My feelings about Lemonade

My good pals Fran Perbohner and Sophia Fraser told me that I had to watch the visual album, Lemonade by Beyoncé. Sophia is a big time Beyoncé fangirl and they told me to watch it weeks ago. However I never got round to it. I liked and respected Beyoncé a lot (who doesn’t?) but I wasn’t a hardcore fan.

However, yesterday Fran insisted that I watch it and so I did and I told her I would write a blog post expressing my feelings about the album, whether I liked it or not. So here we are. My feelings about Lemonade!

I think I didn’t want to watch it because I had heard that it was about Jay Z cheating on Beyoncé. With them having a little child and it being Beyoncé (the thought that any man could cheat on her is depressing to me), I found that to be off-putting. Which is naughty of me really because I should know, well, I do know that a lot of art, if not all art on a fundamental level, comes from the artist’s experience, their life. But I think in this case it was somehow just too close to home because I already know the characters involved.

You could say Adele does the exact same thing, she writes songs about her own personal heartbreak. And that is raw and wonderful and relatable. However I’m not actually familiar with the guy that dumped Adele, prompting her to write 21. I didn’t really know anything about Adele before that so there were quite a few degrees of separation that made the work safer. Much safer than watching work about a family I already know, admire and support in my own way.

So yeah. I also think it doesn’t help that the initial introduction to Lemonade was in that very tabloid ‘Jay Z cheated’ way – this is how I first heard of it online. Because now I’ve seen the work I would say that the cheating is just one part of it, a catalyst to a much more epic communication that spans history, culture and music.

And that’s the thing that startled me the most when I watched and listened to this album. That from one woman’s personal experience could come an exploration of the entirety of womanhood, the entirety of race, the entirety of a nation. And more!

I have a newfound reverence (not even respect, reverence!) for Beyoncé after this, for a lot of different reasons. She risked something. Possibly almost everything. Her career, her family, a lot of stuff. And she did it anyway. I feel like she knew it would work and I feel like many people thought that it wouldn’t.

But she forged on anyway. She could have gone down in flames, and the unbelievable pressure that it must have put on her family… How do you have that conversation? Husband, I know you cheated on me but I want to make a huge visual album about it. And please can you be in it with me? It’ll be brill, promise!

That’s the thing isn’t it? What I learnt from this album artistically is that it isn’t about the idea. It is about the execution. This is a breath-taking example of someone coming up with an idea and then battling the living daylights out of it. We can all come up with ideas right? …I’m going to make a film about a racing car driver who lives large and dies on the track… I’m going to make a music video featuring girls dressed as tortoises… God, ideas are ten a penny, good, bad, ugly, whatever. But the execution is the thing. Given the time and expertise and passion both those ideas could turn out to be amazing. They could also turn out to be abysmal.

And that’s what Beyoncé embodies. From the original idea of – I’m going to make an album about this pain I feel about my husband cheating, it has grown and grown and grown and grown some more! I knew we weren’t only going to be finding out about Beyoncé’s troubles when imagery of some kind of colonial plantation house came up and we get these unbelievably beautiful images of black women… And that’s just the start. It becomes about more ideas, more music, more references than I can possibly keep up with.

On a personal level it spoke to me in a way that genuinely made me change, like actually change, the way I think of my own life. I wasn’t excited to watch it because it wasn’t a palatable subject matter to me. And I think this is what happens in life. And I think it explains some things that have happened in my own life.

When I went through a difficult time when I had my first son I found that it was hard to have the same ‘appeal’ to other people that I normally had. I felt like there were parts of my life that were no longer interesting to others, in fact they were down right ‘off-putting’ – just as I had described my idea of what this album would be like right?

I wasn’t as easy to be around, as enjoyable to talk to, and I found my circumstances difficult to admit to. I saw that it visibly confused some people to see me not the same as I usually was. This is not a damnation of others, it’s what happens, I’ve done the same myself… But watching that album made me realise that it is ok to have times in your life where things go wrong, where the screen goes blank and the unthinkable happens.

It’s ok because life is this adventure and if I avoid life then maybe, yes I won’t have to experience these things. And maybe if Beyoncé had not become an international singer and married Jay Z and had a beautiful child, then she would not have had to go through the pain of world famous adultery. But I don’t think that she would have it any other way, and that inspires me to think the same about my own life. So thank you Beyoncé, for that. And thank you to my pals Sophia and Fran for making sure I saw it!

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Inspiration!

I went on a walk with my family last week alongside a bundle of bubbling waterfalls amongst golden trees whose leaves were falling to the ground. It was raining. But that didn’t put me off. Robert Burns sat by the same waterfalls a few hundred years ago and was famously inspired to write a poem about them. I find trees and water and leaves and all that stuff inspiring too. Not really the trees themselves – like I wouldn’t write a poem about them or anything, it’s more about the space to breathe and create I think, the newness and beauty of the surroundings. Really I find some of the best inspiration in the things that are less than beautiful. Upsets, puzzles, frustrations, injustices – my own and those of others. I like it because I often find a peace about those things and a viewpoint about them actually within my work.

I’m very interested to know what other people find inspiring. If you are a writer what fuels you? Also as a reader – what did you read that inspired some action in your life?

