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blog Eddus Watches

Eddus Watches: AJ and the Queen

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“I want to be sat down a lot”

Rupaul’s Drag Race has been a huge success, it’s been on for over a decade with 11 main seasons, 4 all stars seasons, and most recently the excellent UK version for BBC Three.  Unsurprisingly Rupaul has been searching for another project to capitalise on this success, to strike while the hot glue gun is hot. And out of this we had a failed Ellen-Style Talk Show, which I found very stilted and underwhelming (I only suffered through one episode to be fair) and now AJ and the Queen, a Netflix series made in collaboration with Michael Patrick King, who is responsible for Sex and the City as well as cult favourite and Lisa Kudrow power vehicle The Comeback.

The rumours swirling around were that Rupaul was looking for a project where she could sit down a lot during filming. A project with a lot of driving then, would be ideal. I don’t blame her, being a drag queen is performing in uncomfortable shoes for hours on end, having already spent three hours in hair and make up. Another rumour, later confirmed by Rupaul on her podcast, was that they filmed the entire New York to Dallas road movie series within 20 miles of Los Angeles.

The show essentially wishes to reheat the road movie magic of Priscilla Queen of the Desert or even To Wong Foo and smear it across a multi-episode Netflix series, I think this is a good premise. The road movie convention is a useful form of narrative for a tv series. Each episode can easily be contained with its own unique plot, a stop along the way, whilst still advancing the overall season story. Time doesn’t need to be 100% consistent, as we can presume that we’re only being shown the highlights of the journey and it’s an easy way to show the audience a story with a resolution, each episode and each season, the characters are travelling towards something and we want to know if they ever get there. So far this is Screenwriting 101.

The bad idea came in the form of giving Ruby Red (Rupaul) a troubled and angry 10 year old stowaway child companion for the ride. I can see the creators also wanted to capture a bit more of the realism and gritty emotion of something like Transamerica, the fantastic trans road movie with a pre-prison and Oscar Nominated Felicity Huffman. Had AJ been a character in their early twenties, it would have raised eyebrows but would have been better. But other characters rarely question why Ruby has a ten year old child with her, and this dodgy arrangement only pokes through into the main plot a few times. It doesn’t always feel like the writers are all the way convinced that it’s okay so they just leave it.

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Catastrophically bad

The acting is at times catastrophically bad, whilst there are moments of tenderness and emotion from Rupaul (mostly when not speaking) a lot of Ru’s  lines are delivered by someone who hasn’t read the script and is being fed them through an earpiece. There are jokes in the dialogue that are as worn out as the RV’s tires, not helped by the painfully wooden and expected delivery. If you’ve ever watched Drag Race, you know all these jokes already. The actor playing AJ seems to have attended the Daniel Radcliffe School of Child Acting. It’s all temper tantrums, over-reacting, and juicing those bad lines like a sous chef desperate to make enough fresh orange juice for a large Brunch party.

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Tia Carrere, the only person acting on the whole show

Congratulations must be given to Tia Carrere for her schlocky and Michelle Visage inspired portrayal of Lady Danger, one of the main baddies. Lady Danger is a character who would be at home in a John Waters movie, and in a way, I wish they had committed to making the tone of the show a bit more outrageous, as she is. Carrere manages to make the character funny and watchable with enough shades of menace. Unlike others in the cast, she is acting and it is believable which is a stand out achievement in this context. You can see there’s a struggle at the centre of the show about what it is, it desperately wishes to be earnest, to tackle big issues and make you cry, but it also can’t help but enjoy itself with campy big performances.

AJ and the Queen strives for the glossy look of The L Word and it succeeds in certain moments, however this look and this style is woefully out of date in this decade.  Each episode starts with a glossy slow motion shot of something which is supposed to be grand and metaphorical, this is coupled with a voice-over from AJ explaining what you’re seeing. These moments  don’t seem to connect with the content of the episode at all and serve as filler. It’s an odd choice and feels like something that the creators came up with and have stuck to and no one else on production had the heart to tell them that it wasn’t working and was a little outdated.

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Always a joy to see more Chad Michaels

The cameos from Drag Race queens give us some of the most enjoyable moments in the show, although those without a literacy in the world of Drag Race will be bewildered by a lot of the references. I thought Chad Michael’s turn as another older queen who was swindled by the same man who romanced and stole Ruby’s/Rupaul’s savings was brilliant. You could sense the delight these queens take in acting with Rupaul, they don’t have to defer to her as they did when they were on her reality show, most characters are mean and bitchy and it’s fun to watch. At one point Kennedy Davenport shouts in Rupaul’s face: “YOU’RE BROKE GURL” with such hilarious glee, it’s like watching a sixth form variety show where the students are on stage mocking their teachers who are sat in the audience, in on the joke.

