Experience as Artist

Words by Joshua Cialis, Picture Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara working on ‘Stones’.

The image of the artist is one widely contested. It falls somewhere between the outgoing hyped individual of the bohemian scene or the shy quiet one in the corner sketching the world. However they act though, the true artist conveys a message and suggests or comments on the truth of the artist’s mind alone. The artist cannot comment on what they do not experience. I am obviously not suggesting that any artist who comments on murder is a murderer or has personally been a victim of murder. Everyone in society experiences murder – if only indirectly. One only has to turn on the television to see the effects of murder; from the news to EastEnders murder is beamed to our televisions and computers twenty-four-seven. What I’m saying is, any artist can comment on murder.
Yet the better artist will comment on what they personally know best, what they experience most purely. The best art is a comment on what an artist knows – or what they know they don’t know. Self-deprecation or confusion can often make for interesting and pure art. Jack Kerouac’s brilliantly pure and fast paced novel, On the Road is written almost autobiographically (using a Roman á clef technique) from personal journeys and actual conversations translated onto the page from memory and poetic sketches in notebooks. Stormzy knows the ‘ends’ of South London and experiences it daily. That is why his art is purer than a boyband who sing songs written by someone else. These boybands are not artists but rather tracers tracing around the art of someone else. Unless they completely re-master and re-write a song to show their own experience they will only continue to trace art.
The best art is that which is spontaneous and written at or very close to the point of experience. Frank O’Hara was a master of this. He could often be seen writing poems while at parties or while eating lunch. Our age is made for this habit with a technological notebook at our fingertips – we live in the age of spontaneous writing. You will often see me sitting or standing in a pub, club, or café typing furiously into my phone; it is not that I am being antisocial, but rather writing about that moment – about my experience of that moment – in that moment. You may argue that by writing, I have taken myself out of the moment and am no longer experiencing it. However, I am still within that moment, still observing it, experiencing it. By writing down what I can see I am still taking part and experiencing that moment. It is this art which is most pure and therefore most true.

Until art is purified and echoes personal experience we will only continue to be shown falsities and drab attempts at art.

Death: Hidden Behind Mortuary Doors

Words and Picture by Holly Royle

Death, it happens to us all, yet in modern, Western culture we have become so far removed from it.

In the nineteenth-century, for example, death was significant in society and family members were far more involved in the process of preparation for burial when a loved one died. Nowadays, a deceased individual is hurried from public view into the funeral parlour, with all the preparation of the body being carried out by strangers. Surely, it would make more sense for the family or friends to care for their loved one in the final stages before burial or cremation?

The taboo of death is something that many are trying to overcome; many morticians have published books or even have YouTube channels to educate on the reality of death. A recent publication, ‘Past Mortems: Life and death behind mortuary doors’ by Carla Valentine who trained as an Anatomical Pathology Technologist, reveals the work that occurs in a mortuary and also what the living can learn from the dead. ‘Ask A Mortician’ is a popular YouTube channel which uploads videos on the processes of preparation, what happens biologically to the body after death and also investigates some unusual cases of deaths and post-death events.

Why is it such a taboo? By distancing ourselves from death, surely, we are only increasing our fear through lack of understanding. By removing it from society it becomes distant, more demonised, more of a danger. Of course, death can be an unpleasant topic of discussion and can be very emotional, however, I think our society needs to increase discussions of death to create a greater understanding. My personal experience of losing a family member a few years ago, I found myself having very little understanding of the processes that are undergone, for example regarding funeral arrangements. I wish I had had the knowledge then, which I have now. The knowledge which I have obtained recently has derived through my own desire to find out more and research the topic myself. There should be more knowledge in society to create a greater understanding, instead of it being something that requires searching for.

Death is a difficult topic, but I would be interested to know how other people feel about it. If anyone feels comfortable commenting their opinions it would be fascinating to read them.

Hungover in Scandinavia

Words by Reece David Merrifield; Photo by Annika Mailahn

A short story by Reece David Merrifield.

As a child born and raised on the south-west coast of England, I’ve never really seen snow. We’d get this this slushy, industrial-looking grey that would disintegrate instantly in the warmth of your palm, frantically searching for the nuggets of white that could be thrown at our nearest friend. So, it is for two reasons that, as of two days ago and as I write these very lines, that I could be forgiven for thinking that what I could see wasn’t actually there.

