Saturday, 19 December 2009


So, I've really wanted to know this since ever, but I kept forgetting to ask someone in the legal profession who could appraise me of the facts. Now T-Rex of the robustly entertaining Dinosaur Comics has answered my query! I recognise no higher authority in the world of jurisprudence.

My question was: can you put a legally-enforceable 'haunted house clause' in your will? You know, like, you can have my money, but you have to all spend one night in a haunted house!

So awesome. I totally wish I could hire T-Rex as my lawyer. Case dismissed, bitches! Heh.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Limits Of The Expert

So it's nice to see my old chum and fellow Aisle16er Luke Wright has been back blogging after a long period of sporadic comms. In my continuing efforts to bore the tits off of all my readers equally (my video game posts have a consistent knack for making at least 50% of eyes glaze over) I'm going to write a tiny bit in response to a point he raised around managers involved in live literature administration. Grab the popcorn.

Basically, in his blog post, Luke talks about the distinction between recruiting managers from experts in that particular field, versus recruiting managers from managerial positions in other fields, and how that applies to live literature (a term I fucking hate - eugh bleugh ptooie! (and I'm not much fond of the moribund 'spoken word' either)). In his own words: 'Now there’s more money about (though not for long with the recession looming) the powers that be have had two main options on how to grow the industry: a) use the existing artists and producers who know the scene and have creative vision; b) bring in proven arts managers from other industries to apply their knowledge of fund raising and management to live literature.'

Although he's conspicuously evenhanded and tentative in his overall appraisal - probably a wise move given that his ability to make a living partially depends on the good will of people working in this area - Luke seems to come down slightly on the side of using 'existing artists and producers', whilst acknowledging the value of having an experienced, talented manager with strong fundraising skills.

It's a tricky one. On the one hand, if you take on an active performance poet, there's a potential conflict of interest. Lucrative opportunities are few and far between in live poetry, and there's a real danger that, instead of spreading the word throughout the region and empowering as many poets as possible, they'll just take the best opportunities for themselves and for their performance buddies. From the outside, a poet booking their 'contacts' for gigs and workshops, and signing them up for support schemes, looks a hell of a lot like cronyism. For a poet, taking on an arts admin role is a great way to plug the holes in your finances while securing yourself a prime seat at the trough.

On the other hand, if you're a poet, it can sometimes be hard not to feel bewildered and frustrated when people who watch approximately a tenth of the live poetry you do, and who rarely, if ever, attend any events except the ones they organise, are the ones taking big decisions on the direction of the medium in the UK for the next five years, with very little apparent consultation. Working with different organisations across the country, rather than seeing a unified strategy and a genuine sense of cohesion and progression, it can feel like you're watching a hundred little showponies getting brushed and groomed then sent trotting out to market, all with owners hoping to earn kudos for having raised the brightest and the best. It can feel more about promoting an organisation and showing off how much clout it has, than about getting better live poetry to more people, and providing value to the taxpayers who are often bankrolling most of it.

Of course, these two extremes are both strawmen that don't paint a very accurate picture. We're a nation of armchair football managers and music critics, and I, like so many others, like to lounge on the sofa, yelling at my telly about how I could do a better job, despite the fact I can't kick straight or hold a note. All I'm trying to get at is that both options come with their potential problems, and neither one trumps the other. I don't think oodles of grassroots experience nor a robust background in managerial roles are game-changers.

Nobody working in the Arts - as far as I know - has ever been given a no-strings-attached metric fuckload of money with the instruction 'go and make live poetry better, however you personally choose to interpret "better"'. An Arts organisation's first priority is to secure funding to allow itself to continue to exist, otherwise it has no way of achieving any of its subsidiary aims, just as the priority of any government operating in a democracy is to remain in power, otherwise it can't affect change. While it's usually all in the service of exciting, interesting projects, there's no way you can make replying to emails, checking spreadsheets and drafting press releases as fun as standing on stage, getting whoops and laughter and applause from a crowd. Doing the boring stuff well takes skill, maturity and dedication.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, and without knowing the competing pressures and priorities facing people, it's easy for me to pick holes in people's decisions. I'm not sure that's very fair of me and it's not a habit I admire, but I suspect we're all a little guilty of different forms of this from time to time.

However, there was one phrase in Luke's post I'd like to pick up on - not in how it relates to any of his personal views, but in how it tends to get bandied around and vaunted across Arts organisations. Luke talks about this notion of getting people onboard who 'have creative vision'. Personally, I believe that sometimes the disproportionate value placed on so-called 'creative vision' and strong personalities rolling out big, bold projects and proposals, overrides other important qualities like, y'know, listening. You don't need to be a gigging performance poet yourself to work in an organisation that aims to improve and promote the medium, but you do need to be willing to engage in an honest, respectful and sustained dialogue with a wide spread of people who do, not just in this country but across the world. There is a wealth of knowledge out there, distributed amongst hundreds of enthusiastic pro-am experts, and it seems not just foolish, but willfully arrogant not to attempt to draw upon it. That doesn't just mean accepting criticism and sending out the standard survey asking 'How could we do this project better next time?' after you've pissed away 50 grand on some ill-conceived vanity-wank - it means asking a decent spread of relevant people before you've squandered the time and money, to see if what you're doing is actually what the people you're supposedly doing it for want.

