Tab­-like holes in the Dream Songs as gashes, as chunks of language that’d been taken out of Henry. But now I see Berryman has placed them there, as extra obstacles besides the awkwardness, futility and so on that haunt Henry’s experience. Berryman is making life difficult for Henry at the conception, rather than the expression stage. It’s all gloriously self-defeating, rather than self-lacerating.


Or is it? Is it not also therapeutic? As Peter Broderick whispers, time heals all wounds. Time heals all tunes. Silence heals wounds. Spaces heal tunes.

E.E. Cummings is capable of sculpting a ‘body’s idiom’ in a way his peers are not because he composes ‘curves’ out of ‘yellows, angles or silences.’ He is repairing the failures of his prolix predecessors by allowing for the spaces beyond which, ironically, ‘nothing is.’ He is changing and saving himself:

some ask praise of their fellows
but i being otherwise
made compose curves
and yellows, angles or silences
to a less erring end)

myself is sculptor of
your body’s idiom:
the musician of your wrists;
the poet who is afraid
only to mistranslate

a rhythm in your hair,
(your fingertips
the way you move)

painter of your voice—
beyond these elements

remarkably nothing is....

It is this concept that makes Broderick’s use of silence so breathtaking, I think. For having established that it is precisely time – or perhaps time stopping – that changes art for the better, that heals, that forges lasting friendships, he stops himself for a couple of seconds. And sits. And listens. And in doing so, changes his song from within, in ways he couldn’t possibly enact from the irrelevant silences without.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor

Friday, 25 February 2011

Silence | Chapbook | Vol XLV, Let Dinggedicht Speak by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Vol XLV, Let Dinggedicht Speak

Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé (25.2.11)

 The Dinggedicht, translated as “thing poem”, is a type of poetry that explores objects from within rather than from without.

"I’m spoofing my awkward Chinese name of four characters (an anomaly where I come from since most Chinese first names comprise two characters), rendering it a strange idiomatic personality. The parenthetical heteronymic names featured in these pieces are traditional Chinese idioms, used here to characterize the particular speaker/s within each piece." D. K Z-M

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Wider Reading | Days of Roses Anthology

"All that really mattered then was that I was a man..."

The name Days of Roses is taken from a Tom Waits song in which a man phones an old flame in his twilight years for one last reminiscence of things lost. I’ve no doubt that Waits would be happy to have his lyrics used for the recent poetry anthology, not least of all because it had its launch last night in the sort of sweaty, dimly lit, cramped, underground pub that would appeal to his beatnik heart.

As well as the body heat and the smell of incense, what immediately hit me upon arriving at the Day of Roses  launch was what a socially comfortable event the night was. This may seem like an odd thing to point out in a literary review, but as someone who has been to a lot of readings, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of making your guests feel that they are in capable hands when hosting a live event. You will not find a better example of how to make this work than attending a Days of Roses event.

So, for the uninitiated, Days of Roses is a monthly poetry-reading event that has been running for a little over two years in various fine drinking establishments across the land. The list of previous performers is an impressive thing to behold, including some of my favourites; Sam Riviere, Roddy LumsdenJack Underwood, Heather Phillipson, Jon Stone, Ross Sutherland, Tom Chivers, Todd Swift, James Brookes and Emily Hasler.

As they pass the two-year mark, the team behind these events have put together a beautiful anthology of some of their favourite performers. It is clear that the same amount of care and pleasure went into the production of their anthology as goes into the hosting of their nights; the books are hand bound by co-editor, Malene Engelund, the cover includes one of fifteen photographs and pieces of art by Ross McNicol and Amelia Newton Whitelaw and, if I’m not very much mistaken, are typeset in Perpetua, the absolute king of fonts for printing poetry*.

As seems to be the case with every other modern anthology, the Days of Roses team make a selling point of their diversity. Whereas some anthologists will use ‘diversity’ as a way of masking their lack of coherence, I feel that the range of styles to be found in this collection is reconcilable with the high quality of the writing throughout. The beauty of the Days of Roses anthology concept, is that by framing it as an artefact of a live reading, the reader will read it whilst imagining a performance, which makes the diverse range of registers and voices refreshing rather than confusing.

Two particular highlights of the anthology are Maximilian Hildebrand’s wittily bleak Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle:

“So I’m outside in the garden
And it’s just me and the bugs
And they don’t mind
So I light up a ciggie at the
Second attempt and cough
A couple of times to know I’m a smoker
And it’s a desperate profession
And I think to myself
This is living alright…”

and Lydia Macpherson’s Pastoral:

“The wireless bleats
spring is here and look
the chewing gum is blooming
lichen on city pavements
in the river shopping trolleys
are mating at rusty angles
welding in the petrol spills…”

Beyond this, the anthology, and its launch night, is/was also greatly enhanced by the ever mesmerising Liz Berry (follow the link for a review I did of her debut pamphlet last year) and this year’s Costa Prize winner, Jo Shapcott (who has provided an exclusive new poem called The Elements as the book’s opening).

