Sunday, 20 December 2015

Me and my beasts:
the shit and colostrum

Friday, 18 December 2015

Watching the light change
over lunch;
enjoying the un
forbidden pleasures

Sunday, 22 November 2015

My week in music

Impossible to write poetry this last week.  And to begin with hard to do anything other than read the news and try and keep a brave face.  But after a couple of days music came back.  Not much (Paris n'est pas encore une fête) but four songs made it onto my playlist.

1. Noel Coward, Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans.  After the attacks in January there were a lot of voices saying that Charlie Hebdo had it coming and that if only we were a little nicer then the Islamists would leave us alone.  That argument struck me as offensive at the time.  And illogical too - what exactly had the customers of the Hyper Cacher supermarket done to deserve being killed?  Now it is clear that the Charlie cartoonists and the Jewish shoppers were only the precursors of what was to come: everything we do is offensive to these people and we are all potential victims.  Noel Coward's light hearted mockery of those who would have sought to make peace with the Nazis made me laugh.  And it gave me strength to know that people had lived through worse and kept on smiling.

2. Leonard Cohen, Democracy.   Judging by the Republican presidential debates the US is at risk of abandoning democracy for some kind of racist theocracy but I still love America (no other country has such noble ideals - at least on paper) and I admire Leonard Cohen for holding them to those standards.   There was one couplet in particular that gave me strength this week. "It's coming from the sorrow in the street/ The holy places where the races meet." After those first few shell-shocked days I started going out again for my morning coffee or early evening beer, and standing at the bar I realized how much I need that contact of multifarious anonymous city people.  Rubbing shoulders with all the races of the world makes it that bit harder for barriers to go up.

3. Alice Cooper, Poison.  I had never heard of the band who were playing in the Bataclan on Friday so this is as close as I get to their brand of metal.  I would rather someone sang about "poison running through my veins" than actually embodied it.  And ultimately this is what art is for - a way to go a little crazy and thus keep the real craziness at bay.

4. Lou Reed, Coney Island Baby.  This is my fall back song when I am feeling sad, and when I found myself listening to it I knew that things were returning to almost normal.  At so many dark moments in my life I have been lifted by Lou's snarled warning "Just remember that the city is a funny place" and then his cooing chorus "And the glory of love might see you through." At a time when totalitarian bullies are trying to destroy everyone and everything they don't agree with it seemed right to be listening to this weirdest of love songs: a speed freak addressing his transsexual lover and singing about high school football.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Double Change et l’atelier Michael Woolworth vous invitent à une lecture de

Ian Monk et Rufo Quintavalle

A l’occasion de la publication de Shelf 1-15,
de l’édition 3D des Twin Towers
et des Feuilles de Yucca.

Le mardi 29 septembre, 19h30

Atelier Michael Woolworth
Place de la Bastille

2, rue de la Roquette
Cour Février
75011 Paris

Entrée libre
Lecture bilingue

Ian Monk est né en 1960 près de Londres, mais vit actuellement à Lille. Il a publié des livres en anglais (Family Archaeology, Writings for the Oulipo, Make Now Press), en français (Plouk TownLà Cambourakis), et même les deux à la fois (N/S, L'Attente (avec Frédéric Forte)). Il se produit régulièrement avec le groupe de rock The Outsiders, et donne des lectures/performances aussi bien en France qu’ailleurs (Londres, Bruxelles, Berlin, Luxembourg, Los Angeles, New York…) et est membre de l’Oulipo depuis 1998. Il a aussi traduit un grand nombre d’auteurs français, dont Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud, Raymond Roussel, Daniel Pennac et Marie Darrieussecq. Twin Towers (les mille univers) et son ebook bilingue Les Feuilles du Yucca / Leaves of the Yucca (Contre-mur) viennent de paraître.

Rufo Quintavalle was born in London in 1978 and now lives in Paris.  He was formerly poetry editor for the online magazine nthposition and also served on the editorial board of the Paris-based literary review Upstairs at Duroc. From 2011 to 2013 he ran the bilingual reading series Poets Live and currently teaches creative writing at NYU Paris as part of their MA program in literary translation.  Rufo is also a regular contributor to the Stanford Social Innovation Review on topics relating to finance, food and the environment.  His most recent books of poetry are anyone for anymore (Red Ceilings Press) and Weather Derivatives (Eyewear Publishing). 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Friday, 11 September 2015

Friday, 26 June 2015


Saturday, 6 June 2015

this pellet
is coated

in a product

by the appropriate

Thursday, 4 June 2015

At four

a woman
wakes bleeding

the city
hesitates, is

nobody carries
the night into the day.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