Waking up from a hangover (not as atypical as I would hope it to be), it wasn’t the sight of unfamiliarity but of a buzzing that alerted me to the notion that ‘we have snow! We have snow!’. Still dazed, I pulled down the blinds and drew a blank. It wasn’t true. My sight wasn’t to be trusted, so I knew what I could do. With only a hoodie and underpants, I walked out onto the balcony, and as my feet came into contact with the ground could I really open my eyes to what was happening. A blizzard, monstrous to me yet insignificant to Nordic locals, was swirling around, given a magical tinge of glitter in the struggling morning sunlight. Hangover: cured, given over to years of childish expectation a month before our beloved tradition of gift-giving that I had always wanted to have in stereotypical surroundings of fireplaces and snow(wo)men.

I ran (not before changing) outside in unworn snow boots designed for this very occasion. Across the road stands a cemetery, an already elegant lament, now illuminated by a natural sweeping of leaves, a sudden arrest of one season ushering in the next with pleasing effects upon its newest spectator. The imprints of feet in snow, the deepest I had ever left, were only a fraction of what imprint it had left on me with its first encounter, and before me stood a hill I had never really appreciated until it was glossed over in its current form. Reaching the top, I could see over the whole of the cemetery, but it was not that which had caught my attention. Over the hill, as if one step had become a million, were children sledding and screaming with joy, whilst their parents, with 10 layers between them, seemed ever closer in their union. I spun slowly around, as if screwing a corkscrew back onto a bottle, and revelled in the sights and sounds that snow can bring to a little town.

After falling down the hill (both through complacency and idiotic glee) I walked back to find the Germans in warfare with one another through the medium of snowballs. A split between boys and girls (best left to anthropologists) had occurred but it was clear that no-one could lose. Children from the neighbouring buildings attempted to flank from behind, the giggling giving them away, and I tentatively joined, unsure of how well it would go down if I had managed to hit someone directly in the face.

Afterwards I joined my next-door neighbour (once again in hoodie and underwear) and we sat in awe over coffee and toast, laughing most when we noticed a couple of Spaniards taking pictures from numerous angles, for obvious reasons of course.

The day went pale after that, nothing special occurred, but to recount with such clarity a morning such as this, was worth the trade of hours passed and moments gained.

‘SEX TIPS FOR WOMEN’

Words by Jade Wolf and Holly Royle. Picture from the YouTube video of ‘Real Sex Tips’

For the article this week, I decided to merge together two topics: poetry and feminism. Recently watching Desireé Dallagiacomo & Kaycee Filson’s – ‘Real Sex Tips’, performed at the 2014 National Poetry Slam in New Orleans; this discussion started:

The poem raised the question of women, sex, and how literature can be a medium to expose the paradigm in society. I showed the video to Holly, and it prompted the following discussion between the two of us:

Holly: The performance was interesting, particularly when they discussed magazine articles on how women can improve their sex lives, but only including tips on how to pleasure their boyfriends/ husbands. It shows that the media represent sex as focused around women pleasuring men.
Jade: It excludes LGTB+ women in these magazines, as it presumes that every reader is straight.
Holly: It seems outdated that the media is reinforcing ideas of women being subservient to men in their relationships.
Jade: Even though it is from 2014, it is still relevant to today as I don’t believe anything has changed – at least by a significant amount anyway. But it is an excellent example of how literature and poetry can be used to discuss and draw awareness to these issues.
Holly: Mainstream media reinforces typical views of a relationship; a straight couple with a subservient woman, which is preventing this ‘normalised’ view from being changed because it is the most widely broadcast idea in society.
Jade: It was a particularly moving performance, and you could tell that the women were very passionate about the treatment of women and sex. It definitely resonated with me and my own experiences, but it also drew awareness to it when I hadn’t considered the way the media treats women and sex before.
Holly: It was interesting to have an alternative perspective of sex portrayed in the media, but it is concerning that it is surprising to suggest that women can ask for what they want in the bedroom. It is more socially prevalent that the man instigates the events, that it is the man’s pleasure that is more important.
Jade: I think Hugh Heffner is another example of this; he’s being celebrated for encouraging the idea that men have sexual power over women.