Whilst the fact that you are reading this strongly suggests that you missed the event itself, I recommend you try to pick yourself up a copy of the Days of Roses anthology by e-mailing the days of roses team while supplies last, or wait a couple of weeks for it to come out on Amazon.

*For more information on the virtues of Perpetua, please e-mail James Brookes, who will happily write you an essay on the topic.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Silence | Poetry | Kindle Gaps

“I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.”
Pubillius Syrus

Poets, playwrights, musicians and film directors are always playing with the tangibility of silence. We are told that the blank space on a poem’s page is a frame of silence, much like the etiquette-enforced hush in an art gallery. I like this, it’s a good thing. Within the parameters of a book’s binding it allows the poet to give their work space to breath; to draw the eye’s ear away from the silence into something worth hearing.

As a teacher, I have to reconcile this need for a respectful white canvas with the slipping sands of my photocopy budget.

There are certain effects that writers achieve with an uneconomic use of space; I’m thinking here of Ahren Warner’s rhythm-gaps or Mario Petrucci’s illustration of nuclear winter in Chernobyl with empty pages. But these are choices that are not made with the rainforests in mind.

Over the past few years I have discovered all manner of tricks to typographically condense thirty pages into six. I do this using naturally smaller fonts, always size 10, columns, extended margins, double-sided copying, etc. In so doing, I feel smug at not having to cut any of the words out to reduce the page-count, but am I not losing something just as important by treating the page as a microdot?

I remember buying a collection of poetry a couple of years ago, and feeling baffled at the fact that there were twelve empty pages at the back. Whilst I understand that this is an unavoidable part of how a book is bound, could the poet not have been called upon to do something worthwhile with all that silence? Not necessarily throw in some more poems for the sake of it, but use it to give his poems more space to spread their legs?

My grandfather would have seen it as a waste. He was a great fan of silence, that man. When the family reunions were at their banter-bustling peak, he would often absent himself to the empty front room with a book. I have since discovered that the shelf closest the chair that he would occupy in these moments is where he housed all of his poetry – here was a man who knew silence’s enhancement of poetry.

Which brings me to the Kindle. It hasn’t happened yet, but the Kindle will, very importantly, change the shape of poetic composition. At present, we all think and write in the shape of an A4 page and then we put this through a procrustean bed of approximately A5 proportions when we come to publication.

Without the fixed form of the A4 sheet we will be mildly freed.The dimensions of a screen will still frame our flow, but with no need for worrying about wasted paper, where will we go? 8000 pages with two words on each page will no longer seem like an obscenely decadent artistic indulgence, nor will three pages of blank resonance in the middle of a longer sequence.

At first, as with the Wachowski’s ‘bullet time’, it will seem like a gimmick, and it will be to start with. People will wantonly write blank pages into their poetry collection just because they can, but the art will be refined over the years, reserved for deserving cases; writers will have to earn it.

With the death of paper, the modern poet’s first new toy will be an infinite abundance of silence.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Silence | Introduction | Fingers Quietly Crossed

Oppression can only survive through silence. 
Carmen de Monteflores
Silence propagates itself, and the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find anything to say.
Samuel Johnson

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Cash | Music | Musiconomics

According to the New York Times, the following track – and the entire chillwave genre, scene, movement, moment, whatever you wish to call it, that it represents a prominent part of – can be summarised thus: ‘Recession-era music: low-budget and danceable.’

Now, this is obviously the kind of throwaway generalisation that broadsheet newspapers love to, erm, throw away – annoying as fuck, in that it represents precisely why the word-counts afforded to music journalism (as opposed to, say, film or literature reviews) encourage dreadful, cliché-riddled practice, but hardly worth getting hot and bothered about, surely? Particularly when it was followed, a couple days later, by a short piece which actually did a pretty good job of pithily (rather than reductively) critiquing chillwave:

It’s annoyingly noncommittal music, backing droopy vocals with impersonal sounds – a hedged, hipster imitation of the pop they’re not brash enough to make.

But it does represent an interesting contemporary example of something that’s been going on in music criticism for years and years, namely a half-arsed lashing of genres, scenes, movements, moments to the political and economic circumstances in which they were conceived, born, raised. Macroeconomic circumstances, indeed – despite the utter implausibility of global recession being linked in any way to how lo-fi a single strand of western electronic music is deciding to be. I mean, one could possibly talk about the rise of bedroom production as a response to record labels having far less money to sign ‘risky’ artists and pay for lengthy residencies in professional studios, but that’s hardly the recession’s fault, it’s the internet’s if it's anybody's. ANY ANYWAY, the history of DIY music is far more about a creative chain of influence than it is financial necessity. AND ANYWAY, the roots of chillwave extend deep into the noughties, long before them Lehman Brothers tumbled. Here are a couple important examples, mid-period proponents of what Wire magazine calls ‘hypnogogic pop’:

A couple of examples of this broadsheet phenomenon, then.

