First up was the launch for Sea Stories, at Stanfords. This was a very civilised affair, with readings by four of the contributors and a perhaps ill-judged opportunity for questions. I find it hard to listen to prose being read aloud (though I’m perfectly happy – indeed eager - to do it myself!) and suspect that the best work often loses a lot of its resonance in the process, but all four writers convinced me that their stories were well worth the telling, with Sam Llewellyn’s dramatic, slightly staccato style, as though each phrase were a slap of wave on a hull, having, for me at least, the most impact. It’s odd, and amusing, to be in an anthology with writers you haven’t met, like the first day at a new school. There was a hilarious bit on Today the following morning, in which the Lord Admiral of the Fleet (possibly, I’m not very good on ranks), who clearly hadn’t read a word of the thing and more or less said as much – he referred to the contents of the book as ‘articles’ - waxed lyrical about the beauty of sunsets. Don’t let this put you off. You can get it from Amazon.
As far as Little Monsters goes, I now have bound proofs and can see it as a book for the first time. And hey! It is! (I’m far too excited by this to behave in a coherent or useful fashion here, so let’s move on. But it looks fantastic!)
The Baselitz show is a must. It’s extraordinary to see the paintings develop from the early post-war stuff to the latest remixes as he struggles to subvert figuration not through abstraction, which, seen from this perspective, begins to feel like a cop-out, but by cutting and splicing, upturning, reducing, through mockery and quotation and inanity and the sheer physicality of the medium. There’s a wonderful weight of paint and, when that’s not enough, the surface is gouged and carved, to be painted over and gouged again. His sculptures, like Matisse’s, are a painter’s sculptures, but none the less for that, while the final room shows an invigorating playfulness as he picks up and reworks the themes of the earlier stuff. Feet, not always attached, play an interesting ever-changing role throughout the show. Standing in the first hexagonal room you can see the original Oberon (this one here) to your right and the remix (used to advertise the show) to your left. Oddly, there’s no postcard available of the original, which is an astonishing painting, the four marginal heads, curious as aliens, staring down towards you, their only source of light. Don’t miss it. I mean that.
Then, on Thursday evening, Isobel Dixon launched her poetry collection, A Fold in the Map. I’ll let the poetry speak for itself, as it does, with honesty and dignity and a hard-won lightness of touch. But I will say that I had a wonderful time, meeting new people and finding myself, for the first time since my old poetry reading days, in an environment where writing was simply something one did. I imagine the mood is similar at a plumbers’ convention, and any plumber who’s worked in isolation will feel the same mixture of exhilaration and fellowship that I did. Thank you, Isobel. You also made me laugh so much (I can’t remember why) that I snorted a glass of red wine down my front, although this was considerably later in the evening.