Holly: I’m very appreciative of different people wanting different sexual relationships, I feel frustrated when certain ideals of sexual relationships are presented as though they should be the norm. With the Playboy Mansion, all who were involved had the knowledge of the situation and agreed to it, but I feel that it has suggested that men should be able to have sexual relationships with numerous women on the basis that they are ‘superior’. Of course this is a more extreme example and many are not in agreement with this.
Jade: I agree, and I believe that calling Hugh Heffner a ‘legend’ is encouraging this idea which is damaging to women and how they are treated as sexual objects, as they are suggesting he is someone to be looked up to. Sex is a difficult topic though, as the concept of bdsm does conflict with these ideas of subservience, as the dynamic between two people tends to involve one dominant and one submissive; but that is within a consensual environment between two willing participants, rather than the media enforcing this concept on every women.

Upon researching men’s magazines in order to formulate a comparison, we then had the following discussion:
Holly: It’s very gender stereotyping towards the masculine features; the picture of the formula one car alongside the subtitle ‘Sex isn’t a race’ reinforces ideas that men must be interested in things that are socially considered masculine. It is implying that men must be masculine and laddish instead more emotional.
Jade: And another tip was basically ‘don’t cheat’ – I’m not sure how that’s a sex tip, but the fact that it’s even in there is quite shocking. The whole article is very generalised, ‘it’ll take her twenty minutes’, ‘she’ll love this’ – which presumes that every women will enjoy the same things and they are lumped together just because they have the same body. There is nothing that is teaching men to ask women what they like, which is what the poem touches upon. These sex tips are very depersonalised and seems to feed into the social norm that men are the ‘superior’ sex, and therefore everything they do is right.
Holly: The expression ‘South of the border’; why is it such a negative thing to refer to a woman’s vagina? It is almost demonised but then expected to be a source of a man’s pleasure whenever he wants. And there’s also advice to give objective compliments – complimenting a partners body and objectifying them rather than complimenting them as person. It also generalises women as though they are defined only by approval of their bodies.
Jade: I’ve never liked these magazines but now I dislike them even more, the ridiculous extent at which they generalise, objectify and reinforce negative behaviours. It is attitudes like these that lead to issues of men mistreating women.
Holly: Sex tip no.30 ‘One of the biggest reasons women can’t relax during sex if body image. Keep the lights low.’ So…Instead of making her feel better about her insecurities (like any partner should do), just turn the FUCKING LIGHTS OFF?!?!?

And we decided to end the discussion here.
To conclude: we understand that some of these examples can be more extreme (such as Hugh Heffner) and we are not implying that everyone agrees with this, but it is clear that this poem has sparked conversations and questions about the treatment of women; as seen in our discussion. Men’s magazines tend to be very presumptive about women and their bodies, which supports the poems message.
It is important that we continue to use literature and poetry to discuss issues within the world to draw attention to them and to hopefully make a change within society.

We have included the link of the article should you wish to peruse them for yourself.
https://www.menshealth.com/sex-women/50-best-sex-tips

Listen to the Poem here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmR_HdXDtw8

Submissions Open

Sales of our first issue have been great! So thank you to anyone who bought a copy. Copies are still up for grabs too.

However, we must now look to the next issue. Submissions for the Spring Issue of Foxtrot Uniform are now open!

We will be accepting poetry, short stories and essays, but also visual art this time. So send your pieces to foxtrotuniformpoetry@gmail.com

How to format work for submission

All work should be sent by email in a word document with your name and return postal address (so we can send your copy of the magazine to you). We can only accept previously unpublished works.

  • Poetry: Send up to 6 poems in a word document, with a your name and postal address.
  • Prose: Send up to 1000 words in a word document with a your name and postal address.
  • Visual Art: Send artwork in a word document or as a jpeg. We can accept photography, paintings, sketches, line drawings, or screen prints, or anything else you might’ve done.

Submissions will close on the 20th of March 2018

Perceptions of Madness

Words and picture by Holly Royle

Is it madness to defy social conventions, or to conform to them?

There is no such thing as ‘normal’.

