Friday, 27 July 2012

Hopscotch Poem & Interview for Olympics

I was commissioned to write a tiny poem on the game of HOPSCOTCH for Games In The Park which is part of Yorkshire's Artistic input to the Cultural Olympiad. Here is an interview about why reading poetry and literature aloud is so important... And there is a recital of the Hopscotch poem as well.

Poet For Sale


Number by number.

Step by step.

Throw down the stone. 

Then make your way home. 

Number by number.

Don’t step on the lines. 

Hop around the world. 

From one to nine.

© John Siddique 2012 


Thursday, 26 July 2012

A stand against biography & self-expressive writing - Judging the Koestler Awards

The last two days have been filled with looking at and judging entries for the Anthology Prizes for this year's Koestler Awards. The Koestler's are a range of prizes for written and visual arts given to people in prisons and secure units, in the knowledge that engagement with the arts is one of the best ways to nourish the human soul and lead to rehabilitation. Far too often arts and writing programmes often tend to focus on biographical writing, in the belief that telling your story helps some how. I differ in my thoughts on this, knowing that to keep on telling stories over again, over focussing on the self when one hasn't got a well defined/developed sense of self and empathy with others actually can cause a sense of the person creating these pieces to see themselves as hero/victim.

Art needs an object of focus, even the most abstract art tends to focus on a specific thing. Think of any work from the Mona Lisa to a Mary Oliver poem, the eye of the artist is engaged in joining with the thing observed, which brings a sliver of objectivity to the artist, and then further down to line to the empathetic reader/viewer of the art. Of course there is a place for biography, but the biographic writer needs to be able to look at the subject of themselves with this greater view. There is in fact space for getting all your emotions out on paper too, but more often than not this therapeutic style writing should be left in notebooks as it has served its purpose to give voice to something which needed to come out, it must not be mistaken for literature. 

On reading all the anthologies for this year, I was so glad to see that at least two thirds of the work had moved towards the connective, looking outwards approach. This sense of movement was all I was looking for in the work, to me it is more important to a nice design, to spelling and grammar, though I do prefer those things are part of the coalescence as well. I often get in trouble arguing against self-expression as raison d'etre for creative work. It has its place as I say, but if we are going to be human beings, and if these writers are going to stay out of prison there are three things they need, the language (widened by reading and writing, and engagement with stories,) empathy, and compassion - little else is worth anything without these. I'm so pleased that many of these things are at the heart of what the Koestler's are about.

Note: of course I chose the title of this piece to get a reaction from you. I'm grateful for your stopping by, and thank you for taking the time to think about what is really being said here.


An Inspiration - Art Family

‘Sometimes our works encounter people who would have liked to have written them,
and this creates a kind of family for us out there in the world.
Art’s only excuse is that it makes friends for us.’
– Jean Cocteau

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Relearning From Myself for my 800th post

MANIFESTO - A Letter To Myself
'Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free.' - V for Vendetta
I reject living the world of living death brokered upon us by politicians and the middle-classes who buy freedom, liberty and adventure in vacation sized lumps with either inheritance spending or credit card debt. 

I reject literatures that only find their way into the world through privilege and connections, which contains the death of the soul in its syllables. Our stories have value too.

I reject the trappings of compromise, closed mindedness and aspirational comfort, acquisition as wealth. Settling for a life of television, shopping, video games, debt, pornography and bad sex; leaving the world and each other unexplored because we cannot look each other in the eye. We must refuse to live up to our stereotypes.

Real literature/art offers an open door to beauty, humanity, joy, difficulty and meaning. I choose the open door, the risk of love, of failure. I’ll take beauty over a credit rating, I’ll take fire, and the possibility of crashing and burning over a slow long life of decay, unlived moments and soul debt.

Everyday the living dead grin into our faces, selling their shit. Everyday we have to clean our minds of these pedlars’ values. The news is not the news, so much of life and reality is unreported, unknown to us, we have to step into life to access possibility. Switch off the newsstream. It is a battle of the soul and we must never forget that.

Art is an act of rebellion.

Do the things which bring you openness and liberty. Take the risk and make love to your partner or yourself, don’t be full of acquired images but know the person you have sex with for who they are. Look into your lovers eyes. Read books of life. Take small daily steps of freedom, learn to make bread or plant a garden, walk a mile, ask for some of what you desire, look into your own shadow and acknowledge both parts of yourself. Listen to the music of rebellion and don’t just have it with ten thousand other tunes on your music player, let it sing into your heart and actions; find others to sing with. Don’t use passive aggression and never trust hippy/fairtrade types. They are assuaging their guilt by spending a few pennies which never get to where they are supposed to go.
It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake as long as it is genuinely made in the pursuit of the real and true. Be considerate of those around you - learn the difference between compassion and pity, freedom doesn’t mean hurting others, it means taking responsibility for your own life.

When I posted this manifesto last year, it really was a message to myself. Recently I have had a number of messages telling me how much it has moved other artists who have read it. Reading it back myself yesterday I found I felt like a bell with no ringer. That since the writing of this I had forgotten all my fire and fine words. Life sometimes gives us things to face which take us away from what we are.. and I am nothing if not a writer.. The unrung metal of this bell has been silent of late, but I will strike it, even if i have to use my bare hands. Thank you those who have quoted from the above recently. Thank you for making me take these words back inside.. and begin again..

and just for a bit of inspiration:

Sunday, 8 July 2012

July and Aug Letter

It is still raining heavily here in the valley and across much of the UK. As you may know Hebden Bridge suffered terrible flooding a couple of weeks ago, so Prince Charles has been visiting the town to see how we're getting along. Homes and businesses in the town have been very affected as both the river Calder & the Hebden Water broke their banks. The Calder rose to 3.2 meters in a couple of hours; it usually is about half a meter deep as goes through town. (Our house is fine). One upshot of the flood is that it has brought the people of Hebden a lot closer together. Material things can vanish so easily and in fact when they do go, we find there is much more to us than thought.

There’s some great exposure for the work coming up ‘Thirst’ is on Radio 4 on 16th July, and I’ll be reading as part of The Stanza Festival showcase at Edinburgh’s Festival of Spirituality & Peace in August; which is part of the umbrella of Edinburgh Festivals. Also a series of animated short films called Fragile Stories, which I wrote/co­‐devised the scripts for, opens at The National Media Museum in Bradford. With all that has been happening in the world this year -­ it does seem that 2012 has been a big year for literature, perhaps the nature of these times is driving us to connect to something with more meaning again.

Thank you so much to those of you who sent messages, cards and letters after ‘Every Atom’ appeared on Radio 4’s Poetry Please in June. I am so happy that this piece has caught people’s attention.

Here is a link to the most recent full newsletter, from which this letter is taken. To subscribe please see the news page at

Things I’m reading:
Michael Reynolds -­ Hemingway ‘The Paris Years’ 

Picasso -­ The Vollard Suite (British Museum)

With gratitude 

‘you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes. 

and the more often you learn to do it, 
the more light there will be.’
-­ Charles Bukowski 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Learning Skin

Back in the day I used to have a musical alter-ego.. in fact I still create strange little things which might be classed as music from time to time.. but here is our first album from 1998 - The Learning Skin.. all twisty, organic drones, mangled samples and weird shit.. I'm told by its fans that it works very well late at night.. (clever observers will notice the title track and spoken piece is from Full Blood.. yes I was working on the book even back then.. )

If that's all too strange for you.. and we were being truly experimental with Learning Skin, then here is a very beautiful track (our favourite in fact) from the most recent album Black Trees.

There are two albums still missing from the discography which I may still release someday.. 'Equivalent Wish' just never came out even though it had a deal with a label and everything.. and 'The Lamb's Nursery' fell by the wayside because merzbow and I just couldn't agree on a final shape, so there may be a demerzbowized way of finishing this off maybe one day.. though some naughty person who'd had a demo of it did share it on soulseek when that was still a thing..

hmm and also maybe not....

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Ben Fountain on his anti-war novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

A wonderful interview with Ben Fountain on his anti-war novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Fountain really made me think about how our media manufactures consent and 
support for the war machine..

Celebrated by Fox News, a squad of Iraq war soldiers takes a victory tour to drum up support for the war that includes a Dallas Cowboys football game. Ben Fountain follows his hero, a poorly educated Texas boy, into the wilds of debased American celebrity. We discuss the difficulty of writing a novel composed from multiple kinds of "now" language: hip-hop, press-release-ese, sportscaster talk, black street language, Texan tall-talk.