Ultimately AJ and the Queen is a slow-motion multi-vehicle freeway accident which I cannot and do not wish to shield my eyes from. Despite the awful things I have detailed above (I didn’t even get to the “Blind” acting by Michael-Leon Wooley) it is annoyingly compelling to watch. Having just heard a Season 2 is on the way, I hope they hire some new writers and maybe some new actors as well before we go on another road trip!

Watchable TRASH. I give it TWO Rupaul Party City Wigs out of FIVE

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Categories
blog Eddus Plays

Eddus Plays: Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009/2016)

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“I loved Ezio… who wouldn’t want to play as a beautiful, tortured Italian fuck-boy, who is mates (and maybe more?) with Leonardo Da Vinci?”

 

Having been a Nintendo boy for the past few decades there are whole franchises I’ve been interested in playing that I’ve not been able to until now. Last year, I caved and got myself a PS4 and I’m catching up on all these games, most of them at very reasonable prices!

First up: Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009), as part of the remastered Ezio Collection which was released in 2016.

I love open world games and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is my favourite game of all time. I love wandering about and discovering things, this freedom is what I’ve always wanted from video games. There’s a lot of appeal to the idea of open worlds in places I have visited and I’ve always wanted to play the Assassin’s Creed game which features Florence, so I fired up Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009).

I had NO context for what Assassin’s Creed games were like, apart from watching a few reviews and I was a little confused to be playing a character within the present in a hoodie and jeans for the first ten minutes before laying on a strange VR-bed and sent back into my own DNA memories of Renaissance Italy (as far as I could tell?) This seemed wildly improbable to me but, why not? I was up for it. It was quite a clever conceit for the game, and gave the designers the excuse to have things “glitch out” when changing from different memories, and explained the digital HUD and menus as part of the system.The overall style of the game is VERY 2000s, graphic design like a slightly fussy men’s grooming salon. The Assassin’s Creed emblem which is everywhere resembles an A, sure, but it does also seem very vaginal. Whether this becomes a plot point later on, a la The Da Vinci Code who knows?!

I immediately loved the voice acting. People who were not at ALL Italian just going for it with their accents. At one point, I assume as a joke, one character shouts: “IT’S-A ME, MARIO” to our protagonist, Ezio.

I loved Ezio. Who wouldn’t want to play as a beautiful, tortured Italian fuck-boy who is mates (and maybe more?) with Leonardo Da Vinci? The thrill of having Leonardo turn up was wonderful and I couldn’t stop myself from shipping them, what a gorgeous couple they’d make? Ezio, why not just give it all up and embrace the love that dare not speak its name?

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They clearly love each other

Meandering around Florence with its gaggles of prostitutes and thieves for hire was a real joy, as was climbing the famous Duomo and it’s bell tower and looking at the wide landscape around me. It was moments like this that make me love video games, having this sort of freedom and taking in an entire landscape, especially one that was so familiar to me. I spent some of my honeymoon in Florence and we had an Airbnb right by the Ponte Vecchio. We spent a lot of time walking the medieval streets and in the game I recognised, not just the main tourist attractions, but certain alleyways, piazza, and bridges too. It felt like a real, loving portrait of Florence and it was lovely to inhabit the environment with its bustling piazza and narrow streets. Character’s costumes especially in cut scenes looked authentic enough (I’m no expert) if  a little painted on to a flat but stretchy sort of surface (it’s an old game with a fresh coat of paint!) the plot within the flashback world of the game seemed plausible. The added historical details given at each new important building and with each important character were a great optional extra that helped cement the world and the huge amount of research which went into the game.

