Connect Magazine Bard’s Eye View Oct-Nov 2003

Bard’s Eye View

You may have noticed my usual cheery sideways looking photo is missing from the top of the page, replaced by a less cheery but somehow more thoughtful picture. This is a grayscale version of a portrait by Graham Kershaw painted as part of his ‘poetraits’ exhibition which arrives in Torbay in October.

Now I know I’m no oil painting, but, in a sense, since Graham painted me,I am. My portrait sits in an exhibition, staying exactly the same, while I go about my daily life looking increasingly haggard and haunted. Like someone who’s been burning the candle at both ends and wearing his trousers too tight. Someone for whom the vicissitudes of time and the torments of a restless conscience are etched in the living tissue of their face. Not a pretty sight. The portrait, though, is excellent. As are those of Roger McGough, U.A Fanthorpe and Owen Sheers, to name but three of Graham’s illustrious line-up.

Graham has also produced a book, ‘poetraits’, to accompany the exhibition, which has copies of the paintings alongside poems by the featured poets. Each poet who sat for Graham agreed to reciprocate with a poem on or around the theme of having their portrait painted. My portrait poem (which also stays the same while the rest of me deteriorates) is printed in the box. I actually wrote two poems in response to the painting, one of which didn’t make it into the exhibition. This other one goes: When I was a younger man my features were more angular/ The added padding of the years makes all our ganglia danglier

Great stuff, though I say it as shouldn’t.

Graham Kershaw’s ‘Poetraits’ exhibition is showing at the Festival Centre in Torbay, from 24th-27th October

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It’s quite clever, I think, splicing together two recognisable words to make a new, similar-but-different word, like poetraits. I had a go myself and I’ve come up with a few interesting ones. Or unteresting ones. That’s a word I made up which combines interesting with uninteresting to make a less certain word on the same theme which takes less for granted. Unterestingly, when you put it through the spell-check you get neither interesting nor uninteresting, but untrusting.

Other words I came up with are ultruism – when you give someone an ultimatum for their own good; anathematics – the scientific study of things you can’t stand; and wondermentalist – someone who believes, fundamentally, that the universe is both utterly incomprehensible and absolutely amazing.

This word-splicing is all very well, but everyone knows the best word-manglings happen inadvertently. Malapropisms. Like when Sue’s friend Gilda’s mum speaks of her favourite Daytime TV star, Winifred Osprey, or of the great Paul Simon song, ‘Trouble over at Bridgewater’.

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Portrait poem

He picks his palette up, and starts to paint
Invests the canvas with expressive oils
The tight off-white stretched cloth absorbs the daubs
And out of dull chaos a face takes shape
It’s recognisable, sharp and severe
His brush fulfils its brief, portrays the traits
The early random-looking lines cohere
By increments an image constellates

My father’s mother, as once drawn by him
In brown felt tip when I was in my teens
Beneath today’s still life the play of genes
Before the leaf – the twig, the branch, the limb

He’s traced me back, revealed the family tree
The embedded dna in dynasty

Next session’s strokes will see this overlaid
With features I can claim as just my own
The part of me that passes for self-made
Fresh-grown from seeds so very long since sown
In quiet fields which never quite lay fallow
Which never quite wake up, but never sleep

Perhaps the me that’s me is just skin deep

I hope he doesn’t make me look too shallow

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The middle pages of this issue of Connect tells of the forthcoming Off the Wall Festival of Comedy held in Exeter from the 10th–19th October. So I don’t need to go on and on and on about it here. But I do want to draw your attention to a gig at the Phoenix on the 10th – which by a happy coincidence is both World Mental Health Day and National Poetry Day. It’s called Six Poets in Search of an Audience, and I mention it because I’m one of those six poets and that search for an audience starts here. I commend the evening to you. If you’ve heard just one of Hilary Menos, Steve Fearnley, Rose Cook, James Turner and Sandra Tappenden before then you’ll know the calibre of evening we have in store. Excellent poets all, and very funny. I urge you to come. I insist. I personally invite you. There’s no need to RSVP, unless for any reason you can’t attend, in which case you can e-mail me at the address below and explain why.

You also have a right to know that on Tuesday 7th of October, officially unconnected to the festival, Ken Campbell is coming to the Phoenix to perform his one-man show I’m Not Mad, I’ve Just Read Different Books. Ken Campbell was last year’s headline act with his show The History of Comedy, Part 1, and as the Off the Wall Festival is promoted by MIND in Exeter and East Devon, not as a fund-raiser but simply in order to make people laugh and incidentally raise awareness about mental health, this is another happy coincidence. (A coincidentist, by the way, is anyone you meet by chance, who, bizarrely, turns out to be your dentist.)

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I had my awareness raised recently. It didn’t hurt. I was given a postcard issued by Mind Out For Mental Health which says that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of the year. On the other side is comedian Paul Merton saying, “We don’t feel ashamed for having a broken leg. Why is mental illness any different?” I thought a)Why isn’t he at the Off the Wall Festival, then? And b) He’s got a point.

On the subject of statistics I was intrigued to read a report in last week’s papers that astronomers are concerned about an asteroid whose trajectory passes close to Earth in 2014. Astronomers estimate the chances of its whacking into us are approximately 903,000 to 1. Not worth losing sleep over, but worth a mention on an inside page in the silly season. I thought of this when buying a lottery ticket yesterday. My chances of winning the jackpot are 14,000,000 to 1, and I bought my ticket in the knowledge that I have fifteen times more chance of being wiped out along with civilisation-as-we-know-it than I have of winning a life-changing windfall.

Far from putting me off this infused me with a warm, lucky feeling. The chances of both these things happening are astronomical. And, I thought, whether it’s meteorite impacts, mental health problems or mind-bogglingly unlikely financial windfalls, all these things have one thing in common – it could be you.

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