Thursday, 26 May 2011

Book and Game: Ludicrous and Lonely

[Book and Game is a new feature for Cut Out & Keep. We select a book and a game that are somehow thematically linked in the hope of cross-pollinating the two mediums. Bookworms, try the game; Gamers, give the book a whirl!]

BOOK: The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break (Steven Sherrill)


In this heartbreaker, the Minotaur of legend is now working in a busy American steak-house kitchen, almost mute with insecurity. His co-workers never seem to notice that he is a bull-headed man, so nobody understands why he feels so awkward and out of place. Physically immense but hamstrung with self-consciousness, he is an aching depiction of loneliness trapped in a labyrinth of normality, where every possible friendship is like a spark in a cave.

The dreams of the Minotaur are almost pathetically modest and achievable, yet prey to malicious sabotage. As he does not have a human face, he is a blank canvas, standing for anybody who is trapped in a job that hurts them, surrounded by cruelty and, despite their physical strength, afraid to fight for what they really want. He has existed for centuries and even he is unsure why.

GAME: Octodad

You're an octopus. You're also the father of an all-American family. As in Minotaur, there are no answers as to how you got into this situation. The developers set the scene thus:

"His existence is a constant struggle, as he must master mundane tasks with his unwieldy boneless tentacles while simultaneously keeping his cephalopodian nature a secret from his human family."

Suspicion meters, children's assault courses, a homicidal and perceptive sushi chef and nigh-on impossible everyday chores conflict with your goal of creating a dummy 'you' to escape your family and return to where you belong. One of the most tragic scenes is Octodad's attempt to help his wife by cleaning out the fridge. Controlling one tentacle at a time, you fling everything onto the floor. Bafflingly, this pleases your wife. For anyone who's ever felt out of their depth, weighed down by the expectations on their role, or simply that even those closest to them never really knew them.

Monday, 23 May 2011

When 'No' means 'Yes'

Here's a comment from beneath this Guardian article, one of a feast of internet arenas where the proposal that 'rape is rape' is currently being aggressively debated, following controversial comments from MP Ken Clarke and MEP Roger Helmer, who have both suggested that there are gradations of seriousness in rape cases:

"Men get it fine. They just don't switch their brains off when they hear the word 'rape'. How come majority opinion on CIF can be quite detached when discussing murder, or burglary regarding it as a complex issue and even asserting that the perpetrator may be a victim of society, that the vengeful statements of victims is misplaced, that the indignation of public opinion is merely the frothing of ignorance fanned by the malice of the right wing press.
"But when it comes to discussing rape ..."

This point is made again and again, with varying degrees of rage and dismay, and is often linked to the much-put-about stereotype of feminists as shrill man-haters. In some ways, I'm not unsympathetic. It doesn't matter how much you talk down the prospect of being falsely accused of rape - the very idea is terrifying, and men are bound to attach some importance to it. Articles like this one, posted by an anonymous police blogger (now taken down - but the comments remain), seem to support the contention that the majority of rape allegations that don't make it to court turn out to be false. Why, then, it is asked, do rape campaigners persist in quoting the low conviction statistic without taking this into account?

To be fair, these are points that deserves an answer. So here is the answer.

First of all, the simple reason why it's instilled in multiple generations of feminists to make their points loudly, repeatedly and without much subtlety is because it makes the rest of us pay attention. They learn very quickly, one can intuit, that arguments made quietly, with built-in wiggle room, lead to them being at best ignored and at worst shouted down. Unfortunately, the tendency of those who consider themselves embattled with feminists is not to seek out and talk to those who are making their points quietly, intelligently and after lengthy consideration, but to react solely (and with predictable indignance) to those that reel off slogans and statistics. These feminists are often acting as digital demonstrators - criticising them for not behaving as if it's a panel show debate is like asking protestors to paint more caveats on their placards.

Secondly, any comparison to a violent crime or theft is somewhat misplaced because both can be, in certain situations, acts of self-defence or social justice. Robin Hood and Indiana Jones are heroic figures who rob and kill respectively. There is no equivalent in rape. A rape can never be anything other than an act of aggressive domination. The rapist may be a pitiable figure, set against the rest of society, but there is no sense in which we can say that society has raped them in the way we might say that society, through its harsh inequality, visits violence and theft upon those who are destitute. It is never an answer in kind.

What's more, when we discuss murder and theft in our more 'detached' way, we focus in on the criminal figure and their circumstances. The victim, more often than not, is just the victim. Only when debating rape does there seem to be an almost prurient interest in what the victim was doing at the time and how much 'responsibility' should be attributed to her.