Punk economics

In a 2008 article in the Independent Stephen King, the managing director of economics at HSBC, asked the question ‘are we going back to the 1970s?’ He opened the piece with an arbitrary paragraph about punk:

Then again, one of the most important musical releases of the 1970s was the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK, one of the earliest punk records. This seminal single came out towards the end of 1976. In the following year, while the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee, the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen. According to Johnny Rotten and his colleagues, there was no future for people in ‘the fascist regime’ (although why Mr Rotten chose to place Jim Callaghan on a pedestal alongside Hitler and Mussolini is anybody’s guess).

Oh. So the article, entitled ‘punk economics’ acknowledges, before it’s even really begun, that any attempt to link punk to the actual economic circumstances of the 1970s, i.e. James Callaghan rather than, y'know, facism, is laughable. Why’s it called ‘punk economics’ then?

People pushed for inflationary wage increases in the 1970s not because they desired higher inflation but because they weren't sure of their real spending power in an inflationary world. In the early 1970s, the loss of confidence in price stability was a huge contributory factor behind the emergence of far greater wage pressures.

It is, therefore, vital that the Bank of England now preserves that confidence because, without it, we'll end up singing along to the Sex Pistols' greatest moment. Altogether now: ‘I am an antichrist...’

What? That’s it? What a fucking joke. I mean, obviously one can’t understand punk without understanding a sense of working class discontent that, yes, manifested in the most widespread strikes this country has ever seen (barring the Peasants’ Revolt, the Civil War etc. etc.) which, yes, had a considerable effect on how the UK functioned economically, but making punk about inflation. Nah mate.

Thatcher Thatcher music-snatcher

Again, it would be well stupid to deny that a relationship between the music of the 1980s and the atrocities of Thatcherism exists, existed. Of course it does, did. Why would music suddenly decide to become apolitical during a decade in which there was more going on in politics to be pissed off with than ever before (barring the Peasants’ Revolt, the Civil War etc. etc.)? As Jeremy Vine points out, in a fantastically ignorant article for the BBC (basically a broadsheet) Elvis Costello wrote a song about dancing on Thatcher’s grave. Vine’s fantastic ignorance gets its first airing when he starts talking about Joy Division:

I have to mention Joy Division too. They never said her name but at the time they really were The Greatest Band in the World. Their bleak, screeching soundscapes summed up the hopelessness of the post-industrial north of England.

That time being the 1980s, presumably. The whole piece takes Vine starting at Durham University in 1983 as its jumping-off point. Apparently, the dear man didn’t notice that Joy Division stopped making their ‘bleak, screeching soundscapes’ (screeching?) when their singer killed himself in 1980. Unbelievable. Just for that, Jeremy, here’s a video of you at your very, very worst, as mocked by Charlie Brooker in Newswipe:

It’s nothing compared to the following, though:

Duran Duran's most famous line: ‘Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand,’ seemed to translate as: ‘I've made a lot of cash under Thatcher and now I'm going to splash it out on a bird whose bikini is falling off.’

With their high-stacked hairstyles and flashguns bouncing off limousine bumpers, the New Romantics celebrated low taxation, enterprise and the power of the individual spirit. They were also rather silly. But possibly without meaning to, they had printed the essential values of Thatcherism on vinyl.

I love this approach to lyric interpretation. Write down lyrics. Write down a meaning for which, frankly, no evidence exists. Literally none. Use the phrase ‘seemed to translate as.’ Point proved.

Or not. And since when, whilst we’re on the subject, are Thatcherite economics ‘rather silly’? Unbelievable. Perhaps Duran Duran do represent a useful visual and sonic metaphor for certain aspects of 80s commercialism. But they weren’t formed by it. They were formed by John Taylor and Nick Rhodes in Birmingham in 1978, as the resident band at the ‘Rum Runner’ nightclub. Find the Thatcher in that.


But why bother picking fights with an economist and a broadcast journalist who, quite obviously, know shit all about music? I’ll tell you why. Because I’m sick of the way our reliance upon, and slavish devotion to ‘the market’, to market forces, means that everything, literally everything, has to be thought of in economic terms. All three of the examples I’ve drawn upon here are somewhat frivolous, but that doesn’t mean they are not representative of a paradigm, increasingly prevalent, that sees culture as subsumed utterly within the capitalist markets handily summarised here by Lord Snooty himself:

Newsnight (17/09/08)

J. Paxman: When you see institutions short selling stocks and thereby aggravating the crisis, what do you feel?

G. Osborne: Well look no one takes pleasure from people making money out of the misery of others but that is a function of capitalist markets, the real issues is what is the causes of this problem, not what are the symptoms of the problem …

P: I didn’t ask you what the causes were, I asked you what you felt when you saw institutions short-selling and thereby aggravating an already serious crisis, is it acceptable or not?

O: Well I just said at the very beginning of my answer to you that it is not pleasant to watch people making loads of money out of the misery of others but ..

P: Is it acceptable?

O: That is a function of financial markets.

Subsumed in a way that means art isn’t autonomous anymore. That it is a product of economic situations (out of control of itself, like Vine’s Duran Duran, ‘without meaning to’) rather than a response. And that therefore, we might as well accept that music has to utilise the arbitrary injustices of market forces, rather than rally against them, lyrically, aesthetically. That, to me, is the subtext in a statement like ‘chillwave is recession-era music.’ Which is why it’s a sentence that optimists who like me believe in the potential for, and existence of, a genuine counter-culture have a responsibility to oppose, rather than simply get irritated by.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor

Wider Reading | Daily Mail Courts Further Controversy As It Features Under-Age Lingerie Photoshoot

You might expect that the Daily Mail would have had enough controversy. Also that it'd know how to structure a sentence elegantly.

First the newspaper called the Brass Eye satire on paedophilia 'unspeakably sick' while featuring two pre-pubescent members of our royal family in swimsuits on the very next page.

But now the blackshirt piece of shit broadsheet newspaper is courting more drama by featuring a lengthy article - about how MTV's show Skins is courting more drama by having its under-age stars pose in lingerie - in which the under-age stars of MTV's show Skins pose in lingerie.

Six members of the show's regular cast posed in just underwear, or provocative clothing for the Elle Magazine shoot featured in the April issue.

Of the six cast members, half of them are considered under the age of consent in the US.

Eleanor Zichy, pictured in a just a floral bra and shorts, is just 15 years-old.

'We have some concerns about it,' Helissa Menson, the Director of Communications and Public Education for the Television Parents Council, told Entertainment Weekly.

'We had concerns about the GQ photo shoot of Glee, even though [that cast] was over the age of 19, because they were presenting themselves as high schoolers.'

'With this Daily Mail article, even though the poses are less provocative, the fact that they have these underage girls wearing lingerie is troubling, as is the fact that the reporter attempts to implicitly criticise the Elle Magazine photoshoot while featuring exactly that same fucking pageful of underage girls wearing lingerie. It's almost as if they're a bunch of foul, sermonising hypocrites or something.'

We'd feature these same pictures on Silkworms Ink, of course, in order to titillate our readers with the allure of the nymphette even as they shake their weary heads in disgust, but we're just too classy. Also, we don't have the copyright.

Cash | Fiction | Hi! u want to Maek Big $$$$! Dont be A sucker! Learn The secret of MacSweenies, Within, for Only Sense!!! $$$$!!!


Harker evidently meant to try the matter, for he had ready his great Kukri knife and made a fierce and sudden cut at him. The blow was a powerful one. Only the diabolical quickness of the Count's leap back saved him. A second less and the trenchant blade had shorn through his coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank notes and a stream of gold fell out.

Dracula, as we all know, bleeds cash. Or he sort of does, anyway. More likely, he just happens to have a lot of cash stored away in his coat, and the "stream" of gold is just a poorly chosen word. But it's enough to have caused some academic discussion about the Count's true symbolic nature, perhaps because it seems a little strange that a murderous hypnotic beast with the power to wipe out entire ships and control lesser mortals should carry his money around on him. That under-recognised scene fascinates me, because the idea that the Count is a capitalist metaphor really muddles the idea that he's an STD metaphor - so, uh, Dracula drinks the blood of young women in order to get to the men, and then converts the blood into money through a system of uh, digestion...anyway, it's all a little illogical.

But it also reminds us of the fact that literature has almost never been in love with capitalism. In one corner, we have figures as diverse as Barabbas to Herbert Pocket, with his vague philosophy of the free market economy as one in which you "look about see your opening. And you go in, and you swoop upon it, and you make your capital, and there you are!" Less comical are the 'cannibals' in Lu Xun's early 20th century short story, 'A Diary of A Madman', in which the titular narrator believes wrongly (and rightly) that cannibalism is an accepted part of society that every single human being participates in. More recently we've had the unpleasant Masters of the Universe and Patrick Bateman, that latter-day materialistic demon. And after the fumbling wannabes and the fiendish figureheads come the merely greedy and selfish, who are legion. Gone are the days of the hero acquiring a great treasure as part of his happy ending. And who do we have on the other side? Ayn Rand.

