Posts Tagged ‘beat generation’

Five lost Edinburgh bookstores that I wish still existed.

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Dangerous Ladders
(Photo credit)

OK, so I was reading this post on Buzzfeed about Edinburgh’s great array of charming bookstores (and newsflash: this aint even all of them!), and although the post is really lovely, it got me thinking wistfully of the Edinburgh bookstores of yesteryear that are no more. I thought that they merited a photoblog of their own and so, here are five. If you have more to add, please do let me know!

the Haynes Nano Stage 01
(Photo credit)

Jim Haynes’ Paperback Bookshop
Did you know that Edinburgh had its own (small) Beat movement? It’s a true fact: and it’s largely down to Jim Haynes and his iconic Paperback Bookshop. The shop was opened in 1959 in Bristo Square, next to the University, and it famously had a rhino head mounted on the wall outside (here’s a gorgeous photo of a wee girl posing next to it!). Haynes claims to this day that his was the UK’s first ever paperback-only bookshop. It was also a mecca for Beat enthusiasts… and trouble. In 1960, a woman famously staged a protest outside the shop by burning one of its copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Sadly, the University decided to redevelop Bristo Square in 1966, and rather shortsightedly kicked the Paperback Bookshop out of its premises. They’ve since realised the error of their ways and created a memorial — which includes the book sculpture pictured above, and a brand new rhino head — to this lost cultural site.

Student reading in the Hub, Main Library.
(Photo credit)

Pickerings Books
Sad fact: I cannot find a single photograph of Pickerings Books online, and yet it was a gorgeous bookstore that sat right on the corner of Buccleuch Place, only yards from where the aforementioned Paperback Bookshop once stood. Were it still in existence, it would have been just about visible behind the totes cool dude in the photo above. Pickerings was a wee place, but it was full of gems. As an English Literature undergraduate/not-yet-fully-formed-human, I used to spend hours in there digging through the badly-organised shelves and random piles of second hand books. One day, I found what I thought was a scruffy old book of Edwin Morgan poems for two quid. It turned out to be a first edition of The Second Life that was signed in the front by Angus Calder. ONLY IN PICKERINGS could such treasure be unearthed.

The new town paperback
(Photo credit)

The New Town Paperback
I’ll admit: this place always seemed a little creepy… but in a good way, if that makes sense? I don’t think I ever met anyone else in it, I was always the lone browser, and I never saw anyone else go in or out. The books in the window display all had really sun-faded covers, like they’d been there decades. And yet, I took huge comfort from seeing this place was still there, in spite of everything, whenever I passed on the bus. It’s now a trendy wine shop, where I will never shop, simply because they covered up that amazingly retro shopfront. Sorry not sorry! (PS: here’s a photo of me, posing horribly, outside the New Town Paperback when it was still a going concern…)

Pulp Fiction
(Photo credit)

Pulp Fiction
Tollcross is my favourite area of Edinburgh, and I loved the couple of years that I spent living in a fifth-floor walk up right on Tollcross Junction (noisy as it was). Pulp Fiction was my local bookstore then, as it was only yards from my front door. It was a sci fi/fantasy specialist store and seemed to have literally every sci fi title in the world, no matter how obscure… plus seriously dedicated and knowledgable staff. It was also a really cool literary events venue. I still have no idea why it closed down and my heart is sad whenever I pass by the shopfront it once occupied. RIP, Pulp Fiction!

Happy Birthday, Allen Ginsberg!
(Photo credit)

Old Hat Books at the Old Forest
I know that the Forest Cafe still lives, and I am super pleased that it moved to its New Forest location in Tollcross (see above). However, I miss EVERYTHING about the Old Forest on Bristo Place. It was just the perfect space for a burgeoning DIY arts co-operative, with little nooks and crannies containing everything from a hairdressers to a darkroom, from the amazing Free Shop to a recording studio. And there was also Old Hat Books! A kind of independent bookstore/library/book club mash-up. Like everything about Forest, there was and is really nothing else like Old Hat Books in Edinburgh, if not the world. Hopefully it will eventually make a comeback at New Forest, and maybe become New Hat Books…?

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

STARRY RHYMES: now available for purchase!

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Starry Rhymes 007

Apologies for the delay in posting these details — I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath! STARRY RHYMES is finally available to purchase, right here, for the bargain price of £5 plus P&P!

