Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
One way or another I have been plunged back into the 1890s this week included being reminded about young Mr Crackanthorpe by the passage across my desk of this wonderful 1893 piece of book production (above), Crackanthorpe's first book, Wreckage. It was very well received and Crackanthorpe began generating for himself quite the reputation as an extremely talented writer. Like many of the literary characters of the 1890s however, Crackanthorpe was living a fairly unconventional lifestyle. His marriage, at the age of 23, proved to be difficult and he separated from his wife and fled to Venice where he shacked up with Richard Le Gallienne's sister Sissie Welch. He was then reconciled briefly to his wife who had also taken a lover during their separation and all four began an uncomfortable life in Paris that was doomed to failure from the start. Crackanthorpe's wife eventually walked out and headed back to England leaving Crackanthorpe in Paris.
What happened next is not known. Crackanthorpe disappeared and a after a few weeks a notice appeared in the press which seemed to assume his death. In this short clipping that I found inside this copy of the book you will see that The Sketch gossip columnist wonder aloud why someone should be presumed dead with no real evidence but unfortunately for this writer who was fully expecting to meet Crackanthorpe again sometime, the young man's body was pulled from the waters of the Seine the day after this little note was published, on Christmas Eve 1896. It isn't known if he committed suicide or was the victim of violence.
It's easy to romanticise the short, beautiful life, particularly when that life is part of a narrative around a group like the decadents of the 1890s. In reality though this was, of course, just a human tragedy like any other leaving people bereft, confused and grieving.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Physical by Andrew McMillan.
At the outset, I should say that I don't feel qualified to offer a traditional 'review' of a book of poetry: I don't have the necessary depth of critical apparatus needed and, though I read a lot of poetry, I do not have the systematic knowledge of contemporary poetry to place these poems properly into their context. So this will be a response: and an enthusiastic response at that.
It was only a few years ago that I was attending poetry events, readings and open mics in London and looking around a room with a 'more than general population' percentage of gay men and wondering where that was acknowledged in the poetry they were curating and reading. Andrew McMillan has written a book of poems which are, largely, about being a man and having a man's body and unashamedly, in this particular case, that body is desired by and desirous of other male bodies. It is sad to say but actually this in itself is something to take note of because even well into the 21st century, to have an openly 'gay' collection of poems published by a mainstream publishing house like Cape is still unusual. The mainstream audience is being asked to find the universal in Andrew McMillan's specific experiences of life and, unusually, a mainstream publisher is happy to trust that audience to find the universal in McMillan's gay specifics. How sad indeed that at a point in history when TV, film, music, fiction and most almost every other art form is entirely used to gay artists and content, a book of poetry still feels 'political' in this respect.
That said, there are some breathtaking poems in this collection. The tone is, on the whole, very restrained and measured: longer than single space gaps in lines are a consistent device used to create a very steady reading rhythm and to allow space for reflection around the words, both physical and metaphorical. Many of the poems have urban and often night time or dark settings. McMillan's gaze on the body is so intense that there is a real sense of a single tone to the whole collection.
Sexuality is present throughout and often subverts a narrative we might read entirely differently from a straight poet. In "Strongman" the poet's nephew asks to be lifted into the air, benchpressed. The subversion is pointed up more strongly as we are told the boy's mother's new lover often does this, the nephew protests "I had my hand / on his balls for the first attempt" and what should be an act of masculine bravado and of bonding and, simply put, a bit of fun (as it seems to be with the stepdad), becomes something altogether different because the author is gay - but what exactly that difference is, McMillan sagely leaves ambiguous. "What is masculinity if not taking the weight / of a boy" he asks and in doing so he lays out for any reader the awkwardness that all gay men know at some point in their relationships with their straight family. Yoga and going to the gym and even pissing at communal urinals are all subjects that McMillan makes strange (queer), in a way which articulates experiences and emotions that are often left opaque. In "Choke" we are confronted by the roughness of same sex physicality and asked questions about where the line between intimacy and violence lies between men.
Though McMillan is only in his late 20s there is a strong dose of the mid and late twentieth century in these poems. Thom Gunn is a strong presence, making an appearance in two poems as a dedicatee and also as a 'character'. There is an irony of course that critics 'went off' Gunn when he moved to America: they said his poetry suffered from the move. What they actually meant in a lot of cases was that he started writing poetry about explicitly gay subjects and that was what they didn't like. So it is great to see his memory honoured in this way by McMillan. The twentieth century also brilliantly informs a poem like "Schoolboys" in which two rather affectionate and young boys on a bus encounter a disapproving and sour woman, she is brilliantly put in context by setting the poem just after the death of Margaret Thatcher and referencing the parties that were held in some northern towns on that day: thus the woman and the boys feel like they inhabit completely different worlds; "the boys sit closer / than they need to the lady burns."