Thirdly, and most important, when does 'No' mean 'Yes'? When men say it. As a nation, we seem to be quite happy to take part in Sun polls where more than 90% of us think rapists should be jailed for life, or hanged, and we're happy to hang around on messageboards declaring that we can't even understand the mindset of a rapist, and: "Of course rape is wrong! Of course it's terrible!" That shit is easy.

But we don't seem to really mean it. Otherwise, how on earth does a politician go into an interview without first sorting out in his head whether he means 'date rape' or 'statutory rape', or without noticing that an 18 year old having sex with a 15 year old isn't actually classified as rape at all? One can only imagine it didn't strike him as something he needed to be particularly precise about. How can another politician (a far more odious one, I might add) think it proper to come up with this sort of ludicrous example of a less 'serious' rape:

"Imagine that a woman voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment, voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naïvely expecting merely a cuddle.  But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says “Stop!”.  The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on."

There's no room for equivocacy on this: if you believe there is really such a thing as a young man 'unable to restrain himself' in such a situation, you don't take rape seriously. Yet this myth of the red-blooded male who has no control over his body seems to be widely accepted - and tacitly encouraged - by mainstream culture. Its very existence is an encouragement to rapists, who think they have an excuse that at least 50% of the population can somewhat get behind. And even if they knew full well they could stop, who could prove it?

The level of delusion here beggars belief. Is a man's sex drive so overpowering that they wouldn't stop if a fire broke out? Or if their parents walked into the room? Hardly. Which suggests that for some people - including, apparently, tory politicians - women's objections rate slightly lower than personal embarrassment in the scale of things to act on.

The idea that, in any other serious situation, a person's action or lack of action can be partially excused by their horniness is one that normally wouldn't even be raised (our child starved to death because we never came out of the bedroom? Ambulance late because on-call driver was engaged in foreplay?) The concept simply has no place in a morally intelligent society.

At the same time, we have this deep-seated hypocrisy regarding clothing and casual sex. When I searched Twitter for 'slutwalk' recently, the first tweet that came up was some wag suggesting that there was a contradiction in women not wanting to be objectified, whilst at the same time 'dressing like an object'. What 'object' is she dressing like exactly? Here we have the whole unpleasant mentality laid bare: the woman's body is the object. If she doesn't disguise her body adequately, she is flaunting it. The concept that a woman might want to dress in a particular way for her own personal satisfaction in her appearance, and not for the purposes of harvesting stares, genuinely seems to baffle some men - the same who seem to most easily believe that a man's reaction to a state of partial nudity is one he can't be expected to control (presumably, the effort it takes him not to crack one off there and then, in public, is stupendous).

When this sorry attitude is mixed in with the inexplicable tendency to want to implicate the victim in their own rape, we get ridiculous comparisons along the lines of: it's like leaving your keys in the ignition. Not only is the woman's body treated as a posession in this comparison, but her degree of nudity is a kind of moronic carelessness, because rapists are more likely to target them! This, despite the fact that the circumstances of most rapes (look up any account) don't appear to include the rapist making choices based on degrees of nudity. Moreover, if we must make the car key comparison, since most rapes are carried out by people the victim knows, it's more like taking your keys with you to a friend's party and leaving them in your jacket pocket, hanging up by the door. Then your friend's friends find them and steal your car. Oh well - you should have known better! And you do realise that they won't be punished because you can't 'prove' that you didn't leave the keys there with the express intention that they should help themselves?

So can you blame a woman for not trusting men when, collectively, we seem to be looking her in the eye and saying, "Rape is abhorrent", while making a secret signal over her shoulder to the rapist: "Don't worry - just make sure it isn't 'proper' rape. Just make sure you can pin some of the blame on her, and we'll all get ourselves in a lather worrying about how complex the issue is"?

Or, even better, when we seem to be saying: "Mate, just don't get caught." Objecting to the spinning of the rape statistics is missing the point. Rapists get away with it. Not in the same way murderers or thieves get away with it (because no one knows whodunnit) but because somehow, with all our great minds and modern gadgetry, we can't puzzle out a way to make conviction of the real perpetrators more certain. The worrying statistic isn't necessarily the allegations that are dropped; it's the number of rapes that aren't even reported. And we don't even know what that number is.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

New Irregular Features, Interview, Birdbook stockists!

We're excited to announce that, with help from Chrissy Williams, Kate Parkinson and Chris Larkin, Birdbook I: Towns, Parks and Gardens is now stocked in Foyles Royal Festival Hall (see Ms Amy Key's lovely photo above) and the London Review Bookshop, with more shops pending.

Well, it's only taken us till May to get Irregular Features' 2011 edition up and running! Here it is in all its glory at What have you got to look forward to?

With lots more to come!

