This is Piazzale Loreto…

This is the spot where Mussolini was strung up at the end of the second world war. This is also Piazza Quindici Martiri where the bodies of fifteen ordinary Milanese civilians, killed by the fascists in retaliation for partisan activity, had been put on public display as a warning by Il Duce’s henchmen one year before.

I came here to read a poem (in The Swan bar just across the road). It was always going to be a quiet affair. A far cry from the large and impressive auditorium at MUDEC on Saturday and the historic Teatro Filodrammatici tonight. I had just posted a picture on social media of the bar in Piazzale Loreto when an Italian friend pointed out the significance of the location.

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I had begun to feel a little sorry for myself, sat in an unfriendly bar by what is now a huge traffic roundabout. I had begun to think that no one really understood what I did, that no one really cared whether I did it or not before my friend explained the story of the Martyrs of Piazzale Loreto.

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It may be glib to say that reading or writing poetry is an action against fascism (it depends of course on what kind of poetry you happen to be reading or writing). It may also be simplistic to suggest that if poetry’s purpose is to make you think a little differently, then a poem can be a weapon against tyranny.

The cars honked and horned around Piazzale Loreto and the locals took aperitivo in the Swan bar on Piazza Quindici Martiri. This was freedom. And I came here to read a poem.

Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano

We performed ‘My Name Is Swan’ with a live slideshow compiled by filmmaker Adam Carr as part of Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano at MUDEC. We’ll be taking this event on tour after the film premiere at the East End Film Festival on 25th June.

We’re doing a reading and Q&A at Teatro Filodrammatici tomorrow night, Tues 16 May at 7:15 pm. Details here…

The Importance of Being Elsewhere

The first time Chelsea won the league I wasn’t there. I really wasn’t there, most of us weren’t. The second time (within living memory) I wasn’t there either. I was on stage at a festival in Italy. After the show, I went backstage and found that someone had nicked my Chelsea towel from the dressing room. Yer, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I had a dressing room.

The last time we won it I was on an artists’ residency in France writing a screenplay. While Chelsea achieved yet another success I was off, scratching away, twisting in the wind, missing out on another had-to-be-there moment. But absence is the essence of poetry, loss and not belonging where it finds itself, elsewhere its station and its standing.

Poetry is the art form that isn’t there. It lacks the universality of music, the physicality of image making. If it points at anything it is beyond, away, not here. So as Chelsea fans fought in the stands when their team won the league again last night, where was I? Well, you never saw me. I wasn’t there, right?

[Jan Noble will be performing tonight at Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano, MUDEC, Via Tortona, 56, 20144 Milano, 13 maggio, 19:20 h]

Some Italian facts about swans…

  • The last known ‘breeding pair’ of Italian swans were spotted on Lake Como in 1974. Their union had been blessed by the church in 1969. It was later discovered that both swans were in fact male. The church declined to comment.
  • It is believed the poet Dante once fell in love and proposed to a swan. Swans feature in much of his poetry: “When at last the swan returns to Italy / so shall be the soul of Lombardy restored.”
  • Mussolini is said to have ruptured a testicle after being attacked by a swan on the banks of the Po. Alpine partisans in WWII carried the insignia of the swan and two orbs on their berets.
  • A violent faction of the Juventus Ultras known as ‘Brigata del Cigno’ or ‘The Swan Brigade’ attend matches dressed in black and white swan feather costumes. They intimidate rival supporters by waving their arms about a lot and hissing.
  • Jan Noble will be performing his poetic monologue “My Name Is Swan” at three venues in Milan. Saturday, 13 May at 19:20h at the Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano, MUDEC, Via Tortona, 56, 20144 Milano. On Monday 15th May at 19:30h he will give a private reading at The Swan, Piazzale Loreto, 9, 20100 Milano. On Tuesday night, 16 May at 19:15h he will perform at the spectacular Teatro Filodrammatici , Via Filodrammatici, 1, 20121 Milano.

This is Steve Micalef…

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Stephen Micalef’s 60th birthday at the Palace.

He is the greatest poet in London. He may not be the best poet in London but he is undoubtedly the greatest. He has never had any aspirations to be either, he has gone out of his way to be neither.

