richard pierce

richard pierce

24 April 2017

This Time

With all the different lives you lead
It’s so difficult to get hold of you.

That’s what parents do, I suppose;
Chase youth until they run out of breath

And grow old.

Keeping track of the words I’ve put together
For you is almost impossible. They’re littered
Across two handfuls or more of machines
And scattered pieces of paper and billions
Of cells in this unordered mind of mine.

What we pass on to our children is the best of us.

Parents wind back time until they’re children
Again, and undivide from what created them.

You are not the child you were,
Because you’re a child no more.

I love the way you are becoming original.

The order of things changes. I read
What you write and I learn new things there.
It was the other way around, once.
I’m glad it no longer is because
I was never any good at teaching.

Time is just an artificial measurement of the vanishing of the sun.

Think of happiness in the darkest of times
And know it will return in your life-time.

Grab each moment you can
And make it your own.

R, 29th March 2017, 22:25

For Kara's 18th birthday

17 March 2017

Immortality (inspired by Derek Walcott)

I am thankful that words are immortal,
That we leave something behind when we go,
Some things our people can touch and read and understand.

I am thankful for the too many words I sometimes write,
Ignoring and forgetting the rules they tell us good writing needs,
When emotion and honesty are what makes the writing good.

And perhaps it’s writing that makes us good, that mends our souls
To keep us together in our hardest hours, to pull us away from evil,
And perhaps it’s writing that mends the grief of those we leave behind.

R, 17/03/2017, 17:27

11 March 2017

Birthday Song (a late posting)

We went to a gig on your birthday’s eve,
You and I, just another dad and daughter,
And you with a shirt in your jacket pocket
To give to your favourite singer,
A blonde androgynous boy you’ve met twice,
With the voice of an angel,
Walking into crowds like onto water.

Me upstairs, because we booked the tickets too late,
And you down there in the mosh pit,
Touching his hand, pulling his tie,
He suddenly famous,
You still in the crowd,
And his hug a memory that makes you feel old.

We have to leave early
Because the private trains have stopped
Delivering public benefit, and have to sprint
To catch that last train to the sticks
We foolishly live in.

So now it’s almost midnight,
And your mouth is full of water,
And your pocket still full of shirt,
And your heart full of that joy
We grab from our idols,
And your head full of music
And friends,
And words you want to shout out loud.

So you chose to sit near some men you didn’t know,
Strangers full of drink and song,
And they start to sing and no-one sings with them
On the full train, and you start that banter
That comes to you more easily than you admit,
And you tell them it’s your birthday in fifteen minutes,
And their leader walks the carriage to tell them to sing
For you.

You’re not afraid any more, girl,
Not of others,
Just still of yourself.

And on the stroke of midnight,
Rolling into Chelmsford, he stands up
And conducts a choir of strangers
A band of kind drunkards, for once,
And your best birthday present is made.

I wish you gentle men like those who sang,
I wish you gentle people like those who wished you well,
I wish you many happy memories like the one you made then.
I wish you glory that’s not reflected
Unless it’s yours in other people’s eyes.
I wish you everything this memory is, forever.

For Alex

R, 25/02/2017, 02:24

4 March 2017

Brecht and Diderot and the internet

Dear Ren,

Sorry not to have written back sooner. Ever since I got back from the US, I seem to have been doing nothing but day job work, volunteer commitments, and sleeping (and that mainly on trains).

Some words from long ago.
I haven't seen Set Fire to the Stars, though I went through a phase (in 1999-2000 to be precise) where I was totally and utterly obsessed with him and his words and his life. We were on holiday in Wales in the summer of 1999, and went to his house, and I spent hours gazing in through the window of the shed in which he used to write. There were reams and reams of paper in there with him testing thousands of words to see if one of them actually would fit into a poem. I started doing the same, and my notebooks of the time (which I have just got up from the desk to check) are full of similar notations, full of poems with long, rolling sentences, images ripped from some place in my head that I'm not sure I want to go back to. I ended up in hospital with what I thought were heart attacks during that phase. It turns out they were panic attacks brought on by God knows what (stress brought on by thinking too much, I should imagine, seeing as my osteopath asked me why I hadn't seen him about these episodes because "your shoulders are as stiff as concrete, and that's where all this has come from"). Despite still loving some of his poems (the simpler ones, mainly, like the one I quoted), I am nowadays still not sure whether Thomas was a genius or a charlatan, if the real reason for him drinking so much was to get away from what he had turned himself into, to get away from the part he was playing. But then we're all playacting, aren't we?

