Words in the dark: a collection of writings

I don’t like to call what I write ‘poetry’. I’ll let others decide on that… But these words are important to me, especially at this stage of my life. I’m still learning how best to express myself, something not helped by periods of writer’s block. But I want to get better at painting pictures or capturing moments, as opposed merely to expressing emotions, which are generally dark and unhappy, retired goth that I am.

Writer's block

So here’s a short collection, generally written late at night. And probably often whilst being the worse for wear. Sorry if that shows. These are celebrations of friends, late night laments and pictures from other places. Hope they’re at least worth a read.

Down the road

At the close of the day
“May I have a pint of Asahi please?”
I asked
The music was too loud
But he heard and nodded
The golden flask was placed before me
And another day’s trying was swallowed away

Beside me the smiling woman leaned into the bearded man and laughed when he said he was from Guildford
Well you would, wouldn’t you?
They talked about Aldi and Lidl
Others milled about
Ordering more beer-filled vessels
Their conversations swallowed by Rihanna’s croon and general atmosphere

“There’s a form of solitude” I said
To the next untethered phantom
“That feels so good. Because everyone is everywhere”.
He/she laughed but didn’t reply
A companion in name alone

It was nearly 2am
On a Tuesday.
“I shouldn’t be here” I whispered to the wraith
As the happy woman described London to one of its inhabitants
Inside, an eye stretched towards
A flat I only glimpsed but had become a golem
Knowing it was close brought me back to my neighbour
And to another Asahi
Memories become heavy in this place

At 2am
Another man listened against all odds
To his own song
As Billy Idol blared down from above
The happy woman’s endless chat
Punctuated by “fucks” and “shits”
Turned more bitter

A man sat down beside me
Ordered a beer
I wanted to ask him “what’s up?”
But turned to glances instead and
He walked away
Such a hubbub, even so late
Words about football, lager, “that cunt” and more swirled around

As the clock ticked down
And I tried to forget that flat, that face
The happy woman stopped smiling
Rightfully angry but lost for words
The place started emptying
And then it’s just us few
And now that bell tolls
How long have I been here?
The shades have got bigger
And tomorrow’s still to come

last orders

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
You think you have the answers
And collapse the moment that
Reality screams upwards and bites
You on your suddenly massive arse

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
You believe your lover’s words
He says he loves you
You think “this is it, solution found”
And then no

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
The beautiful man swans through your life
Making you believe the lies you’d thought long gone
Now you’re hot, sexy, young
Oh wait, maybe not

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
When all you want is to not spend
Another night alone
Music is a great companion
But doesn’t deign draw breath
So as lovely as it is
The mattress remains cold on the other side

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
But what else can you do?
Your loves won’t take pity
And nor should you want them to
How about owning being that twat?
And then see how you go

Listening to Bernstein in Greece (for Jimmy)

Aeolus sighs a gentle caress
From Delos this way bound
It’s so late but this taverna
Perched over the water
Needs to last forever

Channel your anger
Sweet, kind, fragile nymph
And for every doubt please remember
You are loved

As the translucent azure
Winks traces of our species’ defiance
A lost American woman
Serenades us at the last
Cast off your doubts and fears
For they have no power over you here

mykonos

Listening to Billy (for my beloved AA)

It’s ridiculous
Just a loop
Potentially ad infinitum
And yet so perfect
It’s our not-song

A moment frozen in time
You and me, talking so long
Yet never saying “I love you” enough

Then we’d go to sleep
Wrapped around each other
In our own little parcel of London
A haven I wish I’d recognised

Now you have someone better
But you can’t see your own reflection
Not as I do
So I reiterate that stupendous loop
Wishing time would go back
That room, those gorgeous loops
Are our jewellery forever
Please hold on to them and him
Because I still want to celebrate
You