Sunday, 31 May 2015

  are the poems
         the shape
   of night

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

paduasoy or debris

Sunday, 24 May 2015

With a smell of metal
you entered my room;

a cypress in Rome,
a cup of sweet brandy

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

When I was young
someone told me a lie

they told me the fields
and the sky were signs

Monday, 11 May 2015

It is night
giving over to morning

and there it is:
the first bird.
or less
the same
as every

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Friday, 13 February 2015

Thoughts from a graveyard

The day after the Charlie Hebdo killings, as news was breaking of a second shooting in the south of Paris, I found myself in the cemetery of Montparnasse.  I was scared and I needed a place to think and it seemed to make sense to go and surround myself with dead writers and artists; people who, while they hadn’t actually died for their art, had nevertheless lived for it and had chosen Paris as a home because it allowed them to make this choice.  Gradually the fear gave way to anger and then to a sense of resolution; the realization that unless one exercises one’s right to free speech it ceases to exist.  The dead cartoonists understood this, so did Beckett or Baudelaire or Tristan Tzara.  And taken together there was something supremely beautiful in the ensemble of their lives and work.  You don’t need to agree with, or even like, every one of them: I find Beckett too gloomy and Baudelaire and Tzara (for different reasons) a little over the top.  But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and Charlie Hebdo (a magazine which in normal times has a circulation of 60,000) was, and remains, a small part of that whole.  Sitting in the cemetery that morning and listening to the helicopters overhead it was as if the position of the artist in society suddenly crystallized for me; while any individual artist may look like a romantic rebel flicking a finger at societal mores, artists as a group are the people who exercise, and hence guarantee, certain legal rights that civil society provides for us all. 

That was Thursday; on Friday came the Hyper Cacher killings and then, almost before it was all over, something else began: the “yes buts", the blaming and the out-and-out lies.  There was Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford, telling us that Charlie Hebdo were only in it for the money, that the French media has double standards when it comes to Jews and Muslims and hinting at the complicity of the French Secret Services in the Charlie Hebdo shootings.  His proof?  The fact that Said Kouachi left his ID card in the getaway car.  Former National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen joined him in this conspiracy theorizing, neither of them pausing to think that the two brothers had criminal records as long as your arm and that, even without the ID card, it would have been perfectly simple for a forensic team to identify them.  Nor thinking that maybe, just maybe, a couple of publicity hungry low-lifes who knew they would soon be dead would have done everything they could to draw attention to themselves.  This was their fifteen minutes of fame; they wanted to enjoy every moment of it.

Over in The Guardian, Tariq Ramadan’s Oxford colleague, Timothy Garton Ash, had identified the real danger facing us: in a kind of Boys Own meets Buffy editorial he declared that Dresden’s Pegida movement was “a vampire we must slay”.  Elsewhere in the same publication Owen Jones was quick to invoke the name of Anders Breivik and to stress that we mustn’t give in to islamophobia.  Jeremy Harding at the LRB was concerned that because of the shootings it would “now be even harder than it was a week ago to speak up against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank”.  Pegida are extremists, Breivik is a loathsome murderer and the Israeli government has committed many crimes against the Palestinians but is this really the right time to be making all these points?  Surely they would be as valid in a month?  Or (in the case of Breivik) three years ago?  

Reading the Anglophone press (and things were no better in the US where The New York Times refused to even publish the new, inoffensive and eminently newsworthy Charlie Hebdo cover) felt like a long series of betrayals.  Here was Will Self in professorial mode explaining that rights come with responsibilities before degenerating into some kind of bar room rant about French intellectuals.  Here was Tariq Ali explaining that the shootings were all to do with foreign policy.  Or Israel.  Or both.  Here was Noam Chomsky drawing parallels with NATO bombings in Serbia or the war in Iraq.  There are grains of truth in all of these positions but taken as a whole and followed through to their logical conclusion what do they mean?  That Charlie had it coming because they were irresponsible or French?  That Israel’s crimes make any Jew a legitimate target?  That Western military engagement renders it morally impossible to express outrage at murders committed on Western soil? 

I was born in London to an Italian father and New Zealand mother, studied in England and the US and for the last ten years have called Paris my home.  I am a product of what is sometimes referred to as The West and sometimes as the Global North (although quite how New Zealand can be considered either northern or western is another matter).  Listening to the reactions of Self or Ali or Chomsky it would appear that the only responsible position for a person like me is to make my mea culpa and wait for the East or the downtrodden South to punch me on the nose.  Whether a citizen can be held to account for his or her government’s actions is a moot point (I feel about as much responsibility for England’s involvement in Iraq as I do for Michelangelo’s Pietà or the victories of the New Zealand rugby team) but even if one can determine a chain of moral causality that still leaves the question of what course of action this complicity implies.  If France as a whole has to accept some responsibility for the shootings in Paris because of French military intervention in Mali or US support for the State of Israel or Godefroy de Bouillon’s involvement in the Crusades then what should France as a whole or France’s politicians or any individual French citizen do about it?