An early mission of climbing to the top of the Palazzo Vecchio to visit my imprisoned and soon to be executed father, was a highlight, though the dated and dodgy controls did make some of the precise climbs and jumps difficult to complete. This would be a common thing during my play-through sadly, where jumping controls of the game felt very dated, clunky, and imprecise when the game is asking you for precision. One mission later on when you go inside of the Duomo, which is still under construction and is totally empty was quite frustrating for it’s precise jumping and falling from a great height, mostly by accident, if things went wrong. The thrill of making it very high up inside this huge building was exciting though. These more platformy indoor sections were of variable quality and sometimes I’d just not know where I was supposed to be going. Combat was another issue that reminded me that this was an older game with a fresh new look, it felt mostly that I was hammering Square just to get it done and there was no real skill to fighting. The camera would also sometimes just fully obscure my view during fights, which sometimes didn’t even hamper my progress too much. The assassinations, sneaking up to nameless guards on rooftops and those during missions were often very satisfying, especially when using the small retractable wrist knife Ezio carries. I am not really into violent games generally, but there was a deep satisfaction from swooping down from a rooftop on top of a corrupt official to stab him in the neck. I hope writing this doesn’t put me on some special list.

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Italian sunshine, the Tuscan landscape and people firing arrows at you, a perfect holiday

Moving to locations outside of Florence, the game suddenly felt quite dated, a sort of half open world half pen area which was in between Florence and San Gimignano seemed strange and empty.  But there was something nice about riding a horse through the fields with cypress trees dotted about the place though. The missions in San Gimignano were enjoyable as well, climbing those towers and wire walking between them in the bright Italian afternoon sun when under fire from archers was pretty enjoyable, once I knew what I was supposed to be doing. One thing I found with most missions was there was not always a clear view of what I was supposed to do and I often found myself trying to read the landscape as a clue as to where the designers wanted me to go.

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Venice is a beautiful, colourful playground

When I got to Venice, I couldn’t believe it. The game was mirroring my honeymoon! We had spent a week in Florence and then travelled to Venice for a few days. Venice is an incredible place that feels unreal when you are there in real life due to it’s iconic canals, buildings, and gondolas, coming here in the game was such a treat. The game was suddenly much more colourful and exciting. I loved being able to swim in the canals, steal gondolas and climb up the Campanile in Saint Mark’s Square. Venice truly bests the already great experience of exploring Florence. It was amazing. The level of details in the architecture and cityscape was another level of impressive, especially for a game that came out in 2009. The detail was so enjoyable and brilliant, that I sort of felt like the game designers were close to just throwing out the whole Assassin’s Creed thing all together and to just make a game of wandering around historically accurate renaissance cityscapes. I’d play that!

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avoid the crowds by scaling buildings!

The game sings when you’re exploring a city, especially on the rooftops of Florence and Venice. I imagine maybe the streets are made too cluttered with NPC monks, prostitutes and noble men to force you up that ladder to skip from rooftop to rooftop instead. Sometimes when you’ve reached a combo of moves you glide through the air wonderfully and it’s brilliant, especially with the beautiful shining Duomo ahead of you, or the incredible Saint Mark’s Square. Overall that’s what I wanted from this game, which I still have not finished (this game is HUGE!), that freedom to sail across the terracotta tiled rooftops of Italy in the beautiful sunshine, occasionally murdering a guard who is asking too many questions.

 

My score is FOUR out of FIVE gay Leonardo Da Vincis 

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Categories
blog Creative Folk eddus interviews

Creative Folk: Lori Smith

 

“I like the way my brain works when I’m creating something. I get lost in the process of idea construction and realisation…”

 

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Over the summer I interviewed a few friends about their creative processes, as a poet, I wanted to hear from people who were creative in other ways as a way of seeing what we all share as creative folk and what we can learn from each other’s processes.

Lori Smith is a writer and researcher with a firmly held belief in the power of using clothing to shape our identities and improve wellbeing. She likes her fashion to be sustainable, and her feminism to be intersectional. You can find her sharing colourful outfits photos over on Instagram as @lipsticklori. In this interview she discusses having an appreciative audience, using Instagram as a diary, and Darth Vader glitter flats.  

 

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What is your main creative practice? 

Getting dressed in the morning! It might sound strange but putting together an outfit, an overall look, is a fantastic creative outlet for me and also a way of improving my mental health. Seriously, who cannot fail to be cheered by the sight of their own feet when they’re wearing leopard print shoes with big red hearts on the toes?

 

What drives you to do you do what you do?

It really started when I began working at London College of Fashion and realised that I didn’t have to save any clothes ‘for best’, as my colleagues were the most appreciative audience and would never question why you were wearing something, only comment on how glorious it was. I have worn dresses to work that many would think better suited to a wedding, and have been told that even a look I deemed to be quite casual was “100% more put together than I’ll ever be on a good day.” When someone notices that I have picked up the colours in a silk scarf and used them throughout the rest of my outfit or make up, that always makes my day. Also, I love it when strangers on the Tube tell me they love my shoes – my Darth Vader glitter flats from Irregular Choice get a lot of commute love!