On an island

“How are you liking Mykonos?”
The friendly man asked
Of course, I said I liked it
And I did
Such a beautiful sea, pearlescent water lapping at the feet
Of albino towers and those windmills
The food – succulently unhealthy gyros, too little tzatziki and so much fish.
Ever that orb screaming its healthiness down at me
And I’m forced to admit – I’m glad.
I avoid the pool, but not the other liquids
So many names I can’t remember as the haze takes hold
Oh now I’m enjoying Mykonos!
And so many men, in shorts, tank-tops and designer t-shirts
Hunger drips from lascivious lips
Eyes roam each stretch of land
Potentials open like lilies blooming
I hope I’m brave to turn away
But maybe foolish
The end in sight I look for a reminder
Rembetika maybe, or a bottle of overpriced Ouzo
Or a photo, on this crap phone
That captures a fragmented cloud
A tired-eyed glimpse
I think he would have liked it here
How he loved to swim
And that’s mostly what’s all to do
At least before the drinks and men turn your brain to mush
I recommend you come here, raven
With whomever’s next
Say hi to Kostas, Kathy and Christina
Maybe some of the other guys will be back
Like every year
Either way – enjoy
Because I liked Mykonos
The beers by the piano under the windmills
The terrace laced with sass and Aperol Spritz
That food again
That luscious sea I avoided with admiration
That catwalk of strange folks parading against my cynicism
The cats, the gypsum, the cobbles, always the sun
Even though my inner words
Carried your name with me like a wretched mnemonic
I found smiles inside and laughter without
“How are you liking Mykonos?” the man -could have been a waiter, a passerby or a regular queen of the island- asked. Another man, maybe.
“Very much” I said, and it was so true
But how nice it would be with my raven’s feathers in my arms
That I couldn’t say
So I didn’t
I ate gyros, drank beer and watched the blue, blue sea instead

cropped-CE-night-GV-1.png

A night walk in Crouch End

Heads bowed, illuminated by miniature windows
A view into a world so wide, so irresistible that
The immediate path is rendered
Insignificant and unworthy
Two souls close enough to touch, passing a whisker from each other and me
A whisker from love, or friendship?
Those precious metals we so poorly mine? Or maybe from indifference and boredom,
eternal resources to plunder.

Overhead red lights scream unrelenting progress
The night pierced by emerging ziggurats and the wings of travels ending
Down this quiet hill my path keeps winding
Sliding past my bowed companions
More lights and tender destructive amber
Clamour for me

And I can’t sleep without them
Later, wrapped in dry cotton
Away from all brightness
I fly back to those two potentials
Feeling them multiply like rice on a chessboard
Climbing up and up as the night shivers with unheard voices
Stories that never unfolded tantalise my senses
They so dulled by another evening’s excesses
And remind me to prepare anew for more snatched meetings
That will never coalesce into something to hold on to

I’ve also reworked an older piece

On a village green (Dedicated to Sheila and Esther)

It’s spring
The balmy weather always threatens rain but
When the sun pierces it illuminates everything
No cricket here
Not here, Major, with your myth of England
Wrapped in colonial, aristocratic entitlement
But the grass grows green
And I think of how this warm and contradictory public house
Is open to us all, from my inevitable privilege
To those less fortunate from anywhere they’re found
This green is ours
We bask in the dwindling sunlight
In an oft-divided country, we defy and
bring the all together
Beyond our differences
A barn owl swoops over the Green
A reminder of what went before
Young Tegan and I relish its languid flight
And picture a future for this village green
That doesn’t depend on the myth of England

IMG_0898(c) Joe Burnett, 2018

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Mad is the word

And so it feels like madness
A wretched grasp at forever-ness
But mad is the word

Mad is the word
That calls on all of us
To sing about the real love
And turn it into grief

Mad is the word
It dashes through the cortex
Preventing sleep
Or making it too deep

A heavy presence
At the edge of perception
Omnipresent but avoiding detection
Mad is the word

A dozen voices clamouring
Crying for attention
You can drown them in liquid
Or fire shit up into your brain
Drench it in gold and silver
Waiting for something to deliver
You from evil
Mad is the word

It knocks on your window
Vomiting memories of him or her
Or them or you
It shrieks through the night
A paralysing leichenschrei
Calling for you eternal
Mad is the word

Mad is the word
Incomprehensible to some
They question you about it
But never hold it down
You fight it alone
And try not to drown
Not for you, not anymore
For them and for the worth
Of those screamed memories
Mad is the word

depression

My love

My love

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

That what was lost transcended mortal form
A concept to hold on to
A reality remade in any image
But how I was wrong
He was perfect. So perfect.
But not you.
Not you.