It's a curious situation, because much as we'd all like to deny it, latter-day literary publishing is as capitalist as it gets; the selling of the unreal as something important. Writing, which truly believes in its own importance but also in the importance of its being spread freely, dislikes the taste of being sold. (Obviously I'm not talking about the book that's written with a 'target market' in mind, as well as sold with one. This is an appalling book, and that woman who wrote the novel about teenage angels romancing each other should be ashamed of yourself) I will always remember reading, many, many moons ago when I was back in school, romantic novelist Michael Legat's The Nuts and Bolts of Writing, in which he hit upon the love-hate relationship an author has with libraries. As lovers of literature, we adore books. As thoughtful and fair-minded people, as well as readers who'd always like to get something for nothing, we adore the idea of a vault of free books. But as business-people - or business-property, perhaps - every book of ours that's in a library is another one that makes us almost nothing. Not a big deal to one of the titans (they can just shrug), but to a struggling author trying to shift a few hundred's a bit of a blow.

This is, of course, not to say anything against libraries. It's an issue with writers, and how we have to deal with the paradox of our own place in a capitalist society. The truly big-shots can get away with handing out free stories or even free e-books as a sort of meaninglessly charitable gesture towards their fans who've already bought their unreal texts for 'real' currency. It's very nice, in the sense that they don't have to do that. In the sense that, sure, Bill Gates and his wife don't have to give away their money. But they can afford to. And, at the same time, putting your work out there for free as a first-time novelist can (sadly) imply that you're desperate and not very good rather than an artistic rebel who refuses to play by the system's dictats. Because there is (again, sadly) too much writing out there, and too little of it has unreal worth.

And, I guess, you could always set up a site where you try to publish e-chapbooks from awesome writers and add enough daily blatherings of your own that weary Internet travellers might actually head in your direction. But there's a corollary to Nietszche's statement that "where three men gather, a fourth must die," and it goes - "where three men gather, they'll form a corporation, dominate the market, and the fourth will go unemployed." Let's gaze down our spectacles at McSweeney's here, and the statement Dave Egger's now best-selling, industry-award-winning, 'Oh, look, aren't we outsiders'-insiders publishing house makes about itself,

McSweeney’s began in 1998 as a literary journal, edited by Dave Eggers, that published only works rejected by other magazines. But after the first issue, the journal began to publish pieces primarily written with McSweeney’s in mind. Since then, McSweeney’s has attracted works from some of the finest writers in the country, including blah big impressive names...

That is perhaps the strangest example of a company admitting very proudly to having abandoned their original vision and gone full commercial-savvy that I've ever read. But let me allay your fears - here at Silkworms, we're entirely immune to the paradoxical tug of capitalism; we can remain outsiders as publishers, as well as writers. For one thing, we're not big or well-known or important or swimming in yes-men/cocaine/groupies enough to truly sell out. What we do need to do for the future of this site is figure out a way to survive...without profiting too much.

Jon Ware

Fiction Editor, Ponderer Of Life's Great Dark Whispering Mysteries
And You Can Find Out These Mysteries Yourself For Less $$$$!!!! Simply Email To Discover The Secrets Those Fat Cats Don't Want You To Know!!!

P.S. It occurred to me while writing this article that the only thing the vast majority of the Coen Brothers' films, so apparently, self-consciously disparate, have in common, is the following: a theft or attempted theft which becomes irrelevant or forgotten by the end of the movie - usually because the characters' greed has led them to their own destruction. They're anti-materialist fables.  True Grit made $110 million at the box office.

P.P.S. I believe it was on the pilot episode of poetry editor Phil Brown's favourite new show, 10 O'Clock Live, that comedian Jimmy Carr made an interesting slip - as the other hosts took lazy swipes at bankers, he said that 'all they (the wide variety of organisations whose unwise decisions and personal greed led, in a large part, to the financial crisis of recent years) were doing was what everyone does - trying to make as much money as possible.' I don't think that's quite true, or fair on 'everyone'. But do we live in a society that has encouraged this attitude in all of us extremely heavily for a long time now, and which even now has only turned against that vague group known as 'bankers'? Do we need to make a stand against greed as a whole, rather than just against greed that specifically makes us poorer? Yup, sure, certainly, oui, Premiership footballers, of course.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Cash | Poetry | Small Talk at 125th Ink

"A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."
- Jane Austen

White Egrets on the Moon

I got a rejection letter last week
and Walcott got fifteen grand,

the new Bright Eyes album leaked
and Walcott got fifteen grand.

Jo Shapcott got the Costa Prize
and Walcott got fifteen grand,

I got a pile of marking up to my eyes
and Walcott got fifteen grand.