In other news, me and Jon were interviewed recently by the lovely Caroline Crew for Flotsam! She quizzed us about Sidekick, Fuselit and the dynamics of two poets in a relationship, among many other topics.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

100 Word Review: Lamb and Tyger by Jude Cowan

On this album, Jude Cowan’s vocals take a holiday from tiptoeing (and sometimes star-jumping) over ukelele and bestiality and apply themselves instead to revamping the poetry of William Blake, using a Hammond organ, a salting of Child Ballads and a hearty dose of Nick Cave. Less joyfully bawdy, more music hall meets ghostly choir, the arrangements are subtle and ludic, never overshadowing the original work Cowan so clearly enjoys. Out of time and place, Lamb & Tyger’s bitesize ditties (the longest is under four minutes) are like scattered pearls. Strange and soothing, and a great way to get into Blake’s work.


For more Jude, head to

Monday, 16 May 2011

What To Do - K's pamphlet is loose!

Happenstance Press have very kindly released my first solo pamphlet, What To Do, in their trademark gorgeous design - cream cover with a menacing Ittan-momen, courtesy of artist Gillian Beaton, and delicious dark green end-papers.

Aside from killer scarves, expect Cat Stevens, a psychiatric institution populated by mythical figures and the odd lonely fetishist, among the other misfits roaming the pages.

Priced at £4 plus postage, here's what the blurb says:

This pamphlet is full of characters in trouble. The energy that drives the poems won’t settle for resolution, only the sense that however bizarre the action or injury, it has you by the throat and isn’t letting go. This is, as they say, something else.

Visit Happenstance's shop to see a sneak preview of one of the poems!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

...and another May update

While John and Kirsty are slaving over a hot printing press, I shall be out and about reacquainting myself with London's stages and microphones. Specifically:

Friday 6th - Bingo Master's Breakout, London's premier bingo poetry karaoke night. This time, it's not just your bog-standard bingo poetry karaoke: this month it's Eurovision bingo poetry karaoke, and I shall be representing Greece. Now, I know what you're thinking: how will I be providing a unique slant on Eurovision bingo poetry karaoke? I'll be combining it with a Feltographic commentary: that is how.

Sunday 8th - Open Mic at the Hideaway, guest-hosting in Fran Isherwood's shoes. We welcome musicians, comedians, storytellers, poets, burlesqueteers and casual drinkers with nothing better to do in the Tufnell Park area on a Sunday evening.

Tuesday 10th - The Camden School of Enlightenment will have some storytelling, fetish lecturing, improv comedy and an interview with dead poet Stevie Smith, amongst other Jedi mindf---s. As usual, I shall be discharging my duties as Headmaster of Ceremonies.

Wednesday 18th - Touch Me I'm Sick, co-hosting again, with the most lovable Joe Campbell of R'n'B News fame. Three featured poets (TBA), and floorspot poemswapping (bring two poems: one to read yourself, and another to go in the champagne cooler for somebody else to read).

Monday, 2 May 2011

May Update!


Well, Birdbook is finally out, as this handsome Dutch golem will attest to. Now we only need to do the work of an entire marketing department! Support so far from the poetry community has been fantastic, but we aim to distribute this book further afield as well. It's a learning experience so don't kick us too hard if we mess up!

In the next week, we should have the first Irregular Features of 2011 up. These include reviews, an interview and a new article by Andrea Tallarita with a typically interesting premise.

Apart from that, we're getting on with Fuselit: Contraption. I should have an 'Under Development' bar at the side, just so I don't need to keep assuring people we're 'getting on' with stuff. We are. We're just not quite Aperture Science. Or Valve, for that matter.

Kirsty is due to release her debut pamphlet, What To Do, this month, through Happenstance. It has lots of really good poems in. Kirsty and I generally avoid saying too much about each other's work because you obviously can't trust us to be impartial, but for the record, I've always thought she's a more naturally gifted poet than me with a stronger individual style. Her subject matter is also of note - rather than ranging over whole glossaries of material in the contemporary way, she tends to stick more closely to treatments of outsiders and individuals in desperate and sad-comic situations, often related to sexual repression, but generally avoids the 'worthy' or 'Phil Collins' perspective. I honestly think the main reason she hasn't been published more widely before now is because most of what she writes is too dark to be celebratory and too witty to be moralistic or melancholic. That, and her work is usually quite syntactically complex without being avante.

Other things dragging their heels over the distant horizon:
  • e-book editions of our micro-anthologies
  • online editions of past Fuselits (probably 1. Demo and 12. Fox)
  • the first Sidekick Books 'team-up' pamphlet
  • Coin Opera 2 and our first charity anthology
So stick with us! We may be slow but we get there in the end!