I had to google immersive theatre to be absolutely sure what it was. I'd initially thought it was just getting so absorbed in the piece you're watching that you feel like you're a part of it. The full definition is that the audience actually is a part of it. I know next to nothing about theatre except for my usual visceral response to any piece of art. Because I like simple things and emotions. What I do know is that I went to a Jacobean theatre in London a while back to watch a play, and there were a couple of actors in the audience playing the audience (in all senses, ie being the audience but part of the play, as well as involving the out-of-costume audience which had paid to watch). All very enjoyable, but all a bit strange, for me, brought up as I have been on Brechtian alienation where the whole pint of involving the audience is to remind them that what they're seeing is a play, to stop them from suspending disbelief, for them to engage their critical faculties and say to themselves "this is a play, but it's a play with a message." Nothing fake about that.

The whole landscape of news has changed in the last fifteen years (I sound like a grumpy old man now), and I must admit that I often agree with people when they say that mankind has not become more evil but just that we're so much more aware of it because the news is global and because it's available 24/7. Does this apply to fake news, too? Has that always been around? Propaganda certainly has, though I suppose there used to be places where you could hide from that propaganda. Now, with social media, and the internet, ubiquitous, there's a much bigger audience to be misled, a captive audience that wants to be told what it wants to hear. Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts is what Brecht said. And, in Going Underground, The Jam sang The public gets what the public wants, but I don't get what this society wants. I suppose that just about sums it all up.

Living on the internet is like living in a big city. It mostly isolates rather than socialises. That's why you're always right when you withdraw yourself from it. I haven't perfected that art yet, partly because I need it for my day job (and there it has done wonders for what factual information I can gather, for how far I can reach to gather that information, and to reach out to people in need on behalf of my masters. By the way, a wise old friend of mine (now sadly dead) quite rightly pointed out that it was pornography which drove the whole speeding up of the internet - to transmit photos and films of people doing unspeakable (and maybe speakable) things to each other needed higher bandwidth, better technology. And pornography, with its ultimate aim of generating revenue, drove all those developments, because money breeds money. And that's probably pornography in itself.

Never rip up any paper you've started writing on. It would actually have been easier for you to press Delete and start again, but I wouldn't have wanted you to start again, because since when are letters supposed to be endlessly optimistic and forward-looking. We don't know we have a navel unless we gaze at it, or touch it with our hands. Same thing. We need to reflect, we need to allow ourselves our sadnesses as well as our happinesses, and we need to share them with each other (and not just you and me).

I get what you say about schooling, and, unlike you, I've never had the patience to teach children properly. What I argue with, in my situation, though, is the lack of guidance given to my children. What is the point of teaching children there are hoops to be jumped through (over here they call them assessment objectives), to tell children you don't think they're meeting those assessment objectives, and then not to go on and explain to those children how they can work towards meeting those objectives? That is the point. And, at the risk of sounding again like a grumpy old man, why not teach children the tools with which they can achieve (ie how to acquire knowledge and how to use it) rather than spoonfeeding them what they need to pass an exam? It makes no sense to me. And especially in the arts where the teaching I've experienced here in the last ten years is so prescriptive that it eliminates any talent anyone might have. And with that dies curiosity.

I love the name of your restaurant.

Speaking of Diderot, as you were, you must read To the Hermitage by Malcolm Bradbury. It's all about Diderot and Catherine of Russia, and St. Petersburg, which is on my bucket list of places to visit.

Do poets mean anything by what they say, except to create extraordinary images of ordinary things? If stars can be ordinary, that is.

Dead Men bound by Ren.
What do I question? The colour of the sky, the colour of the grass, my existence, why success seems to come to those who are mean, not those who are kind, why I chose to write, why I choose to write and not just to put it all to one side and say that's it, that's enough, that's that done with, now focus on life. When I last ran, on 16th February, I tried to conjure, out of the countryside around me, out of the hedgerows on the side of the road, that blonde girl who jumped out at me in 2008 and told me to write her story (Dead Men), so that I could write some more. And, miraculously, she did, and I now have it all in my head. I just need to create the time to write it all down, to make sense of it all, of a life that's just in a book, but is real nevertheless.

Much love to you and E.


17 February 2017

Trying (too hard) to grow old disgracefully

Dear Ren,

Two weeks ago, my alarm went after I'd got three hours of sleep after getting into JFK at 23:00 EST, getting a ride back to where I was staying, and settling in my room with a couple of bottles of Guinness and an easy route to the back door to indulge my need for nicotine as well. I set my alarm for 5:30 EST because my first meeting was before 8, and my body needs time to wake up.

Silver birches in Connecticut, the night I arrive
Thanks for your healing thoughts for my back which gave me no particular trouble while I was out there. It's just very odd to have been back for 10 days and still to be feeling totally and utterly exhausted. Even two 3-mile runs at 11 minutes a mile don't seem to have shaken off the cobwebs. But maybe there's more to it than that anyway. Suffice to say that this is the longest M and I have been apart since I went on book tour to the US in 2012, and before that when I went to the Antarctic in January 2008.