In a way, it is the 1980s the McMillan feels the heir of. These are poems like Jarman's films or like the music of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Jimmy Sommerville with a background of Section 28, it is just a shame that poetry has had to wait until 2015 to find a voice like that. There is a slightly melancholic tone to the urban settings of some of these poems that puts me in mind of The Pet Shop Boys. They understood the idea of 'town' and 'city' as person and McMillan does this too in a long and slightly difficult sequence towards the middle of the collection in which the 'town' and its landscape mingles with the landscape of the body. In doing this McMillan is beginning to find a twenty-first century poetic exposition of the relationship between urban life and gay bodies.
This is a first collection in book form of a poet, still young, who is finding a voice that feels both new and already mature. He writes in deceptive calm of great passions. It is an exciting book to read.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
A blond Richard Burton playing the greatest gay icon of all time in the 1956 movie Alexander the Great! What's not to like. Found these technicolor lobby card stills today. I think the somewhat faded, nicotine-chic colour-tone is just brilliant. Some of them look almost like paintings the colourisation is so strong. Amazing to think these are now nearly 60 years old!
Monday, October 19, 2015
Those on my mailing list will already know of the strange enchantment that has befallen me today. I was put in mind of a 'sale' and of creating a list of 'bargains'... just the words are enough to make a bookseller shudder. So, this list contains 31 items, one for every day of October, from my stock of supernatural fiction titles. There are some massive reductions here which include those of 50% and more.
The enchantment wears off at midnight GMT on the 31st October and all signs of my generosity will be expunged from the internet at that point and any books left revert to their normal price. Until then you can find the list here:
If you are not on my mailing list then you should know that you missed out on receiving an email about this several hours ago I'm afeared. Click the email link on the blog to let me know if you want to be included on the list in the future...
Sunday, October 18, 2015
When I first saw this collection of photographs from the 1940s I thought the one above was a photograph of a painting is it so beautifully composed and the grain and contrast of the image so carefully used. In fact, they are are a small collection of photographs of landscapes and buildings from South Australia in the mid-1940s, by a number of different photographers but many from around Adelaide area, including a nice early shot of an Australian vineyard in the Adelaide Hills.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
Some years ago I had a set of playing cards by the French artist Jean Picart le Doux. The 50s/60s vibe from them was just brilliant and I have kept an eye out since for another deck but to no avail. But le Doux was mainly known for work in the not very appreciated field of tapestry. A simple google image search will reveal some astonishingly vibrant and exciting work done for public commission in the 1960s in particular. His large tapestries are worth a small fortune now but he also produced signed lithographs which can be picked up for maybe 100 pounds or so and also smaller tapestries in small limited editions which sell at auction for upwards of 600-700 pounds. Le Doux's first tapestry work was seen in the late 1940s and he was active in the field for thirty years and more. As a graphic artist beyond the warp and weft he also illustrated books and designed postage stamps.
The images on this post are from magazine adverts in the 1960s for a French drink called Byrrh. It is a testament to just how vibrant this tapestry art scene then was that these are not all by the same artist. Two of them are by le Doux but there are two other artists also represented here and there were a number of other big names working in this medium in the mid-twentieth century. To me they are very exciting and regular readers might now be thinking they have seen some of le Doux's work recently on Front Free Endpaper and they would be right. The cover of my latest Short List was illustrated with a photo of a contemporary print by le Doux that was for sale in that list.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
I have spent today buried deep in the seventies. It's been a fascinating trip - in more ways than one - as I photographed and listed a big collection of 70s underground newspapers. It's particularly interesting looking at this material as it has certain resonance at the moment given the way in which many of the issues that exercised the papers then are back under discussion again now as the Labour Party begins to articulate something a little more to the left than of recent years. And then of course, there's the graphics: great artwork all the way through and some with cartoon strips that would make the editors of Viz blush like schoolgirls. So, it's all there: drugs, squatting, gay lib, womens lib, rock and roll, LSD, sexual liberation, "The Irish Situation", drugs, boy scouts and more drugs.
Without wishing to appear too mercenary, this little collection is on sale on ebay for the next week and you can find them by clicking on the link to my current ebay auctions in the right hand bar on this page.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@CallumJBooks) will have seen some of these jackets before. These are the results of my not quite being able to swerve away from bookshops whilst on holiday recently in The Lake District. And talk about judging a book by its cover...!
From top to bottom these fabulous jackets are by: John O'Connor, a pupil of Eric Ravilious who has featured on this blog a couple of times before; the prolific and incomparable Biro is the artist on the Louis Golding short stories (perhaps my favourite of the lot); the finest artwork though definitely graces the Maclennan cover by W. Francis Phillipps; The Prokosch novel jacket is covered by Charles Gorham; the striking cover of the Alun Lewis memorial book is by John Petts who also contributes black and white illustrations inside and a pencil portrait of the author as a frontispiece; and the cover of Dominique is by probably the biggest artistic 'name' of the bunch, Michael Ayrton.
Monday, October 05, 2015
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The top photograph in this post is one which I bought recently and now resides in my collection. The two below however are much more interesting and thank you to Per Anderson, correspondent of Front Free Endpaper for thinking of us all and scanning these two that he found in his father's photo album. They were two friend's of Per's father who worked for the Danish resistance during WW2 and the photographs are taken in the garden of an aunt where they hid while undercover. The two young men pictured here became policemen after the war and remained friends their whole lives.