Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Iconoclasm with sequins, He-Man, amnesia and Daddy's sauce

The fourth anniversary celebration of "London's peerless gay literary salon" Polari was a spectacular affair - one of the best we've been to! Not only a superb selection of readers and performers, but also the long-awaited announcement of the winner of the Polari First Book Prize to boot.

Paul Burston looked fabulous in his "frock coat and bibbity-bobbity hat" - having allegedly spent all weekend (between bouts of posing for smutty nude photos!) sewing the feathers on...

Opening the set was the rather jolly Neil Alexander, reading a selection of his pithy and in-your-face poetry, on such diverse subjects as the joys of gay chav sex, an ageing Madonna in 2056 and the homoerotics of He-Man - excellent stuff.

Nothing quite prepared us for being "Varjacked", however!

Ms Paula Varjack is a performance poet and a whirlwind of energy, and her readings to music were a thrill - especially Dear Straight Girl:

Whew! How do you follow that? With some blatant erotica, of course.

Shaun Levin, creative writing tutor, author and founder of both Chroma gay journal and Treehouse Press publishers, read a rather steamy piece from his latest work Snapshots of the Boy. Describing in graphic detail the bedtime antics of a role-playing "daddy" and "his boy", it certainly got us rather hot under the collar, and we were glad to go into the break for a chance to simmer down... You can hear Shaun read the passage on his website.

Launching the second half with a bang, it was time for the very welcome return of our fave alternative cabaret artiste (and the genius behind Postcards from God: The Sister Wendy Musical), Mr Marcus Reeves! With his sparkling visage and his deadpan patter, he entertained us to some pieces from his new collection of poetry and prose, Sighs Ten, and also some songs from his album that is due to appear at a record shop near you in 2012. Fantabulosa, as ever. Here's a teaser for the CD:

Marcus's final piece was a rather iconoclastic tirade against the worship of such venerated stars as GaGa, Madonna, Cher, Kylie and Kate Bush. Ms Karen McLeod, who followed, was rather relieved he didn't touch upon her own idol, or else she "may well have to thump him".

She fell in love with Julie Andrews while watching Victor Victoria, apparently, and so began her lifelong ambition (as a woman) to be a drag queen!. "I'm a massive Julie Andrews fan. I felt limited by being a woman, and I loved drag shows, and I wanted to do them. I was unsure of my identity. As a gay woman, you were not allowed to be feminine. But I loved wearing Seventies dresses! In lesbian bars, I'd get called a fag hag because I wore lipstick. I couldn't understand it. I didn't want to look butch," she said.

However, her efforts were in vain. Once, performing as a woman dressed as a man dressed as a woman on stage in Sydney she was pelted with bread rolls by a group of drunk drag queens. So she gave up, and turned to performance poetry instead. We love Karen McLeod!

Our headliner, the new author SJ Watson could not have been more different. Reading from his terrifyingly spooky novel about amnesia Before I Go To Sleep, he had the audience (all of us) completely mesmerised. Such a dark tale, full of twists and turns, I just have to read more...
I look up at the mirror.

The face I see looking back at me is not my own. The hair has no volume and is cut much shorter than I wear it, the skin on the cheeks and under the chin sags, the lips are thin, the mouth turned down. I cry out, a wordless gasp that would turn into a shriek of shock were I to let it, and then notice the eyes. The skin around them is lined, yes, but despite everything else I can see that they are mine. The person in the mirror is me, but I am twenty years too old. Twenty-five. More.

This isn’t possible. Beginning to shake, I grip the edge of the sink. Another scream starts to rise in my chest and this one erupts as a strangled gasp. I step back, away from the mirror, and it is then that I see them. Photographs. Taped to the wall, to the mirror itself. Pictures, interspersed with yellow pieces of gummed paper, felt-tip notes, damp and curling.

I choose one at random. Christine, it says, and an arrow points to a photograph of me – this new me, this old me – in which I am sitting on a bench on a quayside, next to a man. The name seems familiar, but only distantly so, as if I am having to make an effort to believe that it is mine. In the photograph we are both smiling at the camera, holding hands. He is handsome, attractive, and when I look closely I can see that it is the same man I slept with, the one I left in the bed. The word Ben is written beneath it, and next to it Your husband.

I gasp, and rip it off the wall. No, I think. No! It can’t be...
I scan the rest of the pictures. They are all of me, and him. In one I am wearing an ugly dress and unwrapping a present, in another both of us wear matching weatherproof jackets and stand in front of a waterfall as a small dog sniffs at our feet. Next to it is a picture of me sitting beside him, sipping a glass of orange juice, wearing the dressing gown I have seen in the bedroom next door.

I step back further, until I feel cold tiles against my back. It is then I get the glimmer that I associate with memory. As my mind tries to settle on it, it flutters away, like ashes caught in a breeze, and I realize that in my life there is a then, a before, though before what I cannot say, and there is a now, and there is nothing between the two but a long, silent emptiness that has led me here, to me and him, in this house.

As Mr Watson left the stage to massive applause, it was time for The Oscars, sorry, the winner of the Polari First Book Prize, to be announced.

And the winner is... James Maker’s self published Autofellatio - memorably described by Mr Mark Simpson no less as "Ronald Firbank meets the New York Dolls, has a sweet sherry or three and causes a scene on the night bus home. In court shoes." Mr Maker himself is a lovely chap, not quite what you'd expect for a former gender-bending rocker so beloved of Morrissey that the great man himself covered one of his songs...

Of the award, Paul said "The judges felt that Autofellatio stood out with its humour, honesty and heartfelt exploration of British queer life over the last 30 years. It deals with the hardships of growing up gay in a way that is witty, endlessly quotable and, above all, brave." Fine words - I'll have to get the book now!

James Maker, accepting the prize, thanked everyone who had supported him (not least his partner) and said “Autofellatio began life as a self-published e-book, and I believe that winning this award sends a positive message to other first-time authors: do-it-yourself, go out there and promote your work through spoken word. Anything might happen.”

A fantabulosa night. We had a ball!

To close, I thought I'd leave the last word to Mr Maker himself - The Absolute Queen of Pop, indeed...

The Polari Christmas Special has been announced - "Ali Smith, author of Hotel World and There But For The and one of the UK's finest novelists, reads from her work. Plus David McAlmont delivers an exclusive performance amongst other seasonal temptations from Tracy Brabin and Max Wallis." I can't wait!



  1. well an absolutely fab night and a rather brilliant blog - I'm amazed at your levels or re-call from the night and also the links.

    Going to watch the video clips of Marcus (marcia) and James Maker too.

    AutoFelatio is a worthy winner and now that I've got my copy signed I can give it back to Grumpy who was half-way through reading it.

    Fab night and lovely to see everyone again, for the first time since my holiday I felt like I'd come "home" last night.


  2. It was indeed a masterpiece of performance and readings - I loved it! I always feel "at home" at Polari. Great entertainment. Great company! See you at December's (if not before). Jx

  3. Thanks for the mention and for posting these great pics. If anyone wants to see the Daddy story I read, it's here: http://amzn.to/tNk5e8 Cheers

  4. You are more than welcome, kind sir! I loved your reading - it caused quite a stir, I must admit! Excellent... Jx

  5. On behalf of Sydney, I apologise to Karen

  6. Thanks for the kind words Jon. You can listen to readings of three of my poems here: www.soundcloud.com/neilalexander

    Cheers, Neil

  7. Thanks Neil - I'll take a listen! Jx


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