 

How do you edit or structure your creativity/projects? 

When planning an outfit, I usually start by considering if there’s one item that I really want to wear today/tomorrow, or if there’s a particular colour I want to include in my look. Then I build the outfit based on a combinations of garments and accessories in my wardrobe that I know will work together. An outfit is often also affected by what I am going to be doing on that day (e.g. doing lots of walking, or working in a cold building) and what the weather is like, as some of my shoes are sadly not waterproof! Occasionally, I’ll scroll back through my old Instagram posts to see if there are any outfit combinations that I’ve not worn in a while and use those for inspiration. I wrote a post last year about how to use Instagram to document your style, and think that my account is now a much better representation of my personal style than it was a few years ago so I am often my own inspiration. Most of my outfits start with one key thing and build from there – today it’s my new Fenty Beauty lipstick, which is red, and I wanted that colour to feature strongly in my overall look.

 

Who influences your work or practice? 

I’m influenced on a daily basis by lots of the people I follow on Instagram, many of whom have great sense of colour or style. They can be fashion bloggers or influencers but many are friends and colleagues. Basically, anyone with a strong personal look who is happy in what they’re wearing has a positive influence on me and how I dress.

 

What other art forms influence you? 

I’m hugely influenced by photography, and not just because it intersects so beautifully with fashion. I love how a creative art form that is so democratic – available to all of us via that little handheld computer in our pockets – can still be pushed to such exciting creative limits by anyone with the desire to make interesting images. It takes time to hone those skills and patience to practice them, but the results can make us stop our endless scrolling and take a minute or two to just look. I went to see Rankin being interviewed at the V&A last year and was completely in awe of how arresting his work can be, and how he is using his platform to raise awareness of issues such as the lack of diversity in fashion imagery.

 

What other creative pursuit would you like to try? 

I’ve tried so many that it’s more likely to be a choice of which one I’d like to go back to! Many years ago, I used to paint and draw a lot, then I got into photography in a serious way. More recently I’ve tried embroidery, both by hand and machine. I really enjoy learning how to do/make something so that I better understand the process and have a deeper appreciation for the work of others who are using that skill. I think that I’d like to try learning digital illustration next, perhaps by taking a short course or teaching myself how to use Adobe Illustrator.

 

How do you feel when you’re creating something?

I like the way my brain works when I’m creating something. I get lost in the process of idea construction and realisation, ignoring distractions for once. I guess this is a sign that I need more creativity in my life!

 

What do you do when you’re not being creative? 

I can usually be found in an archive, doing fashion history research, or relaxing in front of the telly. Good TV shows combine great storytelling, cinematography, performance, costumes… so many different forms of creativity working together! The last thing I watched and was completely absorbed by was a German show called Dark, on Netflix. I’m also trying to read more books to inspire me to write one of my own.

 

 

Thank you Lori for generously agreeing to be interviewed! Lori can be found:

@lipsticklori on instagram 

http://www.rarelywearslipstick.com/

 

Categories
blog Polari for Beginners

Polari for Beginners: Unit 1 ‘ello Duckie

Unit 1: ‘ello duckie 

 

‘ello duckie and welcome to Polari for Beginners, a short little bite sized podcast where I teach you how to speak Polari. I’m eddus your host and your local omi palone 

 

By the end of this unit you will be able to say hello, goodbye and ask people you meet how they are doing. Before we start a quick note about Polari itself. The word Polari comes from the Italian to speak. Polari is a language that grew up in the LGBTQ community in London in the twentieth century with influences from the various languages spoken in London, such as Italian, french, yiddish, and gaelic. Cockney rhyming slang and backslang were also huge influences on the language. Having a common language meant that LGBTQ folks could speak to each other in a secret and protected way without raising suspicions about their behaviour to the wider society. Expressions of queer behaviour in public were illegal for most of the 20th century hence the need for a private, safe space to which to communicate.  

 

Now enough of that my luvvies, let’s get on with it! 