It is precisely here – at the “what to do” of moral philosophy – that the liberal thinkers stop and precisely here where I would most value their input.  Simply pointing out that nothing is as clear cut as it seems is not enough.  Yes, world affairs are messy and no incident can be judged in an ahistorical vacuum but it is because of this messiness that I want to know which ethical standards will allow me to compare different acts of violence and distinguish between different strata of moral agency.  I do not know what obligations are incumbent upon government and individual citizens because of previous foreign policy errors and here too would be happy to have some help.  In the same way that I turned to the artists to try and make sense of the attacks while they were happening I turned towards the liberal press for guidance on how to react afterwards.  For the time being the dead and buried in Montparnasse have been more forthcoming with their advice.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

a semi-colon; cleft

Sunday, 25 January 2015

I want my life back,
the one where I was invisible

when a walk by the train tracks
was nothing but daylight

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Monday, 19 January 2015


Some good news from corrupt press who will be publishing an extract of my long poem, Shelf, as a bilingual, limited edition chapbook with a translation by Oulipian poet, Ian Monk.  The chapbook is due out this spring.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Poems up online

Australian poet and editor, Brentley Frazer, has been kind enough to post three poems from my new collection, Weather Derivatives, in his wonderful online journal, Bareknuckle Poet.  You can read the poems here and you can buy a copy of my book here.  And you can also buy books, artworks, tee-shirts and God knows what else at the Bareknuckle Shop.  Support a poet, support an artist.  And if none of that tickles your fancy then just go out and buy a newspaper - they could do with our help too right now.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

In December 2014 Islamists were responsible for the deaths of approximately 2,500 people.  The figure for January 2015 is likely to be higher, in large part because of the recent massacre perpetuated by Boko Haram in Nigeria.  These figures are shocking but they are nothing new: Theo van Gogh was murdered in 2004, the Twin Towers were destroyed in 2001, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was issued in 1988.  We have been living with Islamist violence for a quarter century, a period of time comparable to the Troubles in Northern Ireland but with the major difference that this is a globalized phenomenon and one that shows no sign of abating.

The sheer number of people who have died at the hands of Islamists is appalling but the killings should not distract us from the “secondary” acts of violence being carried out in Islamic regimes such as amputations and public floggings.  These are acts which in more normal times would be the focus of international intervention and opprobrium but given the climate of extreme brutality in which we are living have been pushed to the sidelines.  On the 9th January, when my hometown of Paris entered its third day of siege, Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, was publicly lashed for having insulted Islam.

And these “secondary” acts of violence should not blind us to a form of tertiary violence that denies women in Islamic countries the most basic of rights and which denies young people of both genders the most fundamental right of all – that of freedom of thought.

Sunday’s march which drew 4 million people to the streets of France was the largest gathering ever recorded on French soil.  Part of me hopes that this is the start of something new in French and European society and that this marks the beginning of the end of Islamist terror.  But part of me cannot help but think of other such gatherings in France and how these outpourings of emotion are often no more than that – cathartic moments that fail to translate into action and fail to address the underlying problems.  French people love a good “manif” and this was as good as they get.  But will French society now have the courage to address its demons head on?  Or will it fall back into more of the same?

When Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front made it to the second round of the Presidential election in 2002, 1.5 million people took to the street in protest.  In the election that followed this huge demonstration left-leaning voters were forced to grit their teeth and support the right wing candidate, Jacques Chirac, and as a result the National Front was defeated.  Except it wasn’t – Jean-Marie’s daughter, Marine, is getting ratings in the opinion polls that her father could only dream of.  The National Front won the most recent European elections and some opinion polls suggest that were there to be an election today France would have its first ever National Front President.

In 1988, 1.5 million people also took to the streets to celebrate France’s victory in the World Cup and to pay homage to a team (and by extension a society) that was described as “Black, Blanc, Beur”.  The idea then was that France had put its racial divisions behind it and was able to celebrate multiculturalism.  Football would bring the country together.  As events have shown that didn’t happen – French society remains as divided as before, perhaps even more so.  The unity didn’t even hold within the French football team; open-minded liberal figures like Lilian Thuram and Vikash Dhorasoo have given way to the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Samir Nasri who publicly proclaim their support for the anti-semitic “comedian” Dieudonné.  Anelka was born in France to parents from Martinique, Nasri is a French-Algerian citizen.  Both speak multiple languages, have lived and travelled in numerous countries and earn annual salaries of millions of pounds.  These are impressive success stories and men like these could be valuable role models to young men issued from immigration.  Instead they prefer to preach the convenient and invidious lie that the problems of young Muslim men are caused by the Jews.

