Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Deadly yoga, French lesbo schoolgirls, ketchup rebirthing and Cornwall

Yet again, Mr Paul Burston's elegant soiree Polari provided us with a brilliant evening's entertainment. "London's peerless gay literary salon" just keeps getting better and better...

Resplendent in what can best be described as "Adam Ant vs Buffalo Style" Mr B wasted no time in introducing our first reader, and regular favourite Mr Nick Field. Always funny, always engaging, Mr Field read an extract from his currently touring production The Cosmos, The Cosmetics, as well as a few of his poems - including the brilliant Yoga is a competitive sport:
Outside a gentle breeze
Floats in wind-chime trickles.
Inside the yogi draws the group together,
With elongated vowels.
Sitting on crossed legs in readiness
I’m centred, I’m relaxed,
I’m taking these mofo’s down.
As we begin rounds of sun salutes
Feel the arched majesty of my cobra.
As we move between positions,
I’m checking out the competition.
Because soon they’re going to be eating my warrior II.
And gasping at the endurance of my tree.
Why is it that at school,
I’d happily trot at the back in races,
While the PE fascist bellowed
‘Run, come on you’re being beaten by girls’.
But in the incensed softly lit yoga studio
No-one is coming close to my downward dog.
Our next reader Miss Deborah Levy was fascinating - her passion for literature led her to the work of early 20th century French female author Violete Leduc [indeed she wrote the introduction to the reprint of Leduc's best selling biography, La Bâtarde], an authoress who was compared in her day to Jean Genet for the frank depiction of her sexual escapades and immoral behaviour. And it was from Thérèse et Isabelle, Mme Leduc's scandalous and long-banned story of adolescent lesbianism, that she read a steamy extract. It was excellent, and brilliantly written - and I can understand why so many people, from Simone de Beauvoir to Miss Levy herself were entranced by her...

Completing the triple-bill for the first half was the rather cute Mr Justin Torres, a very gifted writer indeed, as the extract he read from his new novel We The Animals proved. Chilling, intriguing and convoluted in turn, this story of an evidently bizarre childhood through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy had us gripped (especially the piece where the kids, covered in ketchup and make-up after a messy food-fight, remind their unbalanced mother of them being born) - and you can read an extract on the Granta website.

l-r: Nick Field, Deborah Levy, Paul Burston, Sophia Blackwell, Patrick Gale, Justin Torres

Miss Sophia Blackwell is always a welcome sight at Polari. Possibly the most "lipstick" of "lipstick lesbians" and a lovely person to boot, she has an incredibly vivid way of storytelling, whether through her marvellous poetry or her new penchant for prose. Her first novel, After My Own Heart is just out, and from it she read us a wonderfully sleazy passage all about being a lesbian performer on a shoddy workmen's club circuit. Here's Miss B herself talking about the novel...

Star of the show was the best-selling author Mr Patrick Gale. Alongside the likes of Alan Hollinghurst and Sarah Waters, Mr Gale is one of Britain's "gay glitterati" - despite his distinctly rural lifestyle in Cornwall, which forms the backdrop for many of his novels. Not least of these is his latest A Perfectly Good Man, which has as its rather unusual theme the journey a young boy makes from unconventional childhood to the ranks of the clergy. Notwithstanding its rather "un-gay" subject matter, there is still a smattering of gay characters - and the extract he chose to read (which, bizarrely, in the timeline of the story is about the boy's early years, but in the book forms part of the closing chapter) described perfectly the obviously gay relationship of the dying uncle with his male "secretary", as seen through the heavy veil of secrecy of the boy's family. Rather excellent it was, too! You can hear Mr Gale reading an extract from A Perfectly Good Man on his website.

And so, reluctantly, we had to close proceedings - but not before a spot of shmoozing with the hallowed audience, including regulars such as Joe Storey-Scott, Alex Hopkins, Lauren Henderson/Rebecca Chance and DJ Connell (but no Val Lee, who is too busy writing her new column for The Lady these days, apparently), welcome returning Polari-ites such as Kenneth Hill and Uli Lenart from Gay's The Word bookshop, and a host of other new faces.

Another phenomenal evening!

As ever, we look forward to the next one - and April's speakers so far announced include Rose Collis, Michael Wynne, Chris Chalmers and Terry Ronald.

Polari at the Southbank


  1. nice one... uh oh, better be on my best behaviour next time in case you're taking notes....! CC

    1. I do love bad behaviour - please feel free to misbehave at the next one! :-) Jx

  2. I'm envious of, and I enjoy vicariously, your evenings like this. Since the primary gay bookstore in Seattle closed a few years ago we don't have a venue for such gatherings. Good for you!

    1. I always (obviously misguidedly) believed Seattle to be a city that would have myriad arts venues that might play host to an equivalent gay literary salon... Such a shame it does not. Jx

  3. It was another fabulous night.

    Many highlights for me, but the book I purchased and cheek I got to graze was Mr. Torres :)

    1. Who could blame you, my dear? A fab evening, indeed! Jx

  4. Replies
    1. I am sure Miss Blackwell will be happy to let you know where she purchased it! Jx


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