 

Repeat after me: ‘Ello Duckie 

 

Here Duckie is a term of endearment, but can be used for anybody you meet who seems friendly and is perhaps so or a fellow fruit (more on those words later)

 

You can also say: Coo Eee which one says when you meet someone unexpectedly or you’re just popping around to someone’s house for a quick chin wag or a lovely cackle

 

Now for a full sentence, repeat after me: 

‘ello duckie, it’s loverly to vada yer eek.  Literally translated this means, Hello there my friend, it’s lovely to see you. In this sentence vada means to see, a loan word from Italian. Eek is a shortened version of ecaf which is an example of backslang, where a word is spoken backwards, this word being of course face. Notice how you leave off the aitch in hello, you add another syllable into the word lovely “loverly”. You say yer instead of your. Remember to keep your words loose and flowing, it’s a tonal and musical language. Let it flow, duckie.     

 

So you meet a fellow omi on the street and say, ‘ello duckie or even coo ee. What you do you say next? Either a simple, u alright darling? or having a bona day of it darling? or for close friends, hey bitch, or alright, you slag? Bona is one of those words you’ll hear a lot in your adventures in polari. It means good, and it’s another word we get from Italian. It also fulfills one of the other important aspect polari, the potential for double entendre. Bona sounds like the word boner, which as I’m sure you can all agree is hilarious. Spread your bona all around as much as you can. Share it with cherished friends and loved ones. Remember the bona deep within you. Look for that bona in each and every da.  when you wake up each morning praise that bona right there in front of you grasp it by the hand.    

 

So after you’ve had a quick cackle with your omis on the street, she’s got to get off for an appointment or you have to run for the bus, how do you say goodbye? 

 

Ta’ra duckie repeat after me Ta’ra duckie 

other ways you can say goodbye are Fare Well or even a grand Arrivederci for those you may not see for a while. Arrivederci is another Italian loan word, but remember you don’t need to put on an Italian accent to say it. 

 

So what words have we learned today? 

 

‘ello or coo ee for hello or hi 

Duckie for darling or my friend 

Vada means to see 

Eek means face 

Bona means good

Ta’ra or Arrivederci for good bye   

 

So now I must say ta’ra to you my duckie. I hope you’ve enjoyed Unit 1 of Polari for Beginners. I’m eddus your local omi palone. You can find me at eddus on twitter or on my website edgarveylong.com   

 

Thank you for listening to this podcast.  If you’re looking for more resources about polari, I recommend going to youtube and listening to the Julian and Sandy sketches which were performed by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, these sketches are an amazing way to hear the musicality and beauty of the language. As always this podcast is dedicated to the patron saint of polari, Kenneth Williams. Thank you so much for listening and I look forward to taking you through unit two very soon, my omi palones, ta ra!

Categories
blog

REVIEW: The Europeans – David Clarke & Shrines of Upper Austria – Phoebe Power

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No doubt the poets of the future will look back on the era we currently suffer through and wonder how any of us wrote any poems at all, let alone ones about politics. The ongoing and ever-evolving horrors of Brexit have infused themselves into our lives almost completely and I would find it impossible to write about a subject so contentious, difficult, and evolving every day. These two poets have written interesting, intriguing and passionate books with Europe as their central theme, in these books we travel out towards dark Austrian lakes and back again to dodgy and dingy British pubs in the rain.

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“And yet we cannot fault the service
in the Hotel Europa.”

The Europeans – David Clarke

Published by Nine Arches Press {Link}

“The Europeans
had much to say of poetry and much silence to say it into.

I became convinced they knew something
they would not tell me, but I did not dare
to ask the veterans on the parched square”

 – The Europeans

David Clarke’s second collection probes the politics of English and European identity from a variety of angles. The collection explores these ideas from a particularly working class “non-metropolian” perspective which at times views the continent with suspicion and exoticism.

Travel is a major concern in the collection, and Europe itself is often seen as a hotel, in the opening poem:

“And yet we cannot fault the service
in the Hotel Europa. Even though it’s just after
or before a war and long-retired
waiters have been pressed back into the ranks

of the white gloved.”

– An Invitation

In this poem we see the community of the European Union as a Hotel, something European Nationals buy into like a service, which works as efficiently as it can, built as it was in the chaos of Post-World War Two Europe. This poem enjoyably captures a relaxed and intriguing continental atmosphere. Clarke is adept at turning phrases and bringing surprise into the poems.

In the poem “The Europeans” quoted at the beginning of this section, Clarke explores the idea of Europe as the standard bearer for culture, placing isolationist Englishness as a counterpoint to this. The idea of Europe as a cultured and free place is explored against the constrained and uncultured Englishness that the poet experiences in their daily life.