The Kings Speech got its BAFTAS took
and Walcott got fifteen grand,

Todd Swift’s begging people to buy his book
and Walcott got fifteen grand.

Poetry can’t get bums on seats
and Walcott got fifteen grand.

There’s students rioting on the streets
and Walcott got fifteen grand.

Darwin got dug up by Ruth Padel
and Walcott got fifteen grand

Now she’s in residence at UCL
and Walcott got fifteen grand.

My kids are counting their UCAS score
and Walcott counts fifteen grand

Andy Gray gets called a dinosaur
and Walcott gets fifteen grand.

Barnsley’s people will soon be voting
and Walcott got fifteen grand,

I always leave my classroom door open
and Walcott leaves with fifteen grand.

The PBS made their e-deposit
and Walcott got fifteen grand,

I’ve got plenty of skeletons in my closet
and Walcott’s got fifteen grand.

Armitage is seeing stars
and Walcott sees fifteen grand

and Alice Oswald had her dart
and Walcott has fifteen grand

and Heaney had his human chain
and Walcott has his fifteen grand

and scandal’s superficial stain
is well worth fifteen grand.

What’s wrote is read, what’s said is heard
and Walcott got fifteen grand

but prizes blind us to the words
and Walcott got fifteen grand.

Muldoon’s still playing with his band
and Walcott got fifteen grand

And sat, silently watching the sea lick at the sand
is Walcott with his fifteen grand.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor 

Cash | Introduction | Labour for money for something

Now look at them yo-yo's that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Money for nothin' and chicks for free
Now that ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain't dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb

We gotta install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We gotta move these refrigerators
We gotta move these colour TVs

Dire Straits, Money for Nothing

A gardener who cultivates his own garden with his own hands, unites in his own person the three different characters, of landlord, farmer, and labourer. His produce, therefore, should pay him the rent of the first, the profit of the second, and the wages of the third.

Adam Smith

Monday, 14 February 2011

Wider Reading | The Advert Critic - Lynx Excite

The Lynx adverts have never strayed particularly far from their settled territory. Young male model in a variety of colourful scenarios sprays himself with Lynx and is instantly set upon by beautiful cavewomen/samurai girls/vampire brides/extremely feminine lizards from the dark side of the moon. Nevertheless, as they've continued to work at this one set-up of "pheromones = sexual attractiveness" over the years, they've got very, very good at it. And on a day when people are standing on the corners of Oxford Circus, handing out free literature while wearing hoodies emblazoned with an enormous Penguin symbol, it seems like a good time to discuss 'sincerity' in advertising.

The new Lynx Excite advert - in which a cadre of divine-looking angels fall to earth in Italy, astounding the locals and giving their insignificant little lives a brief glimpse of a spiritual world beyond their own made physical, only for the angels to toss their halos blasphemously at the feet of a young male model who'd just sprayed himself with Lynx, before presumably leading him away for some truly intimidating group sex - may well be my favourite commercial of recent years. I liked it the first time I watched it; then it grew on me, and grew on me. Because it represents everything that's audacious, and, equally, appalling, about the best adverts - it takes the sincerity of thousands of years of religious belief and cultural symbol, and uses it as a punchline for a joke about armpit spray. Those tears on the cheeks of the old woman who glimpses an angel? They're genuinely moving. The awe of the small children, who may still believe in these magnificent creatures? Yup, moving. But behind the sincerity, of course, is a sniggering creative director who's wise enough to play the game straight-faced, and put real artistry into the set-up.

Once more. The above picture is used to help sell armpit spray. I mean, Jesus.

I think it was actually in an article about 'hipsters' where I recently read not only the obvious point that these thick-spectacle-framed irritants are post-modern, but also that their retreat into pastiche and irony is tragic, because it represents a fear that we're no longer living in a world where sincerity can have any weight - a world where true emotion can be used against us by advertising that's all too happy to manipulate our greatest passions as a gateway into hawking their shoddy products. Detachment is the final barricade from which we can defend our position. And the Lynx advert is perhaps the ultimate example of a commercial that both uses that passion and that belief against us, and then mocks us for even daring to have it.

It's helped in no small part by its music - a poker-faced cover of 'Sexy Boy' as a soaring hymn - which is perhaps the most surprisingly good example of a cover-tune custom-made for a commercial product since 'Oh Death' from O Brother Where Art Thou? was made into a stonking, sorrowful synthesised chant-and-howl for tweenie supernatural show Supernatural. The joke is made all the better by the fact that the chorus of 'Ooh, sexy boy' is repeated even before the punchline moment when the angels smash their halos; the makers of the ad bank (rightly) on the fact that viewers simply won't pick up on the lyrics straight away. And, yes, the impassioned Latin cries towards a higher power can be made to sound eerily similar to the blandest possible appraisal of a man's physical attractiveness...especially when ads have taught us to associate Zadoc the Priest with a bloody pointless series of football games. I'm going to have to take a point off the song itself for a violin bit that even I can tell has been lifted straight from that Damien Rice song.

