Spotted today in the new arrivals section of the Mitchell Library in Glasgow: Tartan Noir by Len Wanner, which includes a fine essay on my novel The Book of Man.
Despite the predominance of hate, however, of broken men with twisted minds who destroy themselves and others, noir can also be about the opposite — love. In fact, as Barry Graham demonstrates in The Book of Man...it is not only possible for a noir novel to be a love story, but the potential to be alone, afraid, angry, amoral, and alienating is far greater in love than it is in hate.
While unpacking the stuff I brought with me from the US, I came across a copy of NorthWords magazine from 1995, which published this poem of mine:
Worst winter in quite a while:
the guy who delivered our calor gas
was frantic, rushed off his feet.
“Never been so busy. And the other
boy I work with’s went and got
himself arrested — driving without
a licence.” We sympathised while
he put the gas in our heater and
then he ran down the stairs to his
van, too busy to be cold.
The living room warmed
by the oven, door open, grumbling
of gas; we’ll sleep in here
tonight, on the couch that
folds down, duvets brought through
from the bedroom where we could
see our breath. My wife asleep
already, ferocious body warming
the duvets; me in a chair, reading,
in a tartan scarf and red ski hat.
Discussions of free speech in the West seem to be be mostly about the freedom of white male bourgeois to say whatever they feel like saying.
But actual freedom, of speech or any other kind, is just an idea for the rest of us.
Most people I know are too concerned with managing to eat and pay rent to feel that they're free, even though they're technically allowed to say whatever they want.
I'm often told that one reason for going with traditional publishers is that they at least provide good covers. On reflection I see that this is true. For example...
My second novel, published by Bloomsbury in 1991 (a mere two years after I sold it to them), is a grungy neo-noir about boxing, gang violence and sexual obsession set in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Bloomsbury came up with this cover, which shows that it's important that the name of the publisher be the biggest text, and that a world championship boxing match is best represented by an image of two men walking past the Heart of Midlothian on their way to a gay bar:
Can you believe this book didn't sell back in those days? And how did that cover not win the Lambda Award?
However, when I republished the book myself recently, I had to settle for the following cover design by Bart Lessard. As he doesn't work for traditional publishers, he apparently thought the cover should actually have something to do with the content and tone of the book:
And, weirdly, people started buying the book. Who could have known?
The next book of mine that Bloomsbury published was a collection of stories about alcoholism, child abuse, gang violence, drug addiction, murder, and sexual obsession (yes, I'm a little ray of sunshine), set in Glasgow and Edinburgh. So, naturally, they decided that the cover should be a fuzzy painting of a window in a castle:
Bloomsbury also failed to get it to bookshops that tried to order it, so even fewer people bought it than the previous one.
When I decided to republish that book myself, I turned to the French artist and writer Vince Larue for a cover image. He did this:
Clearly, I should run back to Bloomsbury, apologise for jumping ship, and beg them for another chance. Having people actually buy the book is just too weird. Even weirder is getting paid on time.
Jane Hirshfield, poet, essayist and Zen practitioner, has this poem in the Washington Post, and will read it at the March for Science on April 22.
Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
In an interview in 1983, Michel Foucault said the French system of “social guarantees,” established in 1946, had now reached its economic limits. He was wrong, as are the governments who are now advocating “austerity” for the increasingly-impoverished citizens while corporate profits reach record highs.
The myth is that there is not enough money to meet everyone’s needs for housing, food and healthcare. The actuality is that money does not exist, except for our collective agreement that it represents ownership of resources. There are enough resources for everyone, but most of the money — and therefore power over the resources — is in the hands of a brutal and parasitic minority.
Jay Z has removed most of his back catalogue from Spotify.
I get quite a bit of hate mail. I’m not complaining — I’m grateful that anyone cares enough to write to me, positively or negatively, and I don’t believe either side.
But one of the most common words the haters use for me is “liberal.” (It’s interesting that the word, which means generous, is so often used as a pejorative.) I hope I’m a liberal person — but I am not, and never have been, “a liberal.”
Liberals don’t really oppose an unjust and brutal system. They merely think it should be less unjust and brutal. They offer no solutions, but yell, “Less! Less!” from the gallery. They essentially trust hierarchy and authority. They believe that the status quo is morally valid, and that it only needs to be run more efficiently and more fairly. They don’t really object to slavery, they just think the slaves should be treated better.
I don’t want less of a culture of greed and exploitation — I want another culture. I don’t want a less illiterate society — I want a literate one. Slightly diluted poison is still poison. For as long as we are “liberals,” our society will continue to destroy itself and other societies, no matter which arm of the corporate body we vote into office.