The pub is a symbol of Englishness that the poet keeps returning to, “In the Snug” takes on Far Right attitudes, and, seemingly, Nigel Farage:

“Little man, you are my grinning birthright,
frog-faced in your better bookie’s coat.
You lean against the ale-damp bar of England

and stroke the giggling landlady’s chubby hand,
Cooing words that stick in bigot’s throats.”

-In the Snug

If the Hotel is the poet’s metaphor for the European community, efficient, interesting and liberal, the Pub is poet’s metaphor for Englishness, isolated, bigoted, intoxicated and divorced from reality. Alongside Pubs, the rain is a consistent theme and an easy shorthand for a lot of English experience. It’s not all bad though, in one of the closing poems of the collection “Land of Rain” Clarke explores a nostalgic view of rain and a desire to return to those earlier memories, even if they were rainy.

The poems in this collection have a confidence that one would expect from a second collection. I enjoyed the questions it was asking of the reader and it was commendable that the poet decided to explore these big ideas, however in exploring this big ideas and the anger surrounding them, I felt the poems themselves lacked an emotional engagement, outside of the anger that runs through the collection. There were a handful of personal moments, but overall the book was about exploring these large questions about Englishness and Europeanness, ultimately though enjoyable, I feel the collection could have done more to explore the poet’s personal connection with the subject matter.

* * *

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“if you wanted you could stay / till the flame burned down.”

Shrines of Upper Austria – Phoebe Power

Published by Carcanet {Link}

“There’s a Schloss in the town
I’m living in, named for
my constituency

‘Cumberland, a lake-rich
county of England’,
where I vote by proxy”

-In and Out of Europe

In Phoebe Power’s debut collection, which won the Forward Prize for best first collection, and was also nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize, there are an incredible array of poetry on display. We see and hear the Austria of today through a poet travelling through the region, the Austria and the Britain of the past through the voice of a grandmother who married a British soldier after the Second World War. The collection also brings in themes of climate change as a contemporary concern and the deep cultural connections between the UK and Austria, through similarities in language and the Schloss Cumberland which is mentioned twice in the collection:

“it’s a fake fairy castle
like disney logo

there’s one bit that’s old
curly locks on the door
white roses im Garten

goats who spoke to me loudly
and a hidden lake.”

-Schloss Cumberland

Like the Americanised ideal of the European castle that the Disney company built outside of Paris, during earlier moments in European cultural history, people have brought ideas from other places and these have been successfully transplanted and warmly received until their foreignness is not even seen any longer. This is one of the many subtle ways that Power brings forward the argument of unity within Europe.

As a German speaker I gained an enormous amount of pleasure from the use of German within the poems, especially using words which have shared roots in both languages. The use of “Garten” in the above quote does this perfectly, we can see from the context and the sonic similarities that “Garten” means Garden and using the German word instead stresses our shared linguistic history and makes the reader feel that they are participating in this other language as they read the poems. For me, this use of language added an extra level of enjoyment as I could feel the different words working together well, I appreciate however that those who do not speak German might find the use of the language in line amongst English with no demarcation of difference a little strange and that this might take readers out of the moment somewhat. A recurring word in the collection is “See” meaning lake. It is easy for readers to connect the German word with the English “Sea”. In a way this particular choice of bringing in the German word, gives the lakes a larger presence, linking it to the English word “Sea”. The lakes of Cumberland are contained in some way, but the huge See of Upper Austria seem to ebbe and flow more like the open water of a sea. There is a glossary of words and phrases at the back of the collection, giving it another function as a phrase book of sorts, if you’re travelling in Austria and keen to go to a Konditorei (cake shop) for Kaffee-Kuchen (coffee and cake) the book will be useful.

The sequence “from A Tour of Shrines of Upper Austria” gives us a series of impressionistic poems describing the religious shrines. Each one is a small and detailed world in itself (much like the poems in the whole collection) and we gain not only a sense of the places themselves but also of the traveller discovering them:

“Behind, the painting:
Mary gets a crown, ascension.
seven stars of straw
tucked in the top iron frame.

first I’ll draw
then photograph

if you wanted you could stay
till the flame burned down.

I have to kneel
inside to take a good picture”

-“From A Tour of Shrines of Upper Austria”

The shrines are beautiful, idiosyncratic places, each putting its own local customs and saints on display. Each shrine is like it’s own little member state of a union, welcoming  visitors, with a shared belief but also a variety of interpretations.