The other thing the Lynx advert has going for it is its models. Not simply because they successfully appear to have attained physical perfection, but because the persona forced upon our female models in visual adverts these days, near-universally, is already, basically, that of an angel. Proud, beautiful yet entirely unattainable, with a grand presence, never speaking, otherworldly...

Anyway; there can only be one score for this Ur-advert. If it had also suggested that the fall of the angels would bring about the Rapture and the death of billions, I'd have given it ten.


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Wider Reading | Great Literary Moments In Microsoft Paint, Volume 3

Wider Reading | The Young Ones' Prophecy

The Young Ones was good British comedy. If you're going to call me out on that fact then this post is probably not for you.

The genius of The Young Ones is not for me to explore at any great detail however; I will leave that to the plethora of pundits whose careers involve nothing other than appearing on I *heart* 1982 and '100 Greatest Comedy Things To See Before You Die of Heart Failure From Watching Too Much Television Comedy In a Way That Is Sure To Inspire Several Tragicomic Headlines in Newspapers For A Couple of Days Amid Swipes On The Coalition Government And Islam'. You know that show, right? It's on every Christmas whilst I'm upstairs on my own memorising Stewart Lee routines.

Anyway, The Young Ones was an amazing comedy which, in its incredibly surreal Boosh-bloodline way, provided cutting commentary on all manner of society's faults. The bit that has always stuck out most clearly to me though, is this 4-minute segment, a fake show called 'Nozin' Aroun'':

Here's the opening monologue:

Hi, my name's Baz and me and my mates thought TV just wasn't NOW, right? I expect, like us, you're not into all that stuff your OLD MAN's into, right? So we just thought we'd have a programme for us, right? And this is it: Nozin' Aroun'. Yeah! N-O-Z (the Z is for Zap!). It's a programmer FOR young adults made BY young adults and concentrating on all the subjects that young adults are interested in.

So, the point is that this is an absolutely abysmal piece of programming trying mercilessly to tap into a demographic in the most superficial of ways with the smug air of someone sat on a train, too busy tweeting quips on their iPhone to realise that they've missed Zeitgeist Central Station.

Every comedian has watched The Young Ones. And they all bloody love it. So why have 3 of the country's most revered television comedy personalities and Lauren Laverne managed to get themselves into a situation where they are contracted into auto-cueing their way through a whole season's worth of Nozin' Aroun' 2.0? You watch any episode of this show and tell me I'm wrong, I dare you.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Naturism | Music/Theatre | The Naked Shakespeare

Yesterday, I went to Propeller’s potentially unprecedented Shakespearean double-header, Richard III and The Comedy of Errors, at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. (Critics have, indcidentally, had a lot of fun attempting to make sense of why one of WS’s lumbering, blood-soaked masterpieces has been lashed to one of the weakest, lightest comedies, Susannah Clapp (lol etc.) pointing out that ‘each has a variation on the theme of forging – in Richard’s case in a double sense – an identity’ without also acknowledging the fact that the forging of identity is a concept that makes its way into every single one of Shakespeare’s shitting plays. One of the Propeller stage managers, who’s a pal of mine, had a more prosaic explanation: the company likes to tour with a new play alongside one it’s done for a while before, for obvious reasons. But nice try Ms. Clapp.)

Richard was excellent, a just-about self-contained, enjoyably un-WarsoftheRosesy marriage of Hostel, the asylum in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Morten Lauridsen-esque vocal arrangements, muscular verse-speaking, ingenious stagecraft, adornment that didn’t overstay its welcome and moments of genuinely unsettling callousness. With a powerful, attractive Richard at its heart who reminded me of Greg Davies from the Inbetweeners and Giles from Buffy at the same time.

Comedy was an extraordinary mess that managed to channel layers and layers of pantomime ridiculousness into a sorta frustrated energy that had its characters getting every bit as pissed off as readers and watchers of the play can only become in the face of one joke being repeated again and again and again. Rubbish play. And this was pretty funny. A thoroughly enjoyable double-bill, in other words, the coupling working for company-imaginative-energy-based, rather than textual-association-based reasons. Proper ensemble stuff etc.