Society tells us to behave ‘normally’, to present ourselves as ‘normal’, to be under all circumstances and at all times ‘NORMAL’.
But what is ‘normal’? ‘Normal’ changes over time, space and culture. What is ‘normal’ in the Western world may not be considered so in the East. What was ‘normal’ in 1827 would not be considered ‘normal’ today as social conventions are not fixed. Social conventions emerge, develop, grow and reduce under different circumstances, often in relation to scientific developments or after the occurrence of significant events.
By enforcing ideas of ‘normality’ we are restraining those who wish to be unique.
Discrimination occurs because we are taught that those who defy the norm are doing
something wrong.
Who is to decide what is ‘normal’?

We are encouraged to a point to be ourselves…
but only to a point.

We are ourselves; our unique, crazy wonderful selves.

Why would we want to be ‘normal’?

(Side note: Who says I have to conform to the standard alignment for text? Microsoft Word you cannot contain my creativity!)

Spontaneously showing my cities…

Words and picture by Joshua Cialis

In the fifties and early sixties, Jack Kerouac set out with a pocket notebook dispelling the ‘intense orthodoxy’ amongst the literary community¹. Using simple and pure language Kerouac spontaneously sketched the cities and people around him in a common, intimate and personal way; these sketches became the Blues choruses and are very much Kerouac’s view of his city. Each of Kerouac’s ‘242 “choruses” is limited by the size of the notebook pages on which he wrote; if an idea (or riff) was not exhausted in that space, he would pick it up in the next poem’². Essentially each book of Blues is a single extended poem consisting of one page spontaneous ‘choruses’.
Inspired by Kerouac’s Blues poems I set about sketching my world in spontaneous poems, carrying my little blue notebook in my pocket I wrote 20 choruses in Manchester and continue writing my choruses in Chester and will continue as I travel around my world.
Some of my Blues Choruses include:

2nd Chorus (from Manchester Blues) – by Joshua Cialis
Tramp sits in doorway
cold damp bum.
Rushing people – blind
in evening gloom.

11th Chorus (from Manchester Blues) – by Joshua Cialis
The city child sings:
a riff forms from the bricks
and a quiff rises from the rubble
but it’s the infinite social
trouble that we watch grow.

1st Chorus (from Chester Blues) – by Joshua Cialis
Dark shadows
on old brick walls
fall
like old men in the street.

While all the night

there’s a rustle in leaves

fallen
and we notice bottles

rolling – not souls

falling.

¹Robert Creeley, ‘Introduction’ to Book of Blues by Kerouac (1995)
²Edward Foster, Understanding the Beats (1992)

The Glorious Dead

 

Words by Joshua Cialis. Picture unknown.

Today across the world is Armistice Day. A day in which we remember those who have fallen in wars across the breadth of time. It is a day when service men and women, civilians, and children across the world pause for two minutes of silence to remember soldiers who have died in military service.

I wrote this poem this morning inspired by the images of war cemeteries and as someone who does not fully believe in war I saw the sadness of the names on names of the fallen etched into the walls and on war graves.  These are men and women who sacrificed their lives mostly for a cause that often wasn’t told to them; I hope that we do not need these mass cemeteries again so here is my poem for anyone from across the world who has died in war:

Et Mortuus Est In Gloria – by Joshua Cialis

Children of a generation
marching to the beat of bullets
falling to the beat of their drum.

Children of the world
hurled head first into trenches.
The glory of it all
shone in posters sent home
but now wracked in sacrificial
madness the glorious dead
find their names on walls
and parade lines of stone.
Where once they stood
now wreaths are lain
waiting for the moment
on which their bell tolls
but their white-washed walls show
the death toll grows and now
we sit in their honourable hour
watching the grown men cry,
the fatherless child sows the seeds
of peace
as poppies grow about their heads.

Misery and Poetry

Words by Jade Wolf. Picture by Bernard Pierre Wolff

You may have noticed my recent absence from Foxtrot Uniform, and I have had to take leave due to some personally upsetting reasons. I won’t go into detail about the events, but I spent the entirety of the summer holidays trapped, alone, in a tiny room to suffer with these incidents and my feelings. It got to the point where I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t do anything except stare at the monotonous glare of my computer screen and watch Graham Norton on repeat as a desperate grasp at distracting myself from the misery I have felt.