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Poetry in ‘Skybound’ Collection

Hello people,

I am happy to present here a book of poems collected by artist Rosie Lesso called Skybound. My poem ‘Queen of the Gannets’ is part of the collection. The book is edited by the great Alistair Cook and contains a selection of beautiful poems and illustrations.

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Rosie & Gill

My friend Rosie Lesso who I have known since we studied at Edinburgh College of Art together a few moons ago is an amazing visual artist. We just got news that together we are going to be part of the Cupar Arts Festival in October 2013. I’ll do the writing, Rosie will do the art; we’re putting a book together which I’ll talk about in another blog post soon.

Rosie is also creating another book as part of the ‘Sky Bound’ project which is part of another arts festival called North Light in Dunbar, Scotland.

To find out more about the upcoming book for the Sky Bound project and to get more insight into how words and art can interact I did an interview with Rosie and here it is in full:

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What is your background etc?
I am an artist based in Scotland. Drawing is my main interest, and I like to try and stretch the boundaries of what the term means. I am interested in the informality of the word drawing; it implies less permanence than say, painting or sculpture. More recently I have also worked on a number of participatory projects like this one for North Light; I also do part time and freelance education work and this kind of project has meant I can explore and overlap educational elements with my own practice.

2. Can you tell us about the project for the poetry book?

The poetry book is the second part of a binary project called Sky Bound, for the North Light Festival in Dunbar. The first part was a series of interventions; 5 graphic road signs featuring flying gannets, which are very dominant in Dunbar, were spread across the town. A location map was distributed, encouraging locals to walk the route and think about travel, flux and migration. Alongside this I also put three poetry boxes out in Dunbar, with a call out to locals and other writers from Scotland to create or contribute short poems on the theme of migration. In its two month duration 35 poems were submitted. Poets include Ken Cockburn, Angus Reid, Colin Will and Lesleymay Miller. The next stage is to select and refine and create a permanent hard back book featuring the poems and my own art work, for official launch in early June next year.

3. How does the book fit in with the North Light festival?
This is the first year the North Light festival has run, with funding from a variety of sources including Creative Scotland. The purpose was to engage and bring together the local community with a variety of site specific, environmental art works celebrating the character of the location. I hope my project has contributed to the festival in that way and drawn some parallels with other artists’ projects too. The book will be launched next year in early June 2013, so it also creates a legacy from one year to the next.

4. What is the goal of the book?
The book will become a lasting archive of the 2012 festival and be stored permanently in a location in Dunbar, to be confirmed. It brings together voices including artists, poets, and local writers who were in Dunbar at that moment in time, and who have responded to a theme so relevant to Dunbar with its constant flow of birds to and from the sea, so a document of time and place.

5. How do you see your drawings working alongside the poetry for the book?
I think there are many parallels to be found between drawing and poetry as both can have a fragile, papery quality. I once read a quotation somewhere that said writing poems was like dropping leaves onto a highway, and I thought the same could be said of making a certain type of drawing. The plan is to create black and white drawings or etchings for the book which will have a condensed use of visual language and an ambiguity similar to that found in many of the poems, hopefully leaving more room for multiple interpretations.

6. Why did you chose poetry/short prose?
I chose poetry partly for some of the reasons outlined above, but also just because I love reading poems myself, particularly short poems which use language in a very economical or abstract way. The theme of migration is quite open so I saw abstract possibilities in it for poetry. I was also aware there are a number of poets living in Dunbar, or who would be involved in North Light and this would be a great opportunity to meet and work with them.

Rosie Lesso
Rosie Lesso
Road sign featuring a flying gannet in Dunbar, part of the North Light Festival

Bird Poetry

I just wrote a poem for the first time in a long, long time. Too long. Poetry has traditionally scared me. I always think of myself as a prose writer – plenty space and freedom to say what I want, plenty of room to move about, explore, develop. Writing a novel is like taking a huge journey where it’s okay to take the odd detour now and again.

Poetry, now poetry for me is a different thing entirely. Rhyme used to scare me witless but I recently found out what some of those terrifying poetry words mean that you get told in school but never really explained. Technical words that looked so complicated they took on a magical, other worldly quality. The basic reasoning was – I’ll never do any of that.

So when my old friend Rosie Lesso asked me to contribute to a book of poetry and drawings to be published next year my first thought was to somehow avoid having to write an actual poem. Right up until yesterday I was going to do a short prose piece. However somewhere along the line I started to write a poem. I thought of one verse first of all – one of the middle ones.

It had a certain beat and it sounded nice. From that I built up the rest of the verses, all to tell this miniature tale. At some point near the end, as I read it back to myself I realised that the thing actually kind of rhymed. Lo and behold, this was not what I was expecting but I went with it. Of course once I had realised it rhymed I then had to make the rest of it rhyme too which was more of a challenge but not an insurmountable one. It took a little longer but it was actually fun to have that restriction. It made me look at the words, say them out loud, piece them together, find new words.

So yes, I’m now a convert to poetry and I’m looking forward to writing more. By the way, I wanted to include this picture of some gannets as these birds and their activities on the East coast of Scotland, near Edinburgh, inspired the poem as a whole. The book will be out next year and I will be sure to let you know all about it at that time!