I live in the centre of Paris, far from the difficult “banlieues” that you read about from time to time in the foreign papers.  I will never forget the day when I was waiting to cross the street with my daughter outside a shop that sells hunting equipment.  Two young men were discussing which weapons they would like to buy.  Their choice fell on a gun armed with a bayonet that they could use to “stick up a Jew’s arse”.  I crossed the street and walked away but the incident remained with me, and for a few days last week I was given an insight into what must be a simple fact of existence if you are Jewish and French – the constant possibility of violence. 

Was I scared last week?  Yes, I was.  Does that mean the terrorists have won?  No.  But they will have won if we think the problem is solved by marching in the streets.  And they will have won if we refuse to look squarely at the facts and if we refuse to think honestly and to say what we think. 

It is this refusal of free thought that is the ultimate and underpinning violence of much of contemporary Islam.  And sadly this is not a phenomenon that is unique to Islam.  The liberal press, the very people who have been vociferously proclaiming “Je suis Charlie” over the last few days have fallen, for different reasons, into the very same trap. 

The Guardian gave £100,000 to Charlie Hebdo last week to ensure it can continue publishing.  This is a generous gesture but Charlie Hebdo’s problems at the moment are not financial.  Indeed, I supect the magazine is in better financial health at the moment than ever before.  Nor is its problem that it has lost the majority of its most gifted cartoonists.  Its problem is that it and a few other publications like it are swimming against a current of silence and cowardice.  When The Guardian and The New York Times and a host of other publications refused to publish Charlie’s cartoons they were exercising their right to take their own editorial position.  But by doing so they were in essence saying “You are Charlie and I am not”.  And at the same time and under their breath they were saying “And I am glad I am not”. 

One can hardly blame them for this; who would want to put their life on their line if they didn’t have to?  But let us not forget that the only reason they are able to take this position while also proclaiming their belief in freedom of expression is because others are prepared to do the dirty work.  But for how much longer will those others be prepared to do so if they are abandoned by their own brothers and sisters?  It is all very well for millions of people to take to the streets but the true solidarity is to look honestly, to think freely and to say what you want and need to say.  The State can guarantee freedom of the press and freedom of expression but if these rights are not exercised then to all intents and purposes they do not exist.   I am not saying that everyone should become a cartoonist and start publishing scatalogical images of Mohamed but if one is not prepared to speak the truth, regardless of the consequences then no, “Tu n’es pas Charlie”.

I am a poet who at a certain point in my life abandoned the religion of my birth.  The first part of that sentence sometimes raises a few eyebrows when I bring it up in conversation; the second less so.  But it is on the second that I wish to focus.  To many secular Westerners religion is something that we as a society have outgrown.  But we have so internalized this absence of religion that we ignore the fact that the possibility of outgrowing religion is something that is only possible in cultures like our own.  In Saudi Arabia, cradle of Islam and home to its most sacred sites, the punishment for apostasy is death.  If you are convicted of abandoning Islam you have three days to repent before you are publicly beheaded.  Your freedom of belief will last 36 hours, approximately as long as the killing spree that hit France last week. 

Another blind spot that secular Westerners have when it comes to religious belief is to underestimate the importance of religion in a believer’s life.  We talk about respecting people’s beliefs but if we were to truly respect their beliefs we would acknowledge that religion for many people is the most important thing in their life; it is this which alleviates their suffering and which allows them to give meaning to their life.  I happen to believe that this can at times be a force for good – some things in life are all but unbearable and I would not snatch the rosary from the hands of a grieving widow or poke fun at a mother’s Kaddish.  But this same faith can also be a force for bad.  The killers last week, like the jihadists in Iraq or Yemen or Syria are killing in the name of Allah.  They are killing because of faith.

This inability to understand the primordial importance of religion means that secular commentators will tend to look for secular explanations to problems – it is economic underprivilege that causes terrorism, or prison overcrowding or our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.  These factors undoubtedly have a role to play but excluding religion entirely from the equation is at best an incomplete analysis and at worst a dishonest one.  Either way, a refusal or an inability to understand the importance of religious motivation in determining people’s action will paradoxically doom to failure any efforts to create a progressive secular society.