This sequence happens early on in the collection as a way of opening up the door for the grandmother to appear, the voice of someone who grew up in Austria, but moved to Britain after World War Two. Through the collection we gain an ever deeper sense of the relationship between the grandmother and the poet (there are two voices present in many of these grandmother poems). This sort of personal exploration is bold and exciting to explore as a reader. It’s a beautiful way of documenting a past which generations currently living feel ever more distant from and gives the contemporary exploration of Austria more purpose and poignancy.

Reading the collection is a breathtaking and eclectic experience. This book deserves the high praise in prizes and nominations it received. Like the shrines that give the book its title, the poems are idiosyncratic, intriguing, emotional and important.

Books reviewed:
The Europeans – David Clarke
Published by Nine Arches Press {Link}
Shrines of Upper Austria – Phoebe Power 
Published by Carcanet {Link}
Books photographed by reviewer on backdrop of the book: Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski {Link}
Categories
blog good reads

REVIEW: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

So You've Been Publicly ShamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really interesting. Read this as a way to stay off twitter as much as possible. Ultimately the cases of public shaming Ronson gets into are very interesting and ones I remember from when they occurred. The link between twitter and the idea of a dark ages mob justice is interesting and adds weight to the book. Interesting bits about Prisons (both real and in psychological experiments).

The powerlessness in our day to day lives and the despicable politics of our current time make us feel the need to take control and deliver ‘justice’ for someone at least, so people’s lives are destroyed for tweeting unfunny things which can be read as being explicitly racist (when they truly didn’t intend this). It’s made me really aware of how quickly we pass judgement on people without appreciating the nuances of their situations.

One thing about the book that frustrated a little was the sheer volume of stories which were told. Within paragraphs some people were shamed online (or, in one of the most affecting stories, in court) and then their lives spiralled out of control, then, tragically they often committed suicide. All within a paragraph. We were often not given enough time to process all this before another shorter story occurred.

Sadly there is a lot of suicide and violence reported in the book, linking self harm and violence in general to feelings of shame. Please beware if this is triggering content for you.

There’s a real lack of empathy to a lot of online interaction and this book has really made me rethink how we should act online. We need to strive to me as warm and forgiving as possible, to be part of the internet’s calm ‘suburb’ instead of its chaotic violent centre.

Worth a read !

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REVIEW: The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp

The Naked Civil ServantThe Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my second reading of this book, first reading for was a few years ago. I came back to it because I have been craving more queer voices and I have a great love for the early to mid twentieth century queers whose struggles we all need to remember are close to being our own but for a few decades.

The book is beautiful for its directness and its voice. It’s an almost chatty spoken narrative that vaguely moves in chronological order from the 1930s through the Second World War to the sixties and seventies.

It’s clear that Crisp had an incredible gift for the quip and for the non sequitur. The book is full of very quotable standout lines and often uses his experiences to delves into discussions of issues like homophobia in the streets, equal rights for LGBTQ people, the idea of the great dark man, a masculine archetype that he desires to find. Crisp’s opinions though interesting are sometimes a little old fashioned for us now in this age.

There are a few other characters in the book who act more as foils for Crisp’s own anecdotes, this does not bother too much, as we know we are here for Quentin Crisp and no one else, but I have a lingering sense of unease, especially about his friend known only as The Czech who struggled with serious mental health issues and was institutionalised. At one point Crisp bemoans having to visit him “six times a year”. Crisp isn’t the most sympathetic of people. At the close of the book he strangely dreams of a world where the government enforces mandatory euthanasia for those over sixty years old… he then moves on to discuss his plans to murder a policeman. One wonders whether the editors and lawyers at the publishers had given up at this point and just let him write anything he wanted.

This book is important as a testimony. It has faults and quirks, Crisp himself holds some opinions which are at best taboo these days. But I am glad we have this record from this time in history of the struggle and eventual happiness (?) of a flamboyant homosexual living in London in the middle of the twentieth century.

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REVIEW: The Fish Can Sing – Halldór Laxness

The Fish Can SingThe Fish Can Sing by Halldór Kiljan Laxness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautiful and complex book. It takes in themes of nationhood, the role of parents and grand parents, heroes and the complexities attached to being a creative person.

The book works in a funny, meandering way where we learn a lot about the people of Iceland in the form of stories told by our protagonist, all the while we get to know our protagonist slowly across the span of the novel.