The more than just that I'm referring to is this - time is passing so very very quickly, and yet to me it feels like this winter is dragging on forever, that the dark nights are getting no lighter, that the days aren't getting any longer, that the optimistic taste of spring isn't in the air yet, that the world instead is holding its breath for something bad yet to happen this season. I hope I'm wrong, but meltdowns are happening everywhere. And in the US I somehow felt even more keenly this clash, this conflict between absolute wealth and absolute poverty sitting there side by side, just waiting for something incendiary to happen. And then the whole world will be blown sky high. I hope I'm wrong, and we'll all find some better way of creating equality and peace than violent conflict. Because any such conflict creates martyrs on either side, and that just perpetuates everything. Montagues and Capulets all over again, and on and on.

Anyway, I didn't set out to be maudlin in this second letter bashed out straight to screen without my brain and hand having time to think and stop. I wanted to say I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write back (the backlog of work was huge when I got back, plus the symptoms above). I'm lucky to have been able to travel, when so many others have not, for want of funds, for want of understanding nations, etc etc. You see, there I go again. This has been a long winter of the soul - been going on since 24th June for those of us who don't want Brexit to happen, I guess.

What I was going to say is that I'm convinced you'll age much more gracefully than me - and I'm almost seven years ahead of you on that road, so I must be the expert. Much more graceful in thought and looks than me. I am that Dylan Thomas poem to the extreme

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at the close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Or maybe I try too hard to be. I always think being disgracefully old rather than gracefully old, like you will be, would suit me much better. I do remember my father being thrown out of some government employment offices when he was trying to sort something out for my younger sister; he told me he'd sworn at the person the other side of the counter (something like "why don't you move your arse and do something about it"). He was over 80 at the time. Even if he made it up, the story still makes me smile - and I can't imagine him making it up; he was too German and upstanding for that.
Last Friday I did something almost the same - K is having an issue at her school because I think the teachers don't understand how to deal with a 17-year-old female creative who has ideas beyond the norm, and who (like me) doesn't understand the need to go into school if there aren't any lessons (I have blogged about this) . After having phoned to request a meeting on that day and not having had a call back, I just drove to the school and demanded to see her. Two flunkeys now less, at separate times, suggested I might just like to give them my phone number and arrange a meeting for the week after half-term (ie the week starting on 20th Feb). I just said no and told them I'd wait, no matter how long it took. It didn't take very long after that for me to get my wish. By the way, do people with ear-rings sitting in a school reception playing chess on their mobile phones always get weird looks? But, actually, before you go praising that courage of mine again (which I don't think I possess in the slightest), I feel like Walter Mitty 90% of the time.
There are stories in the aches and the sagging flesh. Oh, so true, and wise. You see, I am the one raging against the sagging of the aching flesh, because I've always wanted perfection. Is that because society conditioned me, because my father conditioned me (not sure he did, actually)? I don't know. But I do know you're right, and that I should learn to read those stories in my body and others, that I should accept that I am on the gentle downward curve, and that my body has already lasted longer than most cars, all computers, and some of my peers. But while accepting that I shouldn't make it worse by just letting myself go. When I was running yesterday, coughing my guts up, and cursing myself for being an unfit reprobate, that other inner voice of mine reminded me of the 14-year-old boy with the 40-inch waist just moved back to England, fat and immobile of body and mind. And the voice told me if a reprobate can still run a mile in 11 minutes, he can't be that bad.
I liked your recollection of the 60-year-old lover. Shouldn't we all bring all of ourselves to bed, each and every time? ... I left a pause there while writing, because I wanted the silence to be the sound of my question. Perhaps I am just too idealistic, unreasonably so, with expectations way too high, of myself, and those in the past, and the only one in the present and future. I note I ask more questions in my letters to you than answer any of your questions. I'm sorry. And I, too, look at men and women whom I find aesthetically pleasing. They decorate my world.
As is my wont, I often print out these letters of yours - I must actually print them all out and put them in a box for when the Internet is a thing of the past; and I'm sitting here at my desk reading the last page, and loving the weight you put on each word, just the right weight to make your wisdom not something heavy to bear, but something that brings a smile to my face, and a nod to my neck when I find myself agreeing because it's so true. Yes, we will regroup. Yes, the rain will eventually stop. Yes, the pain will go away (and that is how I deal with pain by looking forward to a time when it won't be there, but that's not easy all the time). Yes, loving is enough. Yes, caring is enough. Putting in all the effort is enough, because the fruits of our labours will look after themselves. And in that way, we change the world.
Much love to you and yours, across the North Sea,