Saturday, 24 May 2008

Barcelona, February-May 2004

(In the spring of 2004, in preparation for the Barcelona Connection Festival - which would frame the new co-production of an adaptation of George Orwell's memoir about the Spanish Civil War Homage to Catalonia - I conceived a project involving four Newcastle-based poets Julia Darling, Bill Herbert, Linda France and Colin Teevan and the photographer Sasa Savic. We made two separate trips to Barcelona sponsored by Easyjet in order to create  our own homages to

 Catalonia, and I called the project Flying Homages. Northern Stage actor and musician Jim Kitson came on board to set some of Julia's poems to music  and Mark Lloyd and Peter Peverley joined Jim and the poets in the performance of these poems and songs on the stage. The project later lead to a commissioning of a musical from Julia Darling A Manifesto for a New City - which was the last thing she wrote before her death).

This entry features poems by Julia Darling, Linda France, W.N. Herbert and Colin Teevan and photographs by Sasa Savic. 


Linda France:


Homage to the Earth Solid and Beautiful under my Feet


As soon as we land, my feet taste

the difference in the Spanish earth.

My legs grow heavier, longing to plant

themselves in that dark ochre and grow

like a plane tree in the city’s squares,

dappled with sunlight, bearing globed fruit.


With every step a rose blooms

from the stone flags.  The tight buds

of my toes uncurl; my heels spur like thorns,

click like castanets.  I step

on all the cracks and feel the stretch

inch its way slowly up my thighs.


The Passeig de Gracia is a meadow

of sea creatures and figs, beachcombed leaves.

I steer myself across it; nothing to do

but buy a pair of new brown boots,

made for walking.  Their iguana tongues

lick my calves into life, root me.



Julia Darling:


(The Manifesto For Tyneside Upon England . MAY. 2004)


Friends. I am inventing a life in which your ingredients are returned to you!

Our lives are run by car parks, carrier bags, suits and credit cards.

This is my homage to you.


And from this evening I am removing power from our city leaders

and this city shall be run by its artisans and makers, by bread-kneaders

and stone masons, sculptors and chocolate fanciers, by egg painters and flower arrangers, 

blacksmiths and magicians.


The air of the new city shall smell of pies.


There will be many bicycle repair shops and free bikes.


The city shall be filled with the sounds of making, of sparking metal, of whirring minds, of fresh cheese, of new poetry.


We shall all discuss small things.


Each of us will learn a contemporary dance.


There shall be lesbian happy hour between six and seven.


Schools will be small. Doctors will be cheerful.


Everyone shall make their own coffin and use it as a table.


We shall be encouraged to grow English apples and raspberries.


Plain English shall be used at all times.


Porridge and soup will be plentiful.


We shall know our saints.


We shall know our devils.


Visitors, who will come in droves, must bring gifts to the great hall. Perhaps food, chocolate or wine would be appropriate. These gifts shall be shared equally. You cannot enter the city without a gift. 


Julia Darling:


Imaginary Travel


I imagine Tenerife, Majorca, Istanbul. I cut

Pictures from old magazines, of deep blue pools.


We have the travel club. We wear sunglasses.

There is the travel agent still, the well thumb brochures.


At night we sit and recall the Torromolinos of our childhood,

straw donkeys, tang of foreign chips and suntan cream.


Amazing how we used to jump on planes and land.

And it’s so much safer to pretend. It fills me up.




Colin Teevan:

Darling, you and your Darlingists and Darlingistas – we know who you are!

Ha! I knew your revolution would not have the courage of its convictions.

A dissident, an escapee of your night of the long pinking shears

Has made it here to Barcelona Libre


Needless to say,

It was not just his suit that was all cut up.

Is that any way to treat Mark’s and Spencer’s finest off the peg?

He barely had a leg to walk in.


But he also confirmed that you’ve begun to doubt the fairness

Of your edicts and your actions

And that your utopia has broken into factions

Of those who have tailors and those who’ve not.


Sympathy is the chink in the city manager’s psyche.

With us, nature’s true managers and administrators,

Sympathy is most unlikely.


And daily, Darling, do our numbers swell in Catalonia.

With exiles from your makers’ Utopia.

Suffer the marketing men, the bookkeepers to come unto me,

For theirs shall be the kingdom of Barcelona.


We have been given space by the Casa de la Ciutat

To found an academy of middle management

Fancy that, eh?

A master race of committed committee men and women.


They have also approved our plans for urban renewal

We’ll rebuild the place in our own likeness, Darling,

You’ll see that a city

Must be built without any pity.


Alderman Gavin de Earl Grey



W.N. Herbert:


In the rainy placa de Jordi Orwell
around the chocolate table in La Concha
where all the colours muted out of its fawn fitting
are turned up on the little TV to their tangerine max
even as we’re being cheated for squid & tortilla
I realise that this dark and shabby weather is a dalek
designed by Picasso, bringing us our bill
on a salver made of compacted salt and slavers.