Álfgrímur the protagonist feels like a stand in for the novelist himself (and for this reader) someone who has a creative spark which he doesn’t quite know how to harness or whether he should or can harness it at all. He builds up a complex relationship with Garðor Holm, a world famous singer from humble beginnings in Reykjavik. Garðor becomes a mentor of sorts as well as a bad example. His worldwide fame is not as pure as he lets on. When he visits Iceland he continually misses concerts and events in his honour. You are left wondering whether he can sing at all, whether instead the whole thing is a ruse. In the book he only sings a handful of times. A heartbreaking exchange nearer the end of the book nearly had me in tears on the train, all about how much Garðor had to struggle to become the artist he was.

I loved the world of this book, it had the completeness of an fantasy world. The narrative voice had shades of magical realist novels like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, but everything in the book was plausible and grounded within a reality, nothing quite stepped into that other world of magic.

Like all great novels it leaves you with unanswered questions. We wonder off and on for the whole book who the protagonist’s birth parents are, but in the end this doesn’t matter. The relationship Álfgrímur has with his adopted grandparents is a beautiful and the location of Brekkukot in the novel is very important and evocative, a sort of tavern where travellers come and go, some stay forever, some go there to die.

There was a lot about what it was like to be Icelandic before they gained full independence from Denmark in 1944. This sense of the ruling class being Danish and their use of language to distinguish themselves as the civilised people compared to the Icelanders was fascinating, and a story sadly recognisable in many other nations in the world.

A beautiful introduction to Icelandic culture, the humour of the people and the struggles of living in that world, as well as the trials of being someone who could escape.

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REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Call Me By Your NameCall Me By Your Name by André Aciman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A universal and beautifully real novel which runs along so easily and wonderfully. Narrated by Elio, the younger of the two, you feel his fears, the thrill of his growing obsession with Oliver and, at moments, his fantasies made real. The novel has a few differences to the film (which is similarly glorious) in location and in time frame. The book has a larger scope in terms of the history of the relationship and, having seen the film, it’s lovely to read the book and to continue the story beyond what happens in the film.

A deeply affecting book which I read very quickly and intensely. I felt like it brought me closure on my own past, I was a similarly intense romantic boy once and it was incredibly emotional to see such a real portrayal of love like this.

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REVIEW: Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Austen. Her wit and wry humour is something I have enjoyed immensely for a number of years. Knowing her other novels well, this one does have a slightly different atmosphere and tone at moments. For the first half of the book, it feels very much like a standard Austen, a witty comedy of social rules. Bath, Balls, and making calls.

This time our a heroine is idealistic and young and loves novels, something which was considered “women’s reading” at the time. Men were supposed to only read non-fiction! Austen names various novelists of the time who are now considered pioneers of the Gothic movement. Gothic novels are all blood, family secrets, old decaying mansions, murder and thunderstorms. When Catherine finally makes it to Northanger Abbey over halfway through the book, Austen uses the tropes of the Gothic as a prism in which to examine the heroine’s idealism and naivety. Catherine’s expectations of the Abbey are prejudiced by her love of the Gothic, as well as Henry’s flights of fancy describing the Abbey on the journey there. During her stay there, Catherine is consistently disappointed by the Abbey. It is too clean and modern. She becomes obsessed with living her own Gothic fantasies, which we as readers find increasingly irrational and absurd.

I imagine this book is used extensively on Gothic fiction modules at Universities, because in satirising the tropes of the Gothic, Austen perfectly describes them. Storms! Old Manuscripts! Ruins! Family Secrets!

There was one moment that really stood out when our heroine accuses a character of either murder, domestic violence and/or imprisonment of someone in a locked up wing of the Abbey. This excess of Gothic imagination on the heroine’s part was a step too far for me in terms of keeping the character likeable. But I do suppose this served well to remind us of the character’s youth (17!) and idealism.

This strong sense of a viewpoint and satire of the Gothic movement in this novel is unusual for Austen. Her work usually focuses more on the impossibility of human interaction, manners, social rules, and character studies. I enjoyed every aspect of this novel, but felt the especially Gothic sections were like reading a different book, which if it were meant earnestly instead of ironically, would not be as successful. Thankfully Austen always serves us with double helpings of sarcasm, irony and wit, so we know we’re not to take certain moments seriously.

There are some really wonderful moments in this novel where you feel Austen right there with you, she will announce herself as the narrator and remind you that you are the reader. She doesn’t do it often, but when she does it feels incredibly modern. You feel close to her as a person.

Loved it with all my Gothic heart!

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