It is no surprise to me that this clash between free speech and religious fundamentalism has exploded so violently in France; not just because France has a long tradition of free speech and is considered by many to be the birthplace of modern, secular values.  And not just because France has the largest Muslim population in Europe.  But also because France for too long has been naïve about the role of religion in public life, thinking that by ignoring it it would cease to exist. 

One final failure on the part of secular commentators for whom any religion is an unfortunate vestige of an earlier phase of human existence is to lump all religions together; for them religions are all equally stupid and those who espouse any form of irrational faith are equally deluded.  Again, such a posture is deeply damaging to the very secular project it proclaims since it ignores the fact that certain forms of faith are easier to escape from than others and that certain forms of faith are more hostile to secularism than others.   There are powerful currents in contemporary Islam that are profoundly violent and profoundly intolerant of free thought.  Al Qaeda and ISIS and Boko Haram are examples of this but to say that the problem is limited to these radical groups is as myopic as saying that the attacks last week were the actions of a few “lone wolves”. 

Of course the majority of Muslims in France or other European countries are decent and peaceful people.  But we do everyone a disservice (we do truth a disservice) if we pretend that the people who killed the staff of Charlie Hebdo or the customers of the Jewish supermarket are not Muslims.  For how much longer can we remain in the posture that says Islamist murderers are not Muslims?  We are as deluded as the conspiracy theorists who would have us believe that they are not murderers, that it was actually Mossad or the CIA behind it all.  If I shout out my Christian or Buddhist belief and you come and tell me that I am not a Christian or a Buddhist where is your respect for my religion?  These men unfortunately are Muslims and I say it is unfortunate because if they were not men of faith it would be that bit easier to put a stop to this violence.  For just as religious belief can be a force for good if it allows people to lift themselves above the values of this world it can also, and by the very same token, be a force for evil.

To state the truth that these men were Muslims is not to stigmatise other Muslims.  It is simply the necessary first step in removing the cancer of Islamic extremism, for the good of Western society, for the good of Islam itself and for the good of humanity as a whole.

The real question we should be asking is not whether these men were true believers.  Of course they were.  Nor is the question to ask whether Muslim values are compatible with secular ones.  Of course they are.  The real question is how many people in the West and around the world share the beliefs of these men.  But this is a question we do not want to ask because we, as secular Westerners, do not want to be confronted with the idea that there are men in liberal democracies in the 21st Century who are willing to die (and to kill) for a belief.   And perhaps also because we do not want to admit that the number of such people is far greater than we think. 

That 4 million people were marching in France yesterday is wonderful but of the 62 million people who were not marching how many are young Muslims locked into the ignorance and hatred that the Wahhabist regime has been peddling for decades?  How many – beyond the hundreds who have already left French territory – are in the hands of Salafists preaching Jihad? And how many are denied the possibility of leaving this obscurity by our failure to speak the truth? 

If we restrict our freedom of speech and our freedom of thought because we are scared or through a misguided sense of religious respect we have failed to live up to our own values.  And we have failed the millions of young people around the world who are currently victims of a loathsome, authoritarian and nihilistic form of Islam.  How can a young Muslim in the UK learn the truth about his religion and hence arrive at a richer and better understanding of that religion if the BBC has a code of conduct that mirrors Sharia law and forbids all representations of the Prophet Mohamed?  How can they place Islam into historical context if there are no documentaries exploring the historical figure of Mohamed?  How can they know that there have, from the very start, been schools of thought within Islam that permitted and continue to permit representations of Mohamed?  How can they test the veracity of what they hear from the radical preachers if there is nothing to test it against other than the xenophobic attacks of the Far Right?  We are failing these young Muslims through our silence and ultimately we are contributing to the very violence we claim to oppose.

Although I have left the religion of my youth there is a teaching within it which always moved me: the truth will set you free.  As a writer I would be inclined to temper it slightly: it is the quest for the truth that will set you free.  It is by continually seeking the truth and being ruthlessly honest in our expression that we will move towards truth and maybe, in some small way, will help others to do the same. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Men are overseers over women, by reason of that wherewith Allah hath made one of them excel over another, and by reason of that which they expend of their substance.  Wherefore righteous women are obedient, and are watchers in husbands' absence by the aid and protection of Allah.  And those wives whose refractoriness ye fear, exhort them, and avoid them in beds, and beat them.

Friday, 9 January 2015

It is finished.  God is not great.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

take this job and shove it up the hole in your culture club

Sunday, 4 January 2015

My new collection, Weather Derivatives, has been chosen as a book of the year by Daniel Levin Becker, reviews editor for The Believer.  You can read Daniel's complete list as well as the choices of various other eminent literary critics on the news and entertainment website, Salon.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Why don't you ask
the night what he thinks

he doesn't tell
me anything anymore.