Pain can be good: I have emerged as a better person, a person who is now more self-aware of what she wants in life, is more willing to try everything at least once for the fear of being trapped in a mundane life as I felt I have done the past two years. Whilst yes, I did do the odd exciting thing, I felt stagnant, that my life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to and that reflected in my poetry. My poetry this past year has been shoddy at best, but not due to laziness or lack of motivation, but because of sorrow and stagnation. I had no inspiration because I wasn’t doing anything with my life, and the trauma of recent events meant I couldn’t even form my thoughts into coherent sentences, let alone write a poem about them.

I have recently come across some suggestions that misery influences creativity for the better, and there are various scientific studies that come to the same conclusion, such as the test done by Modupe Akinola, and her paper: “The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity.”

However, I disagree. As stated above, when in such depths of sadness; there was no poetry. I have found it is only after the pain has faded and dulled that I can truly write poetry about my experiences. One of our other editors, Holly Royle, also thinks the same. She has also been in similar situation, and she has found that she too was unable to write poetry or any form of creative writing whilst in the midst of her despair, but she has been able to write a poem after the events.

I can see two sides of the argument; yes, the side that obviously indicates that sadness can influence or make poetry (or any creative format) better; there are countless examples, particularly in the literary world to support this. But with my own experience, I have found that sometimes the pain can be too much to create anything beautiful out of.

This suffering, whilst horrific, has made me scrutinise my life and what I want out of it properly. I feel as though I have become a better person because of this, and I want to experience life at its fullest; and this is my encouragement for you to do the same.

Review: ‘Turn Off the Lights’

Words by Reece David Merrifield; Review by guest writer Ben Stewart; Photo courtesy of http://www.commercialappeal.com

We don’t usually put out a Tuesday article, but I felt obliged to post this as soon as I could. Here is a review of a new album, written by a good friend of mine:

Tennessee singer-songwriter Julien Baker’s second full length record, titled Turn Out the Lights, is a melancholic collection of songs, reflective and dark. It takes on complex themes such as substance abuse, addiction and depression, and in doing so Baker pushes us to emotional extremes, leaving the listener perpetually teetering on the edge, from one track to the next: a relentless pendulum of depression. This album draws many comparisons to Elliott Smith, perhaps the master of crafting dark/melancholic songs. Pieces often so fragile and devastating, it’s impossible not to become anchored, letting the words wash over you.

Baker’s first LP Sprained Ankle’ received positive reviews, but limited exposure. Baker toured extensively and has grown in stature, thanks to heart stopping sessions on Audiotree and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, whilst also recently signing to Matador Records. Her brand of slow core/ sparse indie ballads has resonated with a growing audience. Baker continues where she left off from Sprained Ankle, pursuing a narrative that’s ‘stream of consciousness meets nervous breakdown’. Lead single ‘Appointments’ casts a forlorn image of adulthood: An exponential growth of responsibility coupled with perpetual time leaving us less than even half-full: ‘Nothing turns out like I pictured it. / Maybe the emptiness is just a lesson in canvases’. The track ‘Happy to Be Here’, perhaps the most poignant lyrically, has Baker pondering why there’s ‘A fix for everything’ so ‘then why not me’, beating on her guitar strings as she rasps:

‘If I could do what I want
I would become an electrician
I’d climb inside my ears
And I would rearrange the wires in my brain’

A realistically surreal description of her thought processes whilst suffering with mental health issues. With such evocative lyrics, and heartfelt story-telling, it’s hard to believe Baker is just twenty-two.

The album closer, ‘Claws in Your Back’, addresses self-destructive behaviour and fighting suicidal thoughts. On writing this song Baker wanted to reach out to a friend like her, who was fighting an overall feeling of hopelessness. Turn out the Lights finds Baker perhaps looking from the other end of the tunnel. Although throughout the record there’s some of her darkest moments to date, Julien embraces us. This album is a cautionary tale and holds a certain wistfulness that comes from battling such demons. There’s a weight to this LP that is rare in even the most intimate of indie/folk artists. Baker doesn’t have a filter, and leaves herself always open, strengthening her creativity. She’s standing on the shoulders of those giants before her: Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. Crafting songs of such sincerity and emotion, I hope she is here to stay.