Anyway, all that’s not important. What’s important is that Dr Pinch, a tiny part of Comedy inflated to gigantic proportions by a combination of excessive direction and an actor called Tony Bell who, let’s put it this way, makes the most of his roles (ruining the beginning of the second half of Richard in the process) ran across the stage as the second play reached a screeching climax, stark naked, with an actual, lit firework stuck up his arse. And as he did so, the words NAKED and SHAKESPEARE meshed together in my head and I realised that it wasn’t the first time this had happened (the words, not the firework). That, indeed, the concept of a Naked Shakespeare had been a more RECURRING MOTIF in the landscape of my cultural experience than most. Perhaps, I thought to myself, this trail of Naked Shakespeares could lead me to some sort of ultimate Shakespearean truth…

Number One, The Naked Shakespeare, by Peter Blegvad
Silkworms favourite, the avant-pop gentleman and scholar Peter Blegvad, released a splendid, now thrillingly dated-sounding record called The Naked Shakespeare in 1983. Its title track is a strummed, ambiguous little thing with lyrics that have never been available on the internet. UNTIL NOW:

The naked Shakespeare.
He’d like to know what happens now
Yeah but there are rules.
What’s taking place here?
He knows there’s absence at the prow
And it’s a ship of fools.

What to take?
What does it take?
To rectify a boy’s mistake
(How can he break the chain?)
Learn to give and to take again.
The naked Shakespeare.

The naked Shakespeare.
He haunts the neighbourhoods he knew
There’s just a few.
He made his best mistakes here
And now the family comes unglued
That spells his doom.

What to take?
What does it take?
To rectify a boy’s mistake
(How can he break the chain?)
He can only fake the pain he feels

She can only [follow lawyers?]
She calls him by his name
Hey, shake a leg there Shakespeare,
She calls, and takes care for him
Holds the daylight, in his frame of [here?]
The naked Shakespeare.
The naked Shakespeare.
The naked Shakespeare.

Our trail begins with a Naked Shakespeare that seems, like many of Blegvad’s creations, to be born out of wordplay, this one only making proper sense during lines like ‘shake a leg there Shakespeare’ and rhyming couplets (‘best mistakes here’). Sandwiched on either side by XTC-ish twists and turns about Weird Monkeys and a lady called Irma and Belgvad’s ‘weapon’, this Naked Shakespeare represents a sorta elegiac clarity on a record full of silliness, a combination of innocence and a great man in decline (a la Edward Bond’s Bingo) which has Shakespeare reduced to a few clever lines and a overriding sense of nostalgia.

Number two, Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli

Show Zeffirelli’s R&J to a classroom full of thirteen-year-old boys and they will emerge, blinking and bellowing two words. Bum. And tits. Why? Because of one of the most famous scenes in sixties cinema, starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, that's why:

It’s difficult not to talk about this Naked Shakespeare in terms of Zeffirellian controversy – as is ever the case with a guy who spent his twilight years as an MP in Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga party whilst defending Roman Catholic policy on homosexuality and offering himself as an ‘image consultant’ to the Pope despite being the gayest man of all time. Bruce Robinson based Richard Griffiths’ Uncle Monty in Withnail And I (‘I mean to have you, even if it must be burglary’) on his experiences of being directed by Zeffirelli (he played Benvolio in R&J) and detecting that sort of influence via the sustained cinematic emphasis on Leonard Whiting’s seventeen-year-old rear is, well, the obvious thing to do. Even more controversial was/is the fact that it is a fifteen-year-old Olivia Hussey in the bedroom scene, a state of affairs that Zeffirelli had to ask permission for, somewhat understandably. Sniggering speculation aside, it is an astonishingly beautiful sequence in which human skin takes on the honeyed, flawless quality of Titian’s Venus of Urbino. This is a Naked Shakespeare dappled with morning where Blegvad’s is with, I guess, evening.

Number Three, Acorn Productions' Naked Shakespeare

I must admit I’d never heard of this Portland-based theatre company until I came across this whilst researching the Blegvad record. It’s a convenient anecdotal entry-point into the concept of a completely unadorned, minimalist, purist-textual Shakespeare that becomes fashionable every 20 years or so, until people realise that, short of a McKellen and a Dench (as appeared at the RSC’s Other Place in a tiny, bare-bones Macbeth in 1979) this Naked Shakespeare isn’t a great deal of fun.

Fun. Perhaps that was what annoyed me about Propeller’s Dr Pinch. The fact that its conception of a Naked Shakespeare manifested in a single, rather rudimentary gag. The concept of nakedness in Shakespeare has serious ramifications, be that in terms of the decision to strip bare a stage, to expose the lithe, adolescent fragility of a pair of protagonists, or to point towards a conception of Shakespeare that goes beyond omniscience and genius and attempts to find the human. Nakedness on a stage or in a film or in conjunction with an idol has the potential to be the one thing that an audience remembers about their experience of something – whether they intend to or not. It is a fact of human response. So don’t waste it on a firework.
Silly and insignificant as Comedy is, I still don’t want to leave a production scratching my head and thinking, so both hands were cupping the front of him. So how in God’s name was he holding the thing in there?

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor