Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Girl in Kolonaki

What is it that makes the girl in Kolonaki such an excellent subject for a short story? Is it perhaps only this: that she is in Kolonaki but not from Kolonaki? That she is in fact not only not from Kolonaki but not from Greece at all? That she is from England, from a small town in England somewhere on the border of Kent and East Sussex and has come to Kolonaki, so she tells herself, not because it offers her any greater chance of making money in her chosen field but because she has a more developed sense of adventure than any of her peers, who all seem to be working in schools in impoverished parts of London or Manchester?

Or is the girl merely an ornament? Is it the mother-of-pearl and orange coloured district of Kolonaki, self-centred, genteel but robust, that is the truly noteworthy protagonist? Does it matter if the girl has no idea that the district of Kolonaki is named after the little column that was erected there before even a single house was built on the area? Is it more important that Kolonaki’s shopping streets are among the best in Europe?

Have you seen the column? What does it remind you of? Would it appear rude if I asked you to lie down on the couch? Does it remind you of a phallus, or is that just me? Were you subconsciously stimulated towards this phallic interpretation by the use of the word ‘erected’ in the previous paragraph? Or is the word ‘column’ enough on its own to do it for you? Doesn’t it strike you as odd that this two-metre rod of stone reminds you of a dick? Isn’t it strange that they call it the ‘little column’? Would you be surprised to learn that the author, at the age of 8, spent most of his free time in efforts to design his own spring-loaded mousetrap, or that all of his designs contained mazes or mirrors, and sometimes miniature traps within traps: guillotines made of razorblades, hidden doors, poison-tipped carpet tacks?

Is it stating the obvious to say that the reason the girl in Kolonaki is in Kolonaki and not Kent or Sussex is because she was running away from something or escaping something or fleeing something? Is it for this reason that she is just glad to be in this warm, blind part of Athens with other English speaking families? That she hasn’t bothered to learn the language, or find out a little bit about the history of her new home? Does she realise, and does it even matter to her, that Kolonaki and its giant stone dick, its sapless six-foot totem, are infinitely more important than her interchangeable new friends?

What is it that the author has in mind when he asks if the girl is really only an ornament? Is it to devalue her? Is it an attempt to devalue her by making her seem less important than an upmarket area of a capital city of a country the author has never been to? Is the attempt to devalue her flawed by the very fact that he has taken the time to write about her, and in doing so admitting her importance to him?

What is she doing in Kolonaki? Is this question a sign of the author’s continuing interest in her? Or his growing interest in Kolonaki? Or is it simply a way to introduce the girl, or the streets and squares of Kolonaki? Does the girl frequent the tavernas and ouzeries? Does she support AEK or Panathinaikos when they come up against English teams in European football? Does she spend her evenings indoors or on a terrace writing letters to her friends in England on paper she bought from one of the posh artisan stationers in Kolonaki, letters that are essentially lies, letters that talk about the sun, the pollution, the pleasantness of the Greek family she works for, but in reality tell the reader nothing about Kolonaki or about Greece? Does she have a wastepaper basket in her room filled with letters not sent, letters screwed up, letters she is embarrassed to read back to herself because of their frankness or their duplicitousness?

Is there an end to this story? Or should that question be, ‘How can the author reconcile himself with the girl in Kolonaki?’ And what is the meaning of the dick-like structure that towers, hard but impotent, over the story? Does it represent the idea of a resolute, single-minded Mediterranean mindset that has been embraced or partially embraced by the girl in Kolonaki, but cannot be embraced by the author, the flaccid English author? Can you answer questions put to you by an English author who spent his childhood poisoning mice? And how would you make him hear the answers? Is it possible for a question to be the truth? What would you say if I showed you a picture of the girl in Kolonaki, a photograph in which she appears to be drunk, with a group of people roughly her age, some English-looking and some Greek-looking, some with football scarves? And if, in that photograph, she has her arms locked around the stone column as if it is a living thing, as if it is a favourite tree or person, would you believe anything you hear?

Monday, 16 July 2012


I came back armed with a list of films
I wouldn't mind seeing again

The Usual Suspects
On the Waterfront, Casablanca

Because there's no way two people
can sit and write poems together
over popcorn and cans of Ringnes
and in the window of a long weekend

I have sworn allegiance to port cities

Here is a poem called Poem for Beggars:


The girl digs heels in at this,
a boat in dry dock

She has had better and can wait

On the waterfront two days later
she catches sight of an act of cannibalism

a herring gull puking in reverse

There it is, she says, there
is your poem, you have what you came for

now go, before you miss your flight

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Invention of Poetry

When the scream dies
there is nothing left:
not the letter x or a windblown tree

only men riding
in the black back seats

and women draped over bonnets

It can happen, say, at 25
or at 19
but it's not like a typical urban suicide

it can happen out on dusty roads
or wet roads

I came up with a ghastly invention
and saddled it with matter

Watch the poet, don't listen

His feet are moving on the stage
like someone who lurks beside
wet roads

his hands are shaking but that was years ago

I lived in a house with my mother and father
I brought old women back
Holy fucking shit

My mother and father invented poetry
in the 1970s

every single liberal or Neil Young fan
invented poetry in the 1970s

So the women who employ the girls
who serve me with coffee
have all experienced the vital terrifying death

Poetry is a thing that wipes memories
You must wear dark glasses and leather
and learn to drive or open your legs

It is the only way to survive
when the last scream
has uprooted trees and fucked everything

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Edvard Munch's Madonna

A few days ago I ordered a cheap print of Edvard Munch's Madonna and today it came in the post. I took some time getting it out of the cardboard tube, relishing the potential creative inspiration it would give me. I thought that my thoughts on seeing the poster would be, like the painting, divine, pure and honest on one hand and modern, willful, strange and passionate on the other. But when I unrolled the Madonna I thought first of Madonna, the singer, and this made me think of the music video of hers which involves a bullfight, and this made me think of Hemingway, writing his balls off about bullfighting, and Hemingway made me thing about the Deux Magots, where he did a great deal of writing, and this in turn made me think about my impending trip to Paris, which I am looking forward to but am also somewhat apprehensive about because it will cost me a lot of money and I haven't got a lot of money - I am essentially poor, certainly too poor to make a habit of buying art prints just so that I can look to them for inspiration.

