Freshly Painted Angels – Raymond Carver and Guy Garvey

People ask me where do i get the inspiration to write – simple answer – look around you – open your eyes and you’ll find a different subject with every blink

I’ve been Re- reading a lot of Raymond Carver recently – he had an amazingly simple style that works so well as this poem so beautifully  illustrates

Sunday Night

Make use of the things around you.
This light rain
Outside the window, for one.
This cigarette between my fingers,
These feet on the couch.
The faint sound of rock-and-roll,
The red Ferrari in my head.
The woman bumping
Drunkenly around in the kitchen . . .
Put it all in,
Make use.

– Raymond Carver

I work with 10,000 kids a year, about 200 prisoners, 200 university student and 1000’s of people who suffer from mental health problems and i have to come up with ideas for workshops quite quickly – sometimes at the drop of a hat.  Teachers regularly ask me for my “Lesson Plan” to which i reply “I won’t have one till i walk in the room, then i’ll plan it” and it is literally like that

I woke early this morning.  It was sunny but freezing – my favourite kind of weather.  I was excited by something but i couldn’t remember what it was until i got downstairs and it dawned on me – i’m working with a group of particualry nutty kids in wigan this morning – they are beautiful and brilliant, all around 14, 15 or 16.

Then, I remembered why i was double excited – i didn’t have a proper chance to listen to Elbows new album yesterday, so, an hour before the madness in our house begins, i stuck it on and listened to it whilst making a brew.

First track………….i just hear a piano playing the same note repeatedly

Then i heard some childish whistling

then a drum and more whistles………………………….then the words

Lippy kids on the corner again

Lippy kids on the corner again

I turned the kettle off because i wanted to check that he was saying “Lippy kids on the corner again” and he was

Lippy fuckin’ kids on the corner again – what an image

what a line

then it continued
lippy kids on the corner begin settling like crows
and i never perfected the simian stroll
but the cigarette scent, it was everything then

Brilliant, i thought – poetic reflections of childhood and youth.  Guys speciality – but then i heard this

do they know those days are golden?

and i broke down – everyone breaks down every now and again  – don’t you?  You know when you just can’t stop crying and sobbing cos you’ve just taken a blow to the body and the mind that you can not absorb or control – it happens to me a few times a year – but i was sobbing uncontrollably within seconds of hearing the line

do they know those days are golden?

But things got worse

build a rocket boys!
build a rocket boys!

one long june i came down from the trees
and cursed on cue
you were freshly painted angel walking on walls
stealing booze and hