Sunday, 22 November 2009

Which parts of ourselves?

John Siddique at 22

I’m clearing out the office to move into a real office. It will be the first time in ten years that we’ve had the bedroom just as a bedroom and not some strange combination of work and home-life. The movers come at 8.30 in the morning, the desk has to be lowered out of the window as it won’t go down the stairs. This move feels so right – I’ll be walking to work each morning and when I come home, I’ll be coming home. I can’t recall the last time I went ‘out’ to work - 1998 something like that, when I used to work a day job as well as writing.

Going through a pile of papers I find my twenty-two year old self in black & white looking back at the forty-five year old. I wonder if he is happy with me? Have I lived up to his ideas and ideals of what his life should be. Those were darker days in many ways - I’d taken radical steps to overcome my past, and while the days I was living in then, and the people around me seemed bright at the time, the coming years would reveal so much untruth around my poor young head.

We don’t look too different – I wish I had my younger self’s hair, but I hadn’t started writing then, I didn’t understand the robustness or the fragility of love. The current John has got the better deal I think.  We disagree on much about how the world could be run, about sexuality and sensuality, about taking risks and living up to the consequences. It doesn’t seem like yesterday, it seems like someone else’s life altogether. There is a younger self still who I don’t have a photo of – perhaps I have more in common with him. twenty-two year old John did what he had to do to step away from the past, but those years took him far from some of the things he would have liked in his life.

‘Younger John Still’ remembers making a list one night when he was living in Ireland, and this current John has worked had and long to return to the truths he wrote that night on Obins Street. I celebrate the twenty-two year old, he made it through, but even though I lived it – I don’t know how he did it, or how I would do it if I had to now. I realize I’m not telling you the stories of that timeline. This is no place for that. Perhaps a book one day, probably not. More likely they are done with and here we are, all our lives leading to this minute – putting things in boxes, ready for a move – not knowing what comes from a choice, a risk, but knowing that we will deal with the stuff that comes. I am happy that I am him and not him. I pack up the archive boxes – manuscripts for every finished and published project, a couple of unpublished books, which I rightly never published. Another box with first editions in of all my books. I’m going to put the coffee on, and the sun is doing a wintery display. It is early so I’m listening to Pablo Casals play Bach’s Cello Pieces, later on I’ll play ‘Them Crooked Vultures’, or some Japanese rock from Boris, though I’m crazy in love with a John Frusciante album called ‘Curtains’. It’s funny how when you’re moving you find parts of yourself tucked into old files and boxes – We have to decide which parts of ourselves move with us into the new situation.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Coffee, Bacon & Beans, Insomnia, thanks & marketing

 John Siddique Arvon 2009
Photo © Kate Mitchell-Gears 

Coffee, bacon, beans & toast – it is raining in Hebden, perhaps it’s raining the world over judging from the skies. On the radio they’re talking about Belle de Jour revealing her identity. The town is empty of tourists - it must be a Monday. It’s late for breakfast – it’s been a late start everyday for the last few weeks. As winter progresses its grip the days have become a bit shapeless, like a skinny man in a baggy suit. One cup of coffee leads to another. Questioning my journal – ‘How will the coming months shape up?’

The lunchtime crowd begin to arrive, a couple of ladies in hats from another time, a scarecrow-like man orders chicken pie and chips and gravy. Being creative today involves one foot in front of the other –perhaps not talking too much, just let things be, so that evolution can lift its head like the promise of sun behind these clouds. And if the clouds don’t break I can just enjoy the rain.

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There is a feature on my book RECITAL over at the SALT BLOG  - please take the time to have a look, and leave a comment on their blog  - let SALT know yr thoughts on the book.

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Thank you those who have sent such lovely messages since I posted Claire Chambers review of RECITAL – it is so good when one’s work is acknowledged – I have to admit I despair sometimes how in the UK we don’t get behind books and art unless it has a celebrity aspect or is related to controversy in some way – at least that’s how the papers and media seem to deal with ‘culture’ as if it was separate from life rather than the expression of it. So I am chuffed that Claire has taken the time to share her thoughts on my book. And I’m so pleased that many of you have responded positively in the wake of her review. Don’t think we’ll get the media to change now and become supportive of the arts again. But in a way it is interesting when branches of life are ignored as there is so much great stuff going on in plain sight, but hidden, as the big presses and papers etc.. can’t see what is right in front of them and that is exciting and leaves lots of room for great work to be done.

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Not been sleeping much at Siddique towers – lots of life to be involved with – so find myself often listening to Miles Davis’ ‘Round About Midnight at present in the wee small hours. I was given a copy of the mono edition recently and listening to it makes me want to say words like Yeah, and Man and Dig.. yes it is that groovy….

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Have moved a lot of my facebook activity to my group page - i only really use FB for work stuff, and for staying in contact with close friends when i’m travelling – it can be easier than email in that instance…

Friday, 13 November 2009

Dr Claire Chambers on ‘RECITAL’ and the works of Siddique

In recent years, much has been written about terrorism and fiction, both by novelists (Amis, Updike, McEwan, Faulks, et al) and literary critics such as Margaret Scanlan, and Stephen Morton and Elleke Boehmer. However, to my knowledge, little has been said about terror and poetry. This is surprising, given the role of public poetry in delivering swift interventions after cataclysmic events. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on London, poetry proved an importance forum for articulating outrage and trauma at the events, as is evidenced in the internet poetry competition set up by All Poetry immediately after the attacks, and Tony Harrison’s ‘Shrapnel’, which was published in The Independent a few weeks later.


In my view, however, the most important and sensitive poetic response to the 2005 London bombings to have been produced so far is the sequence ‘Inside’, in John Siddique’s volume Recital. These poems constitute an urban series at the centre of a largely rural collection, and offer a nuanced, even-handed response to 7/7. In the first poem in the quartet, the narrator expresses anxieties about his right to represent such trauma in poetry:

There are poems to write which I am told should
Not be written, almost as if to think
about a thing condones it
(Siddique, 2009, p. 28).


However, ‘an answer’ of a sort is found in the bead of sweat on the face of a loved one, and in the three subsequent poems, Siddique takes a brave and balanced look at the terrible events of 7 July 2005. ‘There is No More Time’ describes the ordinary commuters ‘looking forward /to a cup of tea, or just getting there’, who are decimated in the bomb that explodes at 9.47 am on the Tavistock Square bus, after which ‘time ceases to exist’ (p. 29). In ‘This Is What You Were Born For’, Siddique enters the mind of the teenaged bus bomber, Hasib Mir Hussain, who, like the poet, lived in West Yorkshire. Siddique speculates on the techniques Hussain used to ‘pull[…] inside’ (p. 30), disconnecting from the other passengers in order to create the necessary devastation. Finally, and most movingly, ‘Nobody Knows Why’ is a lyrical meditation on the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead at Stockwell Tube Station the day after the failed bombings of 21 July 2005. At other points in the collection, the theme of incendiary violence resurfaces in the image of ‘the terrorist in my dreams’ (p. 9) in the poem ‘The Other’, which deals with masculine enmity, lost love, and raw anger. In ‘David’, the poet discusses a friend, with whom he ‘agreed for a decade, then one day we didn’t’ (p. 17), the dissolution of the friendship being played out against the city skyline of pre-9/11 New York.


Elsewhere in Recital’s poetic representations, there are evocative images of the Calderdale countryside from the writer who gave us Poems from a Northern Soul. This new collection is based around the lunar cycle, with thirteen poems, including ‘Birch Moon’ and ‘Ivy Moon’, richly studding the volume. In earlier writing, John Siddique speaks eloquently about his mixture of Anglo-Irish and Indian roots (‘Variola’, from his first collection Prize, centres on his father’s traumatic journey to Pakistan during India’s Partition). Recital is the most astonishing and mature work of his career to date, in which he continues discussion of his parents’ different legacies in poems such as ‘Unintended Loyalty’, ‘Red Line (He Loves Me)’, ‘My Father’ and ‘Annunciation of the Virgin’. These are also hinted at in the poems’ complex references which remake both European and Eastern literary traditions. Examples include the allusion to Eliot’s The Waste Land found in the final line of Hazel Moon, ‘distant thunder’ (p. 40); tropes deriving from Japanese and Chinese myth (‘Promises’), traces of Joyce’s Ulysses and Urdu ghazals. Unerringly humane and unexpectedly tender, John Siddique’s Recital is already benefiting from wide word-of-mouth recommendation, and deserves to become a key text on poetry syllabi for this nascent millennium.


Dr Claire Chambers - BA (Hons), MA, PhD
Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Literature and Course Leader, MA Contemporary Literatures

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Siddique on Joyce's Ulysses

My piece on Joyce's Ulysses and its place in my life is now online at the mighty NormBlog please take a look when you fancy having a cup of tea and a read....

Monday, 2 November 2009