I suppose what I'm saying is that, as a performance poet who has notched up over 100 gigs in the last twelve months, I'd like to think that those involved in organising events, initiatives and projects relating to live poetry would see people like me as an important free resource of information and opinions. And I'm not using 'people like me' as a euphemism for 'harrumph, why don't people beg me for the chance to listen to my divine wisdom?' (although I like feeling important as much as the next petty, insecure egotist) - you can only get a true picture by consulting a range of people from across lots of different nights. Indeed, probably even more useful than getting the poets' views would be directly engaging with audiences and listening to their feedback, and, even better, getting into dialogue with people who don't go to spoken events but maybe attend events in stand-up, music and theatre, to see if we can start to think about strategies for showcasing the best live poets to a wider appreciative audience. By the same token, a lot of people who perform live poetry, myself especially included, could do with asking advice from those with experience in larger organisations, then listening to and acting on the responses we get.

So basically, I reckon one of the most important qualities a high-level manager in Arts administration can have is an open mind and a willingness to listen. Whether they're an ex-poet, a promoter or someone with management experience in a related area, it doesn't really matter, as long they're not an arrogant asshole who thinks they know it all. (like me) Indeed, I suspect we could use some new blood from different disciplines, coming in to suggest ways to improve. At the moment, live poetry is an obscure cultural curiosity on a par with beekeeping. It deserves so much better.

I should also point out here that I have met plenty of people within Arts administration who clearly devote an awful lot of time to listening to others, and who are incredibly conscientious and hard working. (I'm sure there are people reading this now thinking what? I spend my whole life in fucking meetings! Listening is all I fucking do!) It must be really difficult trying to synthesise lots of different people's opinions on a subject, all of whom have competing agendas, and many of whom, I'm sure, must come across as shambling simpletons. Also, I realise that the whole 'big project launch, big creative vision' way of doing things is, in part, a result of how organisations have to go about securing funding. 'Listening' sounds a bit woolly, unless you launch it as a 'big listening project' or just pitch another dreadful networking event (which tend to be weirdly uninclusive, closed shops). And, of course, at some stage somebody's got to cut through all the bullshit and actually make the decisions. Only hippies throw everything out to a vote, and look where that got them - crusted in their own filth, huddling round shards of green calcite for warmth. (and before someone chimes in with 'well you're just betraying your ignorance there, Tim - green calcite is actually for reducing anxiety' THEY'RE USELESS CHUNKS OF ROCK YOU GORMLESS LUDDITES)

I'll close with a quote from Shunryu Suzuki, to lend a spurious air of Zennish wisdom to my latest incoherent, axe-grindy blather. Suzuki famously wrote about cultivating a quality he called 'beginner's mind', once stating (perhaps a little mischievously) that the essence of Zen was 'not always so'. As he put it: 'In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.'

Monday, 14 December 2009

Worst Band Names Of The Year

So it's that time of year again. But while you might be hanging festive wreaths and guzzling Coca-cola, I'm celebrating the season of goodwill by reading the Onion AV Club's annual Worst Band Names list. Here are the lists from 2008 and 2007.

Most of these names are so crap it's impossible to imagine they weren't the unhappy result of a three-week meth-binge or aggressive mental illness. The 'Funk Bands With "Funk" Somewhere In Their Name' category (now called 'Funk Bands Will Never Get It') has become a reliable old favourite, with candidates like Clusterfunk, Dysfunkshun Junkshun, United We Funk and Hubble Funk-o-Scope, as has the 'We're So Heavy, Dude' category: Black Arrows Of Filth & Impurity, May This Day Perish, Disthroned Agony and Carnal Befoulment are just a few of the hardcore monickers to grace the lists. Rock.

Yet, this welter of dreadful notwithstanding, one or two back unwittingly into genius. My 'So Bad They're Kind Of Awesome' name picks from this year's list include Fuckface Unstoppable, Vagina Panther, and a Manchester MC who calls himself 'John The Raptist'. John The Raptist?! Don't look at me like that. Come on. Literal genius. Oh, and it was nice to see Dananananakroyd finally get a mention. I've seen them live twice this year, and not only do they put on a really belting show, but they seem like very sweet boys - you just want to take them home, give their grubby faces a spit-wipe and feed them some sausage and mash. Well, I do, anyway.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Purple Ronnie Stand-Up Poetry Club

This Thursday 17th December, I'll be performing with all seven members of Aisle16 at The Monto Water Rats Theatre, on Grays Inn Road. It's exceptionally rare that all of us are in the same place to do a gig, aside from the late night 'Aisle16 and Friends' sessions at Latitude festival.

A good portion of the show will be given over to our two- and three-man poems, which are always roistering fun. I know you'd expect me to say that - I'm hardly credible as a neutral advocate of Aisle16's live oeuvre - so, if you disbelieve me, check out Spoonfed's review of our appearance at Wave If You're Really There #5 with Wave Machines: 'fast-paced, cuttingly clever and ferociously funny performance poetry... performed with such vigour, to a crowd so completely engaged, that it is a joy to behold (and, yes, very clever too).' That's nice!

So yeah, doors are at 7:30pm, the nearest tube is Kings X - come down, and we'll do our best to give you a show to remember!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Pokémon Is A Tool Of Satan

I wonder how this chap would feel if he knew that, within the latest versions of Pokémon, they have their own church you can visit, laid out like a conventional Christian church, where people worship the Earth and Pokémon. No joke. Plus there are Ghost Pokémon who are literally the resurrected ghosts of dead Pokémon, now under your control. Anyway, I have 434 different Pokémon in my Pokédex now, so I'm probably beyond saving. Here's a little snippet from our scratch performance of Infinite Lives, with me ranting, despot-style, about Pokémon:

Friday, 4 December 2009

Games With Stupid Names - #11: The Lord Of King

In The Lord Of King, you play some beardy dude who pulls a magic fire axe out of a stone, becoming, in the process, a king. But not just any king. Oh no...

You're the Lord of King! Gooowaaaaarggghhh!

The rest of the game sees you waddling about hacking at weird mantis-creatures, skeletons, cruel wingéd gargoyles and a few fire-belching end of level bosses in an awkward and tedious chop-a-thon, the even timbre of its dullness undisturbed by a single moment of enjoyment from beginning to end. The control system is a piece of shit, your fire-axe takes way too long to charge up to be of any use in a melee, the difficulty curve goes piss-take exponential somewhere around Level 3, and the music is so unatmospheric they might as well have pressed a Casio keyboard's demo button and let you cleave giant bats to an instrumental version of 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go'.

When you lose your last life, a low-quality sampled voice sounding like Jo Brand with a mouthful of wet bread asks, almost maudlin: 'Don't you want to play this game?' then bellows with laughter, as if even he realises that the idea of squandering another second supping this abysmal tragedy juice is patently absurd.

Released in 1989, The Lord Of King is a blatant, albeit hamfisted, forgery of Taito's 1987 corker Rastan Saga, a game I particularly like on account of its being a univocalism in 'A'.

Rastan Saga is epic where The Lord Of King is anecdotal, visceral where the latter is coy, and fun where its rival is a flyblown mound of zebra shit.

Taking you over rocky mountain ranges, through fetid swamps and into trap-filled castles, it's a robust, well-realised Conanfest with just the right amount of hokey homoerotic thrills to keep your heart hammering in your chest - indeed, as your energy bar gets depleted, the discomfitingly realistic multi-chambered heart at the end begins to thud ever more rapidly, until you vaporise with an echoing moan.

Rastan Saga's soundtrack is particularly mighty, with lots of cool percussion and pounding multivoiced sections to get the blood pumping. Why not dribble a little of its barbariany love into your ear-gobs? 'Because I don't like video games, Tim.' What? Ah, fuck you! 'He who is bored of video game soundtracks from the late eighties is bored of life.' - Samuel Johnson

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Games With Stupid Names - #10: The Irritating Maze

Hello, yes, it's me, Tim Clare, inviting you to watch my strange, infrequent ritual of poking a shotgun muzzle into a barrel of writhing pilchards, then squeezing the trigger. What's that? Some old video games don't hold up to close aesthetic scrutiny? No shit!! What incisive, necessary reportage! You should, like, be given a job or something!

So in The Irritating Maze, you're supposed to guide a sort of cyberpunk dreidel-cum-gyroscope round an electrified pinball machine. You get to choose whether you'd prefer to be play as a 'Man' or 'Lady', although, in the interests of gender equality, this has no effect on the game mechanic whatsoever. You can't even see them onscreen during normal play.

I started off with the chick. She showed her approval by having some kind of mini-stroke.

So when you start the game, you see your selected avatars' gloved hands placing the 'zap rod' in the starting bay, then you're supposed to ease it around the course using the trackball, avoiding all edges and objects, which are crackling with voltage. It's basically a video game version of those 'steady hand' buzzer games, except a team of programmers worked on this for months, and it manages to be even less fun.

I was all set to make the obvious crack about truth in advertising, but if the creators really had wanted to give it a literal title, it would be called The Shit Game. Sure, it's irritating, but not in that whole Marble Madness aaargh! okay, okay, just one more go compulsive way - it's irritating like losing your i-pod, or getting buttonholed for three hours at a bad party by some dropout with vomit on his breath who won't stop going on about how awesome The Shawshank Redemption is, no, seriously, fucking listen a minute... that film is proper shit-hot, right? Proper... like, that ending, is the best fucking ending of any film ever. What? No, go on then, name a better film! No go on, name a better film! What? That's cos you can't.