You and me and rain on the roof

I was listening to a couple on the train today. A young couple; very well-spoken and full of themselves; pawing over the day's Times supplements. Pointing out various articles, playing to the gallery, but taking no real notice of what each other was saying. One points out a feature on a train company losing its franchise, laughing at the write up of commuter woes. I wonder whether he's ever thought of the dedicated staff who are feeling even more dispirited than ever now that some well-oiled regulator has forever damned their CV with a stamp of failure. Without even bothering to pep up a press release with a few words of credit where it's due.

Anyway, I'm straying. What I meant to say was that these supplements tend to have features on poets and philosophers, and I hate this because I am not very good at poetry and philosophy. My eyes glaze over at philosophers' words, and I can rarely remember poetry. I have very few books of poetry. There's some Larkin about. But that's about it, unless you count some Richard Brautigan poems in a collection of his writings. Now he wrote some lovely poetry. I doubt that they teach it in colleges, but I like it a lot. Lines like: '... at the end of a November day below a cloudy twilight near the Pacific/listening to the Mamas and the Papas/THEY'RE GREAT/singing a song about breaking somebody's heart and digging it!/I think I'll get up and dance around the room/Here I go!' Awww!!

And then there's Jim Dodge. I love Jim Dodge. There are so few works of his published: Not Fade Away, Stone Junction and the immortal Fup. Rebel Inc and Canongate have done a terrific job at raising his profile. In case you didn't notice, last year Canongate also published a collection of Jim Dodge's poems and short prose in a little book called Rain On The River. And yes it's a beautiful book, with poems like what I like, if you know what I mean. Like: 'if I must work, may the task match my flagging power and meet my true ambition: to feel the roots dig deeper while I imagine new colors for a flower'. And perhaps the broadsheet supplements ran huge articles on Jim Dodge when Rain On The River was first published. How would I know? I only ever see the occasional discarded section.

The really frightening thing about Rain On The River (ah the title makes me think of the Lovin' Spoonful somehow!) is the foreword. I have to keep re-reading it. Jim claims the material first collected here mostly first appeared in limited edition letterpress broadsides, cards, and chapbooks for friends and kindred spirits. And we are talking really limited edition here: 200 copies and under! I mean, come on, one of our greatest living writers, amusing himself, creating works of art for the amusement of a few mates. Brilliant! It gets better: not included here are works published anonymously and pointedly anti-copyright before 1980. Wow! Try explaining that one to Nick Hornby and Zadie Smith!

I'm just listening to my second lot of handminted CDs from the Picket Fence collection, courtesy of Fife's Fence Records, and chuckling at some of the mischief and madness and occasional flashes of warped brilliance. I sense Jim Dodge would approve of the cheeky cottage industry, which momentarily is recapturing something of the lost innocence of pop music; where art is created simply because someone has something to share. And no one is too worried about distributors, and promoting your wares, and making things neat and polished. Amen! And the friendly Fence people even send you lovely old-fashioned invoices as receipts, which you can picture coming in duplicate books with sheets of carbon which make your fingers all blue.

Hmm, I think I'll go and write a poem and show it to no one. Oh, by the way, I believe Shena Mackay once published a book of poetry. I would so dearly love to see this! Can anyone help?

© 2003 John Carney