The pigeons puff out feathers in the gaps
in the wall of Sant Maria del Mar, become
cubes of fluffy rat flesh; bagsnatchers leap prams
in the slick treets outside the Catedral
where the smell of rain mingles with incense
at the entrance to the cloisters. A girl kisses
the hand of the man holding an umbrella over her
and I go in: the bishops are balanced on
tilty cubist beds but do not slip from the walls.
the Roman geese that fill the garden have
little tufts like candle flames on their warning heads.
Two men lower a stick over which
holy vestements have been stretchered
into a brazier and a flame shoots up, Pentecostal.

In El Quatre Gats, Picasso kicks me in the back
so I can hardly walk past the Clansman Bar
(Partick Thistle Nil v. Celtic this Sunday)
to his Museu, where an origami Velasquez states
‘I don’t have an imagination
I have an inquisition’ stuffing doves
into shoeboxes yolked with Provencal dawns.

I bow beneath the interrogation of the rain.


As we walk across the mirroring ripples of the Ramblas’
wavery paving stones, Julia says
‘There’ll be no silver cowboys out in this.’
I look for Orwell’s rifle and can’t see him cross
the river full of folk.

Linda France:


Homage to a Woman with a Space Where her Heart is


after a sculpture by Miro


Up in the white maze of the rooftop

her body is blood and lipstick, varnished

against the elements – small curves

for hips, her torso an open fan.


Her face is woven tortilla and she wears

a sitting bull in hair that isn’t there:

crescent horns balancing the smile

of her waist, her invisible arms.


Blue sky paints itself in the empty moon

of her heart, a fat plume of cloud

feathering the space all around her,

inside her and all the way through her.


Behind her there’s the shock of two

small footballs that make her buttocks –

one red, one green: the place she’s kicked,

the place she bounces, cushioned by air.



Julia Darling


Learning A Disappearing Language


I am a bus driver

And I am being made to learn –

What is the point?

I have been taught to say

Hallo, how are your family?

Is it far from here to the mountains?

I am a stranger in this land.

Do you have a glass of water?


The words are gluey, they change

Within a minute of hearing them.

And I have no one to speak to,

So I must practise as I drive.

Hallo, how are your family?

Is it far from here to the mountains?

I am a stranger in this land.

Do you have a glass of water?


The passengers nod obligingly.

They seem to like the babble.

It’s like a waterfall, said one,

or a Chinese whisper.

Hallo, how are your family?

Is it far from here to the mountains?

I am a stranger in this land.

Do you have a glass of water?


Linda France:


Homage to the Rain in Spain Falling Mainly on the Plain


For two days the rain washed everything

she didn’t need away.  Its fingertips

rinsed her face.  On her tongue it tasted

of nothing at all: just liquid, falling

to fill the spaces she made with her shoulders

as she hopped over puddles and avoided

the spray from cabs too close to the kerb.

Dark men stood in doorways selling umbrellas

against drowning.  A high-tailed rooster

shook his spurs and crowed.  Santa Maria del Mar

launched a small metal boat lit by candles

to save her.  Even though it felt like

tilting at windmills, she climbed in.

Its name on the side in gold was Esperanza.

Her whole life flashed before her eyes

and she cried ‘Mother!  Mother!’, naked

as a baby she’d wrap in soft white cotton.

She sailed with all the people of the world

down Las Ramblas, the stream of birds

and the stream of flowers, the small canals.

She would wait in that shallow place

between hope and despair, watching raindrops

rip holes in the net of the sky like diamonds.



W.N. Herbert:


Memo to George


The throat of a young Italian speaking
a language you do not understand.
The difficulty in obtaining a pistol.
The appearance of shabby overalls
on rich people, car mechanics, lice.
 The woman walking down the street in furs,
with her poodle, between the crossfire
from the Cafe Moska and the belfry.
The language of your own newspapers
which you do not understand.

The wound appearing in your own throat.



It’s like a language that you used to speak

quite fluently, but then you moved away

from the household of her hips, and as the weeks

rephrased as years you couldn’t understand,

the patois of that profile and those hands

began to slip until you couldn’t read

her in the phrases of those other throats

who conjugated you in warmer beds.

You realized that you no longer dreamt

in the sharp vowels of her breast and hair;

the names of her mind’s streets had all turned gray

and you could only speak a dialect

which let you say you loved her all the more

though in the wrong case, and the perfect tense.


Colin Teevan:


Darling, Darlingists and Darlingistas

And associated Herbertists and France-oists

Each day brings news of our advances

And, with them, the diminuition of your chances.


A bus driver showed up babbling Sanskrit

Saying he had been forced to learn it

And give up his football of a Saturday afternoon.

Soon, he won’t be able to converse with his family.


A modern tragedy in an ancient tongue.

Darling, what function does it serve

To preserve dead languages in the heads of public transport workers?

Departments within your infrastructures soon won’t be able


To communicate.

Too late you’ll find you have built a tower of Babel.

Functionality, streamlining and simplicity

These are the watchwords upon which to found a city.


Where once Barcelona had two tongues, 

Now thanks to my rationalising intervention, it has one;

English, why attempt to buck a trend?

I’m assured by our marketing men


That soon all the world shall talk the same

Same questions, same answers, same desires.

This is the functional, streamlined simplicity

To which the modern manager aspires.


Alderman Gavin de el Rey.

Julia Darling:


The Meeting of the Property Developers At Midnight


 She took away our suits, and then our phones.

Our accountants were driven off in a bus.

We were not allowed to walk in our own foyers.

Our screens are dark as night. It’s medieval.


Those glistening buildings were our life’s work,

and they brought prosperity, purses, force,

clean young men,  sharp stiletto shoes.

No one warned us that the river smelt of war.


They make us sleep in dormitories, they say

that we must build rooms for the potters,

and poets will be the new architects. I say,

‘God help the tenants of the future.’


I’ve agreed to do a course in silver-smithing,

But everyone knows this madness won’t last.

Soon they’ll be no porridge in the mornings

Then they’ll ask where the clever boys are?


W.N. Herbert:


Homage to Jamon


I saw a pig’s trotter sticking in Julia’s ear

in the Can Massano restaurant

as though she was receiving messages

from Radio Free Trotter,

from irate carcasses,

and all coathooks and handles became

deep-fried curlicue aerials

of pigtails and pintles.


Didn’t you always want to be

in telepathic contact with a pig?

Haven’t you heard them transmitting from the pirate sty

how they were our irresistible substitute

for eating each other?

Don’t even vegetarians snort and roll at night

In lucid morcilla-devouring visions?

Haven’t you awoken from the cut-throat dream

knowing exactly what parts of everybody’s flanks

you’d slice and cure and eat?


Tell me you’d not drink Circe’s flask

of soya milk-based smoothie juice

laced with extracts from medieval parchments

from the Ars Compendiosa Inveniendi Veritatem

and let yourself become

an edible one?

A delible mark on the plates of Catalonia,

a delicacy who can describe its own consumption.

Think of the colour of your own serrated flesh:

the honey and beetroot varnished pane

you’re sure they fitted into wattle hut frames

back when you’d slit your own throat at Michaelmas

and salt your quartered hanging flesh

and seal your house against the sleet

with drumskin meat, snow-fat cataracts

while you became your own hamfisted, stock-bone furniture.


Praise to the horizontal humans

who make lampshades from their own jamon

who make magic lanterns from their spinning hips

and crackling, on which they cast

the movie that we still can’t watch

in which a well-stropped cloud is drawn across

the eyeball of Sylvia Plath.


 Colin Teevan:


Greetings, Darling and your dwindling Darlingians.

Rumour has it your Utopia’s on its knees.

You should have known.

Utopia means no-place, don’t you see?

Meanwhile, we have assumed complete control of Barcelona and it environs

And concluded our most ambitious programme yet:

To drain the colour from the place.

What is the point in all those primaries?

What is the point in light, in fact?

Even their football team now play in stripes of black and white,

La Rambla is now a tatty Ratner necklace of chain stores,

And the once proud population of artisans,

Exhausted by their siestaless days,

Console themselves on weekend nights by drinking

Newcie Browns or Bacardi Breezers

(We make the Newcie Browns by mixing tea and cava

And leaving it to stand in the sun to warm and lose its fizz)

And then they eat chips, and totter home through vomit dappled streets

And they might get lucky and have a shag

Or a fight,

Or both.

All of which helps keep the economy turning

(Though in truth none of us knows how or why)

Meanwhile, your revolution like the cava fizzes out .

All ideas have their sell-by-date.

They become hard and rigid

And become a stick with which to beat the people.

Only management is eternal.


So, the twinning mission complete.

Barcelona has fallen,

It is now Newcastle upon Med.

All changed.

All except the bridge at Pont Vell.

Well, we like our bridges.

The one weakness we retain for making things.

Besides,, they get us from A to B.

Progress. They signify progress, you see.

And I look forward to progressing home

And reassuming my seat in the Great Hall.

Then you, you weavers of words and instigators of ideas,

You shall be the first against the wall.

Gavin I, El Rey.


Julia Darling:


Oh Dear


My manifesto came undone,

I  forgot some parts,

like income, revenue.

We lasted for a month or two

There was a coup, and now,

there’s a new man with a megaphone.

My standards went downward.

The artists kept arguing.

The earnest and the logical stepped in

And soon we were outcasts.

Begging for someone to let us in.

But friends, we had polkas, hot salsas

I danced like a horse! I stood, that first night

on the steps of Swan House Roundabout,

I could taste invention. It tasted like nails.



Linda France:


Homage to What Fire Makes Possible


I lost myself in the crowd gathered around him

as he rose from the pavement like a flame.


Whatever dark magic he was making,

I felt the spark of it ignite my belly


as I stared at his, tight and rippling.

His hips slid away from him


as if he’d had enough of them,

brown chest rearing like a small horse.


His rough hands made the signs for gallop

and bridle.  I caught the fire in his eyes


and felt my body loosen, letting go

into the orange tongues of my own death,


the limits of my flesh and my open heart

that will never perish.  I couldn’t tell


anymore what was blood and what was drumming.

My fingers were burnt twigs.  Everything


was filled with the light of its own colour

and nothing I looked at would ever be the same.

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