Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Celestial Homework Club

This is my first blogpost, so, welcome to The Celestial Homework Club. The blog’s name references Allen Ginsberg, a man whose work and life I really admire and am inspired by. There’s a directness and honesty in his poetry that’s like someone speaking right into your ear in order to provoke and invite a conversation and that’s very much the spirit I’d like this blog to invoke.

Allen Ginsberg

Recently, The Paris Review posted a copy of the reading list that Ginsberg drew up for students on the course he taught at Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) in Colorado. Ginsberg and another poet, Anne Waldman, had launched The Jack Kerouack School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa and his course was called ‘Literary History of the Beats.’ Ginsberg realized that a lot of his students hadn’t read many of the writers (“antient [sic] scriveners” he called them) who had influenced the Beats so came up with a reading list that he designated their “Celestial Homework.” It includes Yeats, Blake, Whitman, Poe, Dickinson, Shakespeare and many others, including some of the Beat writers themselves.

By taking Ginsberg’s phrase and creating The Celestial Homework Club I intend to write about those things that have influenced and inspired me – the books, art, music, films, etc. that make up my experience of the world – and would love to hear about yours. Here’s the first page of Ginsberg’s original reading list, with The Poetry Foundation's helpful links to many of the texts mentioned:

I love it when writers you like offer tips for reading and more of this is becoming available through online resources - I'd much rather them than Amazon! Wonderful writers such as Milan Kundera (in Testaments Betrayed, The Art of the Novel, The Curtain and Encounter) and Alberto Manguel (in The History of Reading and The Library at Night) are like trusted friends leading you along the labyrinthine path towards becoming a better reader - by that I mean someone who's always searching to be challenged, stretched and stimulated by reading to become, in my case, a better writer. 

Milan Kundera

Alberto Manguel

I’m also going to write about myself – something I actually find quite difficult – because there have been some changes in my life recently. A year or so ago I gave up my relatively secure, relatively well-paid lecturing job at the University of Greenwich, to go freelance and focus on my own work. I loved teaching, and would never say I’ll not go back to it, but being in the classroom with Creative Writing students was becoming less and less what the job was about. It’s also the case that, try as you might, your own creativity takes a back seat to facilitating the work of others and, after ten years, that really got to me. It was a family bereavement that finally prompted me to change all that and, whilst I sometimes miss that regular salary, I’ve no other regrets at all. On top of all of that the Higher Education sector in the UK is changing, and not for the better (more on that, I’m sure, in future posts). I’m glad I got out when I did.

I've been lucky enough to get involved with the LGBT arts & culture online journal, Polari Magazine and was recently made Arts Editor. All of us who write for Polari do so for free because we believe in  what the magazine is doing - offering intelligent, interesting and creative content that's about lives and not lifestyles. 

The magazine's two founders, Christopher Bryant (Editor) and Bryon Fear (Designer), have worked like demons, again for no money, to produce the magazine since they set it up 5 years ago. It's growing in circulation and reputation and there are exciting things in the pipeline - watch this space!

Another big change coming up is that I’m going to live in Lisbon, Portugal, from August – though I’ll be making frequent trips to London (every month or so). I’m following my heart there after 2 years in a long-distance relationship. When considering where we should base ourselves my boyfriend and I figured out that it’s actually cheaper for us to rent a large flat in Lisbon and for me to commute to the UK than it is for us to get a one-bedroomed flat in London (he’s an artist and has even less money than me). That’s a crazy financial situation and one that I know a lot of other people struggle with. Surely it’s unsustainable?

It’s odd to think that I’m going to live in a country that is essentially picking itself up from bankruptcy but where the quality of life in many ways still seems pretty good – you can eat out and drink so cheaply there but it has all the advantages of being a capital city – and there’s a high level of spoken English generally (thank goodness as I’m still at the very early stages of learning Portuguese!) 

If you’ve never visited Lisbon I would highly recommend it – it’s a beautiful little jewel of a city that puts the shabby into chic and I’ve grown to love it over the past couple of years, as I’ve grown to love my partner.    

Talking of love, here’s Ginsberg reading one of his poems that I love – 'King of May' – in 1965 at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and sitting next to him is Neal Cassidy who Ginsberg loved.

Neal Cassady

The French novelist Emile Zola wrote, "If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I came to live out loud." This is an appealing and frightening idea for me - living out loud doesn't come naturally, but that's something I aim to change. I've become increasingly interested in the relationships between life and art and how art can be a portal to your own emotions, a way of talking about yourself when you talk about art, but also how it can create a cocoon as well as offer a sanctuary. It can be difficult to get the balance right. The Celestial Homework Club is somewhere I hope to explore all this and more. Living out loud.

Emile Zola (by Manet, 1868)

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