Wednesday, 9 December 2015

My latest poem - just a bit of Catteral, a reminder that cats are not cute.

CATTERAL - by Susan Gilbert

Tabby tabby burning bright,   
a mouse takes time to die of fright,
hold it down with pincer paws,
grab and toss with razor jaws.
Press it to the earth again,
one ear twitch, a squeak of pain.

Release, the hunt’s on in the grass,
swipe down.  A killing master class.
No motion left, the game is up and
now you’re bored it’s time to sup,
devour the head, the feet, the tail,
left in the grass, one pink entrail.

Puss-cat puss-cat, where’ve you been?
Eyes glisten, innocent in green.
Out in the dark what did you see?
Gracious tail just waves at me.
Tabby Tabby I’ve bought for you
some tasty tuna, a dainty chew.

Don’t turn away my little one,
a catnip toy for writhing fun
and leaping backwards on the mat
So cute! You funny, pretty cat!
Jump up here, my lap is free.
My sweet kitty, come to me. 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Jabberwocky for National Poetry Day - it doesn't have to be serious!

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;

      Long time the manxome foe he sought—

So rested he by the Tumtum tree

      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

      And the mome raths outgrabe.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

31 Women Stats, good and bad...

Thank you to all the readers of this blog!

I'm very pleased to notice that, of all the 31women I've blogged about, it's my posts on some of the most obscure artists who are getting the most hits  - hopefully this also means the most readers.

Xenia Kashevaroff Cage tops the bill, with Barbara Poe Levee, Meraud Guevara and Pegeen Vail forming the other 'qualifiers,' not sure what they qualify for, but if so many more people now know about them as artists than before, then I'm delighted.

Of course I'm well aware of the problems with taking these stats too seriously, for a start hits don't mean reads. Xenia Cage has twice as many hits as any of the others because, a. There are plenty of John Cage devotees and researchers looking for any tiny reference to him and b. There's very little researched and collated information about Xenia out there apart from what I've blogged.

Point b. also applies to Barbara and partly to Meraud, but neither of them had such highly famous and iconic husbands as Xenia.

Also there is so much information available about the better known artists such as Louise Nevelson and Frida Kahlo that my little blog appears well down on Google page umpteen. I'm pleased that Gypsy Rose Lee comes fifth in my stats and Anne Harvey and Sophie Taeuber Arp are also well up. This makes Sophie the highest rated of the better known artists, Leonora Carrington comes next.

My only disappointment is the low number of hits for one of my favourites, the totally fascinating Dada Baroness, Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven - but then she's become a bit of an obsession for me.

And I do love people's comments and the conversations they stimulate - keep them coming!

Monday, 27 July 2015

31 Women now on Pinterest

For anyone interested in seeing more about the 31 women Exhibition, there is now a Pinterest board devoted to it - called simply '31 women' -

The board shows pictures of the 31 artists, some work by the artists and people and or other images linked to the artists.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Exhibition by 31 Women - Peggy Guggenheim.






30 west 57 street, NYC                          Jan. 5-31 1943

 Welcome to Exhibition by 31 Women, at Peggy Guggenheim’s remarkable New York Gallery. Before we enter, it is necessary to correct a misconception of which authors of several tomes are guilty. Whatever they may imply, Art of This Century was not just an exhibition that introduced Jackson Pollock to the wider world. It was an art gallery in New York, run by Peggy Guggenheim, which held a new exhibition almost every month from 1942 to 1947 and introduced numerous new, and not so new artists to the New York public, Pollock was merely the loudest. The gallery itself, which was a triumph of modernist design, was as revolutionary as any of the exhibitions.

Peggy in her gallery, just to her left are 2 paintings
which appeared at the Exhibition by 31 Women.
Top, Leonor Fini's 'Shepherdess of the Sphinxes'
Below, Leonora Carrinton's 'Horses of Lord Candlestick' 

Peggy Guggenheim (b. 1898) has been called the ‘Mistress of Modernism’. She was a New Yorker and an heiress. Her biographies try to emphasise that she was a poor relation of the Guggenheim family; her father, having made some unwise investments, went down somewhat unintentionally with the Titanic. However, by the 1940’s, Peggy had an investment income of approximately $400,000 per annum, which is not really most peoples’ idea of a poor relation.

In 1941 she returned to New York after living in Europe for more than 15 years. Towards the end of this time she had found her vocation, as more than just a collector of modern art. She did not send out minions to purchase works for her, like her uncle Solomon of the Guggenheim Foundation. She had lived in England and France and gradually immersed herself within the artistic community that she championed. She had three husbands, (two artists and a writer) and numerous affairs with creative men including Samuel Becket and Yves Tanguy.

In Europe she built up an important collection of modernist art, initially with advice from Andre Breton, Herbert Reid and Marcel Duchamp, but gradually relying more on her own judgement. She bought work by everyone from Malevich & Mondrian to Salvador Dali & Leonora Carrington, though not much of the work she bought was by women. At one stage she deliberately set out to purchase one work of art every day. She left Paris a bare two days before the German army arrived. Had they caught her they would probably have destroyed both her collection (of degenerate art) and herself (a Jew). 
Peggy seems to have had remarkably little idea of the danger she was in, hiding behind her American passport. This said, she gave 500,000 francs to the Emergency Rescue Committee, which organised the escape from France of vulnerable persons, and she personally subsidised the escape to the USA of artists including Andre Breton and Jacqueline Lamba. She left Europe in 1941 with the Bretons, her own family, her collection and Max Ernst, who would soon become her third husband.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Never Again! - Starting my new Goodreads shelf

From Potter's Field (Kay Scarpetta, #6) By Patricia Cornwell  

My rating: one out of five stars

This is the first of the Kay Scarpetta novels that I've read myself, I've heard another serialised (and heavily abridged) on the radio. Apparently this was the third about a sadistic killer named Temple Brooks Gault, but it didn't really matter that I hadn't read the others.

I feel disappointed and almost guilty about hating a really gritty novel by a woman author, but from Potter's Field is unremittingly tense and bleak, full of not very rounded and mostly depressed characters. There are no peaks and troughs, the tension is constant so the 'shocks', when they come, are almost anti-climactic. I made myself finish the book and was relieved once it was over.

I shall go back to reading Ian Rankin's Rebus novels, which are just as gruesome in places but as well as plenty of splashes of blood they are relieved by splashes of dark humour, which this novel totally lacks.

Rankin also rounds his characters out better. Here the only character whose speech was even distinguishable from the others was the rather caricatured detective Marino. This novel left me feeling stressed, tense and slightly miserable, I shan't read any more.">From Potter's Field</a> by <a href="">Patricia Cornwell</a><br/>

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Leonora - a Novel by Elena Poniatowska (review)

This novel, expertly translated by Amanda Hopkinson, seems to me to capture the essence of this fascinating and sometimes troubled artist in a way that no straight biography ever could. Leonora Carrington was a true surrealist, though she rejected their political and sexist ideology; Surrealism was fundamentally about plumbing the depths of the human psyche and her depths were greater than most. So were her heights; she was the anarchic, ambidextrous child, the White Mare, the rebellious hyena and the Giantess.

Leonora’s imagery is extraordinary in its density, its obscurity and Elena Poniatowska, who knew the artist well in the last decades of her life, comes close to explaining Leonora’s meanings by divining the origins of her thinking. The author’s writing is densely descriptive, like the artist’s painting. It takes the reader on a journey beginning just below the surface of family life in Crookhey Hall, Leonora’s childhood home, where the infant Leonora is convinced she is a horse and ends with Leonora communing with dolphins in Mexico. That necessity for a journey is the novelist’s prerogative, there are no pictorial illustrations but why should there be when the writing is so vivid?

I have studied Leonora Carrington over a number of years and seen as many of her paintings as is possible in Europe; my knowledge of the subject has not been challenged by this novelization of her life. I picked up a single minor inaccuracy in the title of a painting, which faced with the sweep of the story is insignificant. I won’t read a straight biography of Leonora Carrington again, the basic facts are already known and for the rest, this remarkable, imaginative account by Elena Poniatowska will do for me.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Blanket - writing exercise


Pink, quilted, brushed nylon with thin polyester wadding inside – brushed nylon was all the rage, my grandmother bought brushed nylon sheets to use instead of flannelette.

This blanket is double size, although it was bought for my brother when he had asthma and couldn't tolerate the feathers in the eiderdown. The blanket had to be folded to fit a child’s bed. As my brother is now forty-seven, this blanket which nestles in the bottom of my airing cupboard has been around for a while.
My brother developed asthma when he was seven. He got lost, after leaving the swimming baths in Chichester. Mother couldn't find him, she arrived home in a complete panic. She’d been to the police, they’d asked her for a description of the missing child. That was easy.

What I can’t remember is why I hadn’t gone swimming that day. I’m certain I wouldn’t have let him get lost. I was used to having to keep an eye on him. I was his big sister, he was the baby. The small, delicate baby, with a heavy, dark birthmark. On his face. By the time he was seven he had had three operations, to remove the mark.

I’m sure they’d do it better today but plastic surgery was a bit more hit and miss then. They left him with scars, shining skin grafts on his forehead, cheek and eyelid. And a strange black tuft of an eyebrow.  I was used to it, we all were, this boy was just our little brother, he was okay. We didn’t even notice, but other people did, they stared in the street. Pointed. Whispered behind their hands.

So there he is, this small, timid boy, lost in a big town. Where’s Mum? Gone, without him. He’s cold, his hair is wet. All the strangers around, they won’t talk to him. Won’t ask him what’s wrong, why he’s crying, scared. Because he looks funny. And they’re English, it’s not done to notice people who look funny. No wonder he has a panic attack. Wheezing, fainting. The police are called when the funny looking child collapses. Nobody tries to help the child. They might catch something. Compassion, perhaps.
The blanket is almost an international symbol of compassion.
This is a writing exercise based on a particular household object.


Thursday, 7 May 2015

Why That Title?

What makes writers decide on a particular title?  What makes a big movie producer choose a particular title? In the latter case, it has as much to do with what won’t interfere with the visualisation of the movie poster. Unless the film is based on a well-known story, the title is seldom chosen by the script-writer.
This isn’t intended to be an academic discussion on the titles of the classics, it’s just my thoughts on what makes a good title. I’m interested in what makes writers choose their titles, but I wonder if some writers think about the important role the title serves. A title is the first thing the potential reader will see. If it doesn’t grab their attention, they will look at the next title in the bookshop, library, Goodreads, etc.. A freelance writer has a bit more freedom to use their imagination than a scriptwriting hack does.
Using the first line of a poem for the poem's title is fine, if that first line is good enough! If the first line isn’t good enough to be the title, it probably isn’t good enough to be the first line. Poems, unless they are epic length, need to be tightly wrought and a sloppy first line is the worst possible start – unless there’s a sloppy title too. It’s much the same with short stores, unless the writer has a very specific reason for a meandering title, they need a snappy one to draw the reader’s eye.

Finding the title for a novel or a full length play/film script is the hardest, some work brilliantly, others are more to do with era or current fashions. 'Persuasion' was fine for Jane Austen to use, it suited the slow, persuasive style of the writing and it hadn't been used before, but today it would just look lame on a book-jacket by anyone who isn't Jane Austen. I've heard that using the word 'love' in a title immediately reduces a book or film's chance of attracting a male audience, or conversely of increasing the female audience - I'd like to think this is untrue and just an idea based on outdated stereotyping. The novel 'Enduring Love' is a very un-typical book, by Ian McEwan, which is about a stalker and not what the stereotype would indicate.

To attract me as a reader, a title has to conjure an image in my mind, or it has to relate to the significant words and names in the story/poem. Hopefully the title has a ring to it as well – this ring is a difficult thing to define, I know it when I see it, the words sound in my head and I want to speak them aloud. My Cretan poem title, ‘Take the Road to Omalos,’ has that ring, looking at titles on many writing websites, some definitely don’t ring.  I’m not going to diss other people’s titles, I’ll stick to my own; my bit of Yorkshire Surrealism  called ‘Pie in the Sky,’ doesn’t ring, it’s just a cliché and clichés are unoriginal and usually worth avoiding, unless they perform a specific function or are used ironically. And every cliché you can think of has already been used as a title, often far too many times!

Personally I don’t like titles which generalise, to me they seem a cop-out and one word titles in particular are too often just generalisations. They seldom work unless they’re names; even then they probably aren’t original unless they are ‘Ozymandias’ and written by P.B.Shelley! Maybe that’s what I’m trying to get at, I have this idea that titles should be original. Probably impossible I know - as language has been written down since the Sumerians, most combinations of words have already been used somewhere along the line.
As I said, this is just my opinion.  Are there any actual rules? What do other people think?

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Unsuitable Authors beginning with P - Terry Pratchett's 'Witches Abroad'.

The witches, Esme Weatherwax, Gytha Ogg and Magrat Garlik, were the first Discworld triple act created by Terry Pratchett. Witches have to come in threes. They are powerful women who know that actual magic should be used sparingly and mostly they don't need it. Granny Weatherwax can control most situations with a look, Nanny Ogg controls with tea and blackmail and Ms Garlik does her best with herbs or crystals or whatever is the latest craze.

In 'Witches Abroad' they have to leave their comfortable(ish) homes in rural Lancre and travel abroad to sort out a fellow witch who has an urge to bring order to the city of Genua by imposing the predictability of fairy-tales on the unsuspecting populace - Emberella has to marry the prince, even though he's a spoilt, snivelling runt. Abroad is not a place that Granny Weatherwax approves of, but "Wisdom is one of the few things that looks bigger the further away it is." So they have to get close to see the detail, not just the mass, and find out what's actually going on.

The witches are amongst my favourite of Pratchett's creations. He enthusiastically wrote any number of great female characters into the Discworld, they were merely the first. He takes stereotypes, defys and builds on them to create full-blooded, comic characters. Needless to say the book is very funny and the dialogue between the witches is the basis of much of the humour.
My copy of this book is the Corgi edition of 1992, which was when I first read it, and has the original Josh Kirby cover. The later editions look very dull by comparison.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Unsuitable Authors beginning with E; Ben Elton - 'High Society'

Ben Elton does write well, although his novels can seem similar to his stand up performances in that he is an excellent ranter in both contexts. And my spellchecker doesn't like the word 'ranter' - good! Spellcheckers need to be dully conventional, staid even. Novelists mustn't be staid and that's certainly not a term applicable to Ben Elton.

High Society was published in 2002
This is Ben Elton's novel about the illegal drugs trade and how to defeat it. The story is hardly staid, it has some graphic detail, some very graphic language and some excellent rants, once you get used to the idea that this is how the book is written.

High Society charts the course of a backbench MP who wants to take on and destroy the illegal drugs traders by making all drugs legal. It illustrates the problems created by drugs with the stories of two addicts, contrasting the lives of a successful pop star and a young runaway. Needless to say, nearly everything which can go wrong for every single character does go wrong and the author's central stand of the novel, the drugs bill, fails disastrously, but there is an almost happy ending, for a couple of people.

Ben Elton has been sneered at lately, as a former alternative comedian who has sold out, but High Society shows that, in 2002 at least, his ideas were as radical as ever.

In case you're wondering why he is 'Unsuitable,' my benchmark is what my grandmother would have considered unsuitable. It's not my judgement.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Would you buy this house?

House for Sale in the lovely Grimescar Valley, only 10 minutes from Huddersfield town centre and 6 minutes from the M62, junction 25 - hence twenty minutes to Bradford, forty-five into Leeds, an hour to Manchester. Also 12 minutes from Brighouse, where you can catch a direct train to London. So, the location is very convenient, which is why we came to live here. It's also only 4 minutes from the most wonderful bluebell woods.

The practicalities - four bedroom family home with a garage, on a corner plot, in a quiet cul-de-sac, built around 1980 by a Mr Barrett.  Full central heading, Bosch boiler 6 years old, regularly serviced. Cavity wall insulation and full depth loft insulation, some windows double glazed.

At the front of the house is a triangular lawn and a shared drive with parking for up to 4 cars on our side. The garage is attached to the neighbours' - this is what estate agents call 'link-detached.' No more estate agent speak, I promise. Through our red front door the small, white-painted entrance hall has a full height mirror and  hanging for coats and hats, staircase going up and doors into sitting room and dining room.

The sitting room runs right through, with good-sized windows at either end. The room has a light hessian colour carpet, white walls, soft brown curtains, wooden Venetian blinds to box window at the front and fabric blind to double glazed, hardwood rear window. There is a shallow flue suitable for a feature gas fire.

The dining room has a pine floor, walls painted in Tuscan hues, with Venetian blinds and ochre curtains at the window and double doors which fold back leading into the kitchen. Under-stairs storage.

Kitchen has a full range of beech units with doors, many drawers and work-surfaces all in beech, higher cupboards have glass/beech doors. Stainless 1 1/2 bowl sink, 5 burner gas hob, built in electric oven, tall family-size fridge freezer, Moon washing machine, plumbing & space for a full size dishwasher.

From the hall, stripped, varnished wooden stairs lead up to the landing with loft hatch (the loft is partly boarded and houses the TV arial) and doors into bedrooms and the family bathroom, which has a white bath, basin & WC with a new electric shower over the bath, a large mirrored cabinet, shaver light and a blind to the obscured glass window.

There are two large double bedrooms (one with airing cupboard), one small double-bed room and one single which is still big enough for bunk beds or a cabin bed. All rooms have curtains or blinds and plain, neutral décor and all except the smaller double have stripped floorboards - ideal for asthma sufferers.

Back on the ground floor, the rear lobby leads to the downstairs WC and to the back door. Behind the house, accessed from the back door and a side gate, is our mature and quite secluded garden with a lawn, a rustic patio, hedges and fruit trees. There's a water butt, outside tap, rear door into the garage and space for a shed or a greenhouse. There's room for kids to rush around or breed guinea pigs (or both!) and the side wall is an excellent site for a basketball hoop.

Our garden backs onto woodland, fields and streams and is only 50 yards from the Kirklees way, great for walkers and dog owners. Also great for bird lovers, more than 40 species have been spotted in or from the garden and regular garden visitors include nuthatch, goldfinch and redpoll.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Unsuitable Authors - where to start?

First I have to say that I don't regard any authors as 'unsuitable'. The word was applied, by certain adults, to some authors and types of reading matter when I was a teenager. I was addicted to reading and could get through four or five novels a week, on top of my school reading. I took delight in reading anything, especially books not aimed at teenage girls. I also took delight in reading books that I knew would horrify a certain family member. I read everything, but especially science fiction - I began with father's copy of John Wyndham's 'Day of the Triffids' and was hooked. The local library in Cheriton ran out of sci-fi, I read their resources dry! I had to get a bus to Folkestone library for my weekly fix of robots, dystopias and space opera. 

My parents were not the problem, they both read liberally, newspapers, magazines and books of all kinds were left around the house, neither of them ever told me I shouldn't read a particular book. When I was nine I picked up a book called 'Naked Under Capricorn' (by Olaf Ruhen) which was left lying around. Obviously, I was pruriently attracted by the word 'naked,' and by the nude on the cover, but the book seemed to be just about about a man wandering in the Australian desert and I soon got bored.

Instead I began reading Gerald Durrell's books, beginning with 'The Bafut Beagles,' about his explorations and 'encounters with animals', which included some mildly blue humour and innuendo, much  drunkenness and teaching monkeys to smoke. Apart from the hilarity of the drunken scene where the Fon of Bafut and his many wives danced the conga with Durrell, most of the 'unsuitable' content went right over my head. I just loved the animals, Durrell's wonderful sense of humour and his stories of finding and caring for his creatures. However these were not quite the first 'unsuitable', non-children's books I read.

The very first was probably my father's medical dictionary - author/editor lost in the mists of time - which I first dipped into when I was about seven and understood little of, but I was fascinated by the illustrations. In the centre of the book were outline figures of a man and a woman overlaid with transparent pages which you could slowly turn to reveal bones, blood vessels, muscles, internal organs and on the outside their very pink and hairless (apart from on their heads) skin. Despite this adult nudity the book wasn't hidden away from us under-ten's.

But when my mother's mother came to stay, things were different. Books were tidied away, papers and magazines containing anything which she disliked were put into the dustbin as soon as she could get away with it, under the guise of 'tidying up.' Reading was a battle when she was around. I shouldn't read in the evenings, it would ruin my eyes. I shouldn't read at the table, it was rude. I shouldn't read in the daytime, I should be outside getting fresh air. I shouldn't read in bed, I should go to sleep.

My grandmother was from earlier times when young people were told how not to speak, what not to wear, what not to read and probably who not to marry. Everything was proscribed. She would probably have forbidden me from reading any of the books and authors I've mentioned, if she was in charge. I didn't understand her because I remember she helped me to learn to read when I was a lot younger. But when I was fifteen she invaded my bedroom while I was at school, went through my wardrobe and binned all my NME's, rock and fan  magazines and posters. I had bought them all with my own money and I was more than angry, I felt violated.

I have detested censorship ever since, there are no unsuitable authors! This blog listing is to illustrate how much tastes, social mores and literary sensibilities have changed, and are still changing, since my grandmother grew up in the Edwardian era.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Ian Dury - Book review

'Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography' by

If you're a fan of Ian Dury, then you might like to read this book. If you're not a fan, listen to 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' until you are!

Iain Dury wasn't a particularly great singer. His talents were as much in his considerable personal charisma and in his clever songwriting, both aspects came together in his unique performances. Who else could create such marvellous, clever, defiant lyrics as 'Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,'  'Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick,'  'Reasons to be Cheerful, part 3' or 'Spasticus Autisticus'?

In spite of the dramatic subject matter, this book is slow to get going, I found the opening chapters dragged a bit. Even the author seemed slightly disengaged until around page 77. It slowly picked up pace and suddenly we were on the road with Kilburn and the Highroads and things really began to take off.

Ian then really hit the jackpot with the assembling of the Blockheads, all very talented musicians who lifted  his performance to new heights. Behind the scenes, his private life was usually in chaos and it was usually his fault. His disability (caused by childhood polio) didn't help, but he was an attractive, intelligent, usually charming bloke who refused to let it restrict either his love life or his ambitions.

As well as being a clever singer, brilliant lyricist and unique performer, Ian Dury was also an artist, training with Peter Blake at the Royal College of Art. He acted in a number of films including Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone. He became an ambassador for UNICEF, visiting Sri Lanka to help promote polio vaccination.

Ian Dury was a complex, clever, talented and difficult man. I love his music, I enjoyed this biography once I got into it. I'm glad I wasn't his girlfriend but I'm very sorry I never saw him perform live.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year, New Elephants

Ancient koalas munching in gum trees remember
many new years, once they were the first alive

in their gold-red lands under the wide sky.

No happy new year for unknown warrior-horses
who remember no poppies, only their boon

companions trapped in mud and blood, screaming.

Sir crow, summiting the naked cherry tree
remembers every ruby-fruit and can predict

their re-birth in the joy of summer light.

Lady camel transports vast burdens of memory
over baking deserts, while calculating that

the next dune is not too high for her calf.

Lord elephant remembers his enemy who
carries boom-stick and saw to destroy

his family, fire and axe to destroy his home.

To all creatures great and human I wish
a New Year of eucalyptus, poppy and cherries,

new life, safe haven and making new memories.
(In different cultures, many creatures are symbol for memory.)