The Poet Geoffrey Hill and the Poet Jeremy Prynne

In a city - let's say Cambridge; in fact, let's pick somewhere more neutral, Coventry for example - the supporters of the poet J.H. Prynne decided to erect a giant statue of their hero, a statue that would dwarf the city's cathedral, a bronze statue with a high forehead and an unfathomably muscular torso. Of course, when the supporters of the poet Geoffrey Hill heard about this they decided to erect a similar statue, also in Coventry, to match the gigantic statue of the poet J.H. Prynne. The tall statues faced each other over this cowering city that had been destroyed and rebuilt comparatively recently. The opposing factions were proud of their statues, but they were also envious of each other. Of course, arguments broke out, then the odd limp-wristed skirmish, and after a while, without knowing how it had happened, the two groups of poetry-lovers discovered that they were officially at war. Nothing happened for a while, but what could have happened was this: a renowned wise man - the type that still existed in the Midlands at the turn of the century - came to the city and called a meeting between the leaders of the two groups. In his wisdom he told them to give up on their bitterness and envy and learn to like, or at least to appreciate, or at the very least to respect, the poetry of the opposition. Of course, the berserk captains of the factions fell upon him and destroyed him as he attempted to leave the cathedral. Their bloodlust was sated; they forgot their poetry and went back to teaching creative writing classes. But that didn't happen. The war is still going on, though no-one has yet died. On the upturned palm of the poet Geoffrey Hill sits a sniper, his rifle trained through a crack in the poet Geoffrey Hill's fingers onto a spot somewhere on the poet J.H. Prynne's groin, where it is believed there is a secret door, behind which the supporters of the poet J.H. Prynne are said to be hatching a plot, although no-one knows what this plot might be.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ironing is Equal To or Greater Than Jazz

He is in the living room, writing and listening to a critically acclaimed jazz record from the mid-1960s. She is in the kitchen, ironing and watching a popular primetime hospital drama on her laptop. During the short periods of silence between tracks he can hear the programme through the closed door – they have a cheaply rented flat and the doors are thin, little more than plywood. After a while he becomes aware that she has turned the sound up on the hospital drama – he can hear dialogue through the quiet parts of the compositions. A nurse says, ‘Ready?’ and a man groans. Another nurse is chatted up and then threatened by a doctor, and so on. At one point during a searing trumpet solo he hears a screech of tyres and the sound of glass smashing. He is a little annoyed, as she has told him that the reason she is using the kitchen rather than the living room is to give him some peace and quiet while he works. ‘Peace and quiet’ was the exact phrase she used. He thinks he would be well within his rights to go and ask her politely to turn it down, particularly when over the top of a lengthy, trumpet-led ballad he can hear people being dragged from wreckage, the wheels of stretchers on concrete, screams of jobbing actors. But he doesn’t get up. It’s not really distracting him that much. He has nearly finished the first draft of a short story and doesn’t want to interrupt his flow with the mild altercation that would inevitably follow if he were to speak to her. And, he thinks, if he can hear her TV programme, she can probably hear his jazz, and would therefore be equally entitled to ask him to lower the volume. Besides, he is writing and she is ironing. She is ironing his shirts for work because he can’t make enough money from writing to enable him to quit his crappy job, and he is writing a short story in which she appears as a character. These facts instantly give her the moral high ground. He thinks, what kind of person would do that? What kind of person would ask his girlfriend to turn the sound down so that he can listen to a once ground-breaking but now slightly anachronistic jazz recording whilst she is ironing his clothes and he is using her against her will?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Im Visits the North Pole - excerpts

Im throws open
so that any
sunlight trapped

can escape before the year
turns dark and small


Of course Im encounters
death every day.

She removes a glove
to stroke a live

damp nose –
a huge husky perhaps


Between sheer walls
a joust
of narwhals

whisk through icing


Im lurks below
the treeline.

Everything is fur
and bristle and ire
– cries of owls, irks.

In the starkness of
Im inspires a religion

of trees
whose spires
seek to bend

whose dead
limbs and needles
are her pyres


There is another.
Im salutes a furred
human face
over tundra,
young and
A moon
inside a boat.

He traverses the rink
of tundra. Im

writes her name
in the snow, sees
a bare tree
and two mountains.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Im Visits the South Pole - excerpts

Im listens for the babble
of internal organs, hers –

hearts, hot intestines
and suchlike.

Her bones are the ice
sculptures of Erebus


The sun a ring
– tambourine and cornet

the salt snow bakes.
A crust

and a cauldron
cone and rotunda

belly of breath
Im skims off –
fat off milk


Im plays at witching
forges molten snow
into a cat-shape

a grotto, grove of folded
paper animals, Im speaks
with her fingers

to annihilate them


A fold is an irrevocably
straight line
where white sheep live,
Im thinks


Snow like sand. Im
luxuriating, eyes closed,
loses her toes in it