You probably know by now what STARRY RHYMES is all about — but if not, check out our submissions call to see what it was we were looking for! We received nearly 150 emails to register interest in the project, and over 130 poems were submitted. After much deliberation, we managed to whittle these down to just 33. You can find out a bit about the folk whose poems we picked here.

Starry Rhymes 004

Each copy of STARRY RHYMES is printed on high quality 80gsm white paper, and has a unique, handmade cream cardstock cover. No copy is quite the same as the others! Each was lovingly hand-cut and stapled to produce a limited single printing of 140. 33 of these went to our fabulous contributors, and we sold a huge pile of them on our rather raucous launch night (check out Chris Scott’s amazing photos from the event here!)… so these books are disappearing fast!

If you’d like a copy, they’re only a fiver plus P&P, and you can get your hands on one right here. Just click the Paypal button below and follow the instructions! No Paypal account required — if you’re not registered, just pay with your card as you would elsewhere online.


STARRY RHYMES is a product of Read This Press, a DIY micropress specialising in limited edition print runs of handmade poetry pamphlet anthologies and collections. RTP is run by poets/teachers/Edinburgh residents Claire Askew and Stephen Welsh. It is not unknown for us to be described as a “punk” press. We particularly like poets who are new/unknown/upcoming, intimidatingly well-read, and tattooed.

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STARRY RHYMES: the launch! Friday 3rd June, 7.30pm, Forest!

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Ginsberg

PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
26/05/2011

FOREST CAFE HOSTS BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR BEAT GENERATION LEGEND
[HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLEN GINSBERG, Friday 3rd June, 7.30pm, Bristo Hall (Forest Cafe)]

Friday 3rd June this year would have been the 85th birthday of legendary Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, and to celebrate the occasion, Read This Press are teaming up with Edinburgh’s Forest Cafe to throw a massive birthday bash in his honour.

Read This Press editors Claire Askew and Stephen Welsh have spent the past few months compiling an anthology of contemporary poems which respond to Ginsberg’s original works. Poets from all over the world got in touch to request one of Ginsberg’s poems to respond to, and the editors were overwhelmed with hundreds of submissions. From these, just 33 were chosen to be included in a limited edition, handmade chapbook of poems, named Starry Rhymes after one of the great man’s lesser-known poems. Poets whose works have been selected include Sally Evans, Kevin MacNeil and Eddie Gibbons, whose latest collection was shortlisted for the 2011 Scottish Book of the Year award.

The HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLEN GINSBERG event will take place on Friday 3rd June, in the Forest Cafe’s cavernous Bristo Hall. As well as marking the official launch of the Starry Rhymes chapbook, it will also host a rare screening of Ginsberg’s 1967 London travelogue, Ah! Sunflower, and feature a solo set from the brilliant Withered Hand, taking time out of his UK tour to play for Allen’s birthday. Poets whose works are featured in the chapbook will perform their pieces alongside Allen Ginsberg’s, and other literary folk are invited to step up to the mic and offer their birthday tributes to the great man.

The event begins at 7.30pm and is totally free to enter. Forest operates a BYOB policy, and donations to the Save the Forest fund will be encouraged. Attendees will be able to purchase copies of Starry Rhymes at the event, and it will also be available for purchase online thereafter.

Loved by readers since his emergence onto the literary scene in the mid 1950s, Ginsberg was one of the foremost figures in the Beat movement, and as well as producing seminal works such as Howl and America, he was also responsible for the promotion and publication of some of the great Beat novels including William S Burroughs’ Junky and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. His most famous work, the volume Howl and Other Poems, was the subject of a high profile obscenity trial upon its publication in 1955, and this trial and its eventual outcome was recently depicted in the movie Howl, which starred James Franco and David Strathairn.

[ends]

Notes
For more information email Claire Askew via claire@onenightstanzas.com

(Photo)

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Call for submissions: ‘Starry Rhymes: 85 Years of Allen Ginsberg’

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

As you may already know, I am a huge Beat Generation enthusiast and I am particularly interested in the poet Allen Ginsberg. Friday 3rd June this year would have been Ginsberg’s 85th birthday, and I would really like to do something to mark the occasion.

Taking inspiration from Rob Mackenzie’s excellent ‘Norman MacCaig at the GRV‘ centenary event, I would like to gather a bunch of poets together who’d be willing to write a poem (of any style, form, and — within reason — length) inspired by Ginsberg. Each poet will be given a different poem by the great man himself, and asked to write a response to that poem (no prior knowledge of Ginsberg’s work required!). The climax of the project will be twofold.

Firstly, I’ll gather together all of the response poems, and publish them in a limited run (probably 100 or 150, depending on the number of poets) of handmade chapbooks (via my Read This Press micropress). Poets involved will each receive one free copy of this publication (entitled Starry Rhymes, after AG’s 1997 poem of the same name).

Secondly, I have booked out the Forest Hall (the space above Edinburgh literary landmark, the Forest Cafe) for the evening of 3rd June for the chapbook launch. I am hoping to screen archive footage of Ginsberg, play some recordings of the great man reading, invite academics and creatives to come and speak about Ginsberg’s life, work and influence, and to host performances by some of the poets whose work appears in the chapbook. There may also be live music/other delights. Poets who read at this event will be able to sell books/CDs/other merch — the event will be free but donations will be requested.

If you would like to be involved in the project, let me know asap by emailing claire@onenightstanzas.com and I will send you your mystery Ginsberg poem to respond to (sorry, I’m making it a rule that you can’t pick your own — otherwise I’m pretty sure I’d get 25 ‘Howl’ responses! But if the poem I choose for you is really not to your taste, let me know). Once responses are in, my editorial team (currently TBC) and I will select the poems that will make it into the chapbook, and let you know asap.

We’re looking for a diverse mix of writers for this project, so we’re happy to hear from spoken word and performance poets, visual and concrete poets and sound poets as well as those who write in more ‘traditional’ forms and styles. All are welcome to submit, so please do get in touch.

Deadline for final submission of responses: Sunday 8th May.

Let me know asap if you’d like to be involved, or if you have any queries! claire@onenightstanzas.com, as always!

(Image)

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Starving hysterical naked: my thoughts on the HOWL movie

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Howl
If you’ve spent any time at all at this blog, you will know I am a super-massive Allen Ginsberg fan. I first discovered the great man’s work in my third year as an undergrad English Lit student (I know, it took me long enough), and within months had voraciously read enough of his poetry to know that this was what I wanted to write my undergraduate dissertation about. After much deliberation, I decided to focus on the ‘Howl’ obscenity trial, and its still-ongoing repurcussions — at the time, there was much talk of whether or not ‘Howl’ was “a useful text”. My essay discussed whether or not it was, in fact, useful back in 1956, and more importantly, whether or not, and in what ways, it could be seen as useful now.

I was unfortunately limited to a paltry 6,000 words for my undergraduate dissertation — the shortest word limit for such a piece of work that I have ever heard of, in fact. But I was so fascinated by Ginsberg that I read, and have continued to read, far more about his life and works than was necessary for the completion of my essay. I remain fascinated by Ginsberg’s mother, Naomi, who suffered with crippling mental health issues and was institutionalised on and off throughout her life (when he was twelve, young Allen checked his mother into a mental hospital himself following an embarrassing scene in a chemist store; by the time Allen was 21, his father Louis had abandoned Naomi and Allen was forced to sign papers admitting her for full-frontal lobotomy). I made a trip to San Francisco and spent time in North Beach, encountering Lawrence Ferlinghetti, visiting the Beat Museum and hanging out in as many of Ginsberg’s haunts as I could track down. I continue to read everything I can about the great man, as well as collecting Ginsberg memorabilia — I’d rank my signed copies of ‘Howl and Other Poems’ and ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ above any of my other possessions, I think.

So when I heard that there was to be a Hollywood film about Allen Ginsberg — and specifically, about the very subject of my dissertation — I was enormously excited. I was also terrified. What if it got things wrong? What if it gave ‘Howl’ the horrible Hollywood treatment and totally warped everything? What if the person they cast as AG gave a dreadful, untrue performance? What if it sucked?

Needless to say, by the time I rocked up to the Filmhouse to buy my ticket on Friday night — the film’s first ever Edinburgh screening — I was a bag of nervous excitement. By now, I’d heard so much hype about the movie. I’d seen the trailer, and clips of James Franco’s performance as Ginsberg, which got me very excited. Franco, it seemed, was a great choice — it was clear from the snippets I saw that he’d totally nailed Ginsberg’s voice (to quote Jack Lemmon, “nobody talks like that”), surely the trickiest part of the role. However, I’d also read a whole plethora of reviews of the movie, and critics seemed to be less than enamoured with it. Reviewers seemed to be queuing up to slag off the animated sequences of the film; others apparently found the whole thing rather tedious or pointless. Mark Kermode, reviewing the movie for the BBC’s ‘Culture Show,’ charitably noted that “someone writing on a typewriter for hours” is difficult to make into “something interesting.” Overall, ‘Howl’ seemed to be receiving a resounding three out of five stars.

However, I needn’t have worried. For me, the film was absolutely, utterly perfect. The only things I can find to criticise are so totally minor that it’s almost ridiculous to even mention them — James Franco’s beard in the 1957 ‘interview’ scenes is rather obviously fake, for example, and some of the music in the animated sections is a little Royksopp-esque, which doesn’t always sit well with the period jazz of the live-action scenes. Otherwise, the movie far surpassed all my most optimistic expectations. It really is bloody brilliant.

I can see why critics don’t get it. What I’d failed to acknowledge as I read reviews of the movie in the Guardian’s film blog and elsewhere was this: probably none of these film critics are Allen Ginsberg enthusiasts. Sure, some will have a working knowledge of who the guy was, one or two may even have read some of his stuff. Chances are, many will be acquainted with him solely thanks to his Wikipedia article. It’s unlikely that many of them really know what the guy was all about. And in that case, I can totally see why they didn’t get it.
This is most definitely a movie for fans — perhaps not just Ginsberg obsessives like myself, but certainly Beat Generation fans. The film kind of assumes that you know the basic Beat story — Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Neal and Carolyn Cassady all feature, but none of them speak throughout the movie. Names that only a fan would know are mentioned briefly in passing — for example, at one point Ginsberg mentions Lucien (Carr, one of the “founder members” of the Beat Generation) — and there are little nods and hints at all sorts of cool stuff that a non-aficionado might miss. For example, the scene that shows Allen sharing a camp bed with Neal Cassady is a close filmic adaptation of the poem “Many Loves,’ a poetic recollection of the event written by Ginsberg in August 1956. So many of the scenes in the film looked familiar, because they were designed to mimic real photos taken of (and by) Ginsberg at the time. Finally, much of the dialogue is lifted verbatim from interviews given by Ginsberg, from his Journals: Early Fifties Early Sixties, and from the obscenity trial’s court transcripts. Something I couldn’t get over was the total lack of Hollywood-treatment. The film is an astonishingly accurate record.

And James Franco is a triumph. He truly captures the highly complex animal that was Allen Ginsberg. He is at once arrogant and bashful, at once flippant and sincere, at once tortured and carefree. As I mentioned earlier, his command of Ginsberg’s vocal tone and intonation is masterful — I grinned from ear to ear the first time he said the word ‘poetry’, using AG’s classic pronounciation: poet-ree. The performance really shines in the Six Gallery scenes — it is clear that Franco has studied the film and audio recordings from this event in depth, and that he took delight in re-enacting them. The moment in the 1957 interview when Franco’s Ginsberg is asked to speak about his mother’s illness had me in bits; the final scene, in which Franco/Ginsberg (he really does become AG) recites ‘Footnote to Howl,’ was just brilliant. And I loved the animation, too. It was utterly, utterly strange — dark, silly, surreal. But it really fit, not only with the poetry, but with the bigger ideas behind it. This is the depiction of a long, deep, dangerous and self-destructive drug trip; it is also a mental institution hallucination. It’s damn weird, but that’s surely a necessity. It works.

This film took all my most hopeful expectations and hit them for six. It really is fantastic — and although I’m in no real place to speculate, I’m going to say it anyway: I think Ginsberg would have bloody loved it. Sure, he never much liked to be in the spotlight — in an ideal world he would probably have preferred a movie about Cassady or Kerouac or Burroughs in which he was only a minor character (as the first Beat to gain widespread notoriety in the mid 1950s — pretty much as a result of the ‘Howl’ trial — Ginsberg threw far more of his energy into using his fame to throw opportunities in the direction of his fellow Beats than he ever did into promoting himself). But I think he’d have approved of this movie’s warmth, its wackiness and it’s honesty. I certainly did. Go and see it already.

(Photo)

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Morden Tower

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

ABOVE: Allen Ginsberg at Morden Tower with Basil Bunting and Tom Pickard in 1965 (AG’s account here).

BELOW: Me at Morden Tower with Kevin Cadwallender, September 2010.

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