He hasn’t wasted time or money entering competitions, he would never consider submitting careful rewrites to magazines or bother typing up laboured manuscripts for publishers. These pursuits are petty and pointless, contradictory to everything poetry, in its rawest form, represents. Micalef is a purest. His is a life given entirely to the grubby art of rearranging words on a page and growling them at whatever audience happens to gather before him.

He has won no awards, received no nominations, been proposed for no prizes. He isn’t the darling of the lit fest circuit nor the toast of the (small p, small s) poetry society and despite this, and in part because of it, he is the greatest poet in London.

I lived with him in Brixton in the mid 90’s toward the end of his ten year tenure running the Brixton Poets – the only free, weekly poetry night in the city. I would say I served my apprenticeship under him. Back then he made little of his contribution to the legendary Sniffin’ Glue magazine. While his mate Danny Baker had made strides into mainstream media he was still happily stapling our handmade Brixton Poets’ House pamphlet (later The Concessionary) together and giving it away in pubs for nothing.

Steve wrote every day. I’m sure he still does. He’d be up at six and done by nine when he’d knock on my door to read me his morning’s output. Steve wrote fast and fearlessly. Each piece firing and misfiring simultaneously. Although he is the greatest poet in London, Steve doesn’t always write great poetry. His greatness is in that everything he writes is poetry. Every unqualified cough and imperfect croak is a poem. While the rest of us are tightly transcribing Arts Council Grants in iambic pentameter Steve Micalef is gargling turpentine and lighting it.

Mr Happy and Mr Tickle

Poetry should be ignored. Like the interesting kid in the playground. Leave it alone. It’s quite happy playing by itself. If you want to join in, fine, it can be fun, but it can also be confusing, boring, troubling and upsetting. Which is why it’s generally, and at times best, just ignored.

Politics, while inhabited by similar deviants and devas that muddle and meddle with poetry, cannot be ignored. Politicians are just like poets. They are the same. They don’t do anything. They are utterly inactive. They make no contribution to the physical world. Watch any clip of a politician ‘doing their job’ and it’ll most likely show them standing around looking awkward and uncomfortable, shaking hands with someone they’d rather not talk to or desperately trying to sound sincere into a microphone. All of these things poets ‘do’. They play with words, they fabricate truth, they change their minds, they contradict themselves, they dislike each other. They may say they ‘admire’ or ‘respect’ one another, they may claim or cling to ‘integrity’ but essentially poets and politicians belong to the same elitist gang of self serving egoists. When they come knocking at your door with their little leaflets you will know what to do.

There is, though, a difference: Poetry is powerless, politics is dangerous. A politician’s words will close a hospital, drop a bomb or destroy a forrest. A poet’s words may unsettle a molecule, disturb a particle, flutter a fibre.

At the beginning of this year I started sending poems out as postcards (contradicting my thesis that poetry should be ignored, but then U-turns are a poet’s prerogative). I have an expanding list of recipients and on the day Theresa May called an election in the UK I decided that she needed a poem. I did send her a valentine’s day poem. She ignored it. I also thought, so he didn’t feel left out (or ignored), that Jeremy Corbyn should get one too. I had heard him read a poem at a memorial service so I knew he might be more responsive than his opposite.

On the day I came to send out last month’s batch at the postoffice I found, in amongst the stamps I’d bought, two large, colourful Mr Men stamps. These I felt were not appropriate to adorn postcards being sent to respected editors of longstanding periodicals or to persons in seats of learning or to leading lights of the literary establishment. Neither did they seem to suit the small collection of friends, enemies and ex-lovers who were also in receipt of a poem a month. But Mr Happy and Mr Tickle (for these were the two characters on the stamps) wouldn’t be out of place in parliament I thought. The choice was who should get who? One smug, hands behind back, smiling blindly, the other a risible baked bean man with wobbly arms. I thought Mr Tickle suited Jeremy better and I banged Mr Happy angrily on Theresa’s postcard. Neither seemed quite right. But that’s politics.

Essentially this is the choice we will face next month. Mr Tickle, although annoying, does appear to be going out of his way to try and make people’s lives better and quite frankly Mr Happy looks like he doesn’t give a damn. He’s just happy. I bet he’d still be smiling if the NHS was sold further into private ownership. I just don’t trust that iniquitous grin. Give me Mr Tickle any day. I’ll get back to you if either reply.

[If you’d like a poem on a postcard get one here: https://www.patreon.com/jannoble Poetry is free, stamps are not.]