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

But love’s phantom isn’t ephemeral
It’s locked in your person
So beautiful
I yearn not for love
But YOUR love
Eternal companionship in the form of your graceless arms
My sullen raven
My dissatisfied dove

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

It’s not a concept
It’s a human
One I reach for with every failed attempt
Every failed simile is a reminder of
Your lasting embrace
Now just a memory of what never was

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

I would hold my arm out
To call back my perfectly imperfect raven
A glove to alight upon
A room to share as one
But it’s all gone
I would have built you a palace
In our own space
Are these still, after the years, false dreams?
If so, I’ll plough on, even if the love dwindles to ash

As the song goes, Bye bye love
Bye bye sweet caress
Bye bye happiness
Hello loneliness
Bye bye my love goodbye

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love1378455_10151769976598074_334348132_n

On a village green

IMG_0898.JPG

On a village green

It’s spring
The balmy weather always threatens rain but
When the sun pierces it illuminates everything

No cricket here
Screw you, Major, with your myth of England
Wrapped in colonial, aristocratic entitlement

But the grass grows green
And I think of how this warm and contradictory public house
Is open to us all, from my inevitable privilege
To the council estate dwellers up the hill
This green is ours

We bask in the dwindling sunlight
In Brexit country, we defy and
bring the all together
Beyond our differences

A barn owl swoops over the Green
A reminder of what went before
Young Tegan and I relish its languid flight
And picture a future for this village green
That doesn’t depend on the myth of England

I was dissatisfied before dial-up – a love memory

Just a poem written to expunge the shadows of loss. It didn’t really work, but it feels worth it to give this website a bit of a relaunch. It’s overwrought, which reflects the website as a whole, and betrays my love for Arthur Rimbaud and Hart Crane.

A joy merely caressed is a joy nonetheless.

What if the price of joy is the bleached bones of regret and distress?

Has it been worth us paying it, you and I?

An extended oneiric moment heralding a gilded future, clearly now faded.

I poured my hope and ambition into the mould of one man’s outline, holding it close even as he himself faded

How cruel was I, determined to keep our keg dry in the presence of the flame we both once fanned.

In the cloistered halls the cruel armies pulled close, whispering and plotting, their eyes alive, knowing the red rose is nothing but a deep shade of grey waiting to bloom.

So I recede into those petals’ embrace, for the die is cast

The path of heaven has ever branched and we must lie in the cold meadows by the side of our different roads, you and I.

Regret is birthed, a protrusion given the full force of our lies and errors.

Like that black dog it will pad beside me until I care no more, its hungry eyes never satiated, always ready. Until it strikes I hand you the keys of our decisions, bid “adieu” and stroke your hair from afar.

A smile so gorgeous, a laugh so infectious (my jokes, your laugh, the ultimate bliss), arms to keep me safe and those aching words “I love you”: these are the embers I sweep into my arms, regardless of the burns.

My throat now fills with amber, my eyes with jade. The songs of farewell echo from the voices of those who came before, telling you -telling me- to make it easy on yourself, and I join in the chorus.

No spite or unkindness.

No recrimination or despair. Hope hangs lost in the spiderweb of what is and once was. The strand may reveal itself yet again. Who knows?

I dwell in the apartment of what was, surrounded by the fields of what might have been, an ecstatic smile transmitted via my lobes from 2012; in 2017 now become a wry, shattered grin.

Potential only dreamt might still have flowered.

And the jewels from 2012, 13, 14, 15, 16 still shine, though their lustre has dimmed.

A joy merely caressed is a joy nonetheless.

A Dusted Review: Atria by Jessika Kenney (March 27th, 2015)

Washington state native Jessika Kenney has the most important quality needed for a westerner exploring musics from far-flung cultures that are intrinsically different to the one she was born into: she has a knack for homing in on the emotional core of each song she explores. Of course, it helps that she is something of an expert in Indonesian and Persian music, although she admits to making “errors and delusions” on this album. If you can spot them, I’d love to know what they could possibly be, as all of Atria sounds exquisite from where I’m seated, pretending to my other half that I’m managing our bills. But, equally, her voice is so resonant and majestic that, even in a foreign language she is able to conjure up such a storm of feeling that it is impossible to question this music’s authenticity. It’s one of those voices, and one of those spirits, that make you forget that she even has backing performers (including her partner, violist Eyvind Kang, and a series of gamelan players), such is the way she unselfconsciously takes center stage and brings the music close to her own soul.

Atria is intriguing and beguiling on so many levels, Kenney’s voice being just its prime attraction. As mentioned, the music is essentially gamelan, albeit played at a pace I have rarely heard. These songs evolve gradually, often with minimal percussive thrust, with bells and bowls resonated until they produce echo-y drones that interlace with Kang’s measured viola lines and Kenney’s extended vocalizations. Any effects of note are on her singing, as her crystalline wordings are extended or superimposed to create a shimmering choir, most effectively on the album’s centerpiece, the 11-minute “Sarira Tunggal” and its follow-up “Pamor.” These are intricate compositions, with several angles and facets to them, much as the Roman edifices that (sort of) give the album its title would have had. On the busier “Wiji Sawiji Mulane Dadi,” field recordings of birds and bubbling streams combine with flute to evoke a pastoral atmosphere that fans of Indonesian music will be familiar with, but also anyone with a taste for English folk (the flute features heavily on albums by Comus and Mr. Fox) or traditional Indian music.

This poise, restraint and precision in both composition and delivery dominates Atria, but never over-dominates it. Indeed, opener “Her Sword I” is almost groovy in a spiritual sort of way, with gentle patters on hand drums and a gorgeous central melody that is infectious without being intrusive, once again leaving ample room for Kenney’s voice to positively soar outwards. Whether deep or stretching into higher registers, her singing is never short of note-perfect, something demonstrated most expertly on the winding lines of “Sarira Tunggal” and the two versions of “Her Sword” that bookend the album, the second more minimalist and sparser than the opener, and therefore all the more dominated by the vocals.

As far as I can gather, Kenney sings entirely in Farsi, but this is largely immaterial beyond marveling at how immersed in the language and ancient musical traditions of Persia she is. Even in less-than-mystical English, Kenney would sound as exquisite as she does here and, for all the quality of the music and instrumental performances on Atria, it’s greatest achievement is how it elevates Jessika Kenney into the ranks of the world’s premier vocalists.

A Dusted Review: The Ark Work by Liturgy (March 19th, 2015)

image

Black metal fans can be a prickly bunch. I was once verbally taken to task by a BM-er(can I use that?) for professing an admiration for SUNN O))). This chap, who is otherwise the nicest person you could meet, was almost apoplectic with rage at the mere thought. I don’t quite remember all the details, but the words “fucking posers” were used frequently, which I found odd from someone who admires people who smear their faces with fake-looking “corpse-paint”. But this aesthetic purity is part of BM’s appeal to its purists, and whilst I am more drawn to the way the likes of SUNN O))) and Wolves in the Throne Room twist its rather formulaic bedrock in innovative ways, certainly much more than the legion of Mayhem-alikes that make up “real” black metal, well apparently that’s misguided or something. It’s all very intense, which shouldn’t be a surprise, really.

Still, I think I will be siding with the BM-ers when it comes to Liturgy, who surely must have been founded predominantly with the ambition to well and truly rile up people like my SUNN O)))-hating friend. The most common description I found for them from BM circles was “fucking Brooklyn hipsters playing at black metal”, and whilst that’s probably true on some of their earlier output, on The Ark Work feels misleading. The BM-ers are right: The Ark Work is certainly not black metal. The problem is that it’s really not much else, either. Indeed, even after repeated listens, it comes across not so much as an album but as a sort of formless mass, which could be a good thing, in the right hands, but here does little more than baffle and exasperate.

Essentially, what you have here is a band acting being too clever for its own good. From the opening trumpet blares of “Fanfare”, The Ark Work feels overloaded, saturated with a non-stop barrage of sounds, from glockenspiels and bagpipes to chimes and bombastic synthesizer patterns. At a push, it could share with black metal the sonic desire to grab listeners by the throat and provide a truly visceral and atavistic experience. There’s also a lot of blast beating going on, although the results sound more like Pelican than Bathory. But the problem at heart is not actually that Liturgy like to throw some experimentation into their black mass — I’ve already mentioned SUNN O))) and Wolves in the Throne Room, but could also point to experimental flourishes in acts like Ulver and Burzum — it’s that the way they do it is bombastic and knowing: there is none of metal’s (of any style) darkness and atavism, both replaced by a smug attempt to outwit and outmanoeuvre both audiences and the bands they claim to share a lineage with.

Then again, maybe the whole black metal thing with Liturgy is a red herring, or a practical joke, despite leader Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s essays that suggest the contrary and much-vaunted philosophy degree. The sheer grandiosity of these tracks, the way the band pile up sounds to a dizzying degree suggests more affinity with the most excessive prog- or post-rock bands (I’ve already mentioned Pelican, but you could even chuck Marillion or Godspeed You! Black Emperor in the there as well), but with any space ripped out altogether. And the vocals, whilst unintelligible in a way that Attila Csihar might appreciate, are so dull and inexpressive that any coherent emotional or intellectual content is rendered unintelligible. All in all, I’m sure there are those who will find something profound behind the morass that is The Ark Work, but just as many might find it nothing more than surreal joke. To be honest, neither situation seems true, it’s more a case that there is nothing much to glean from the album whatsoever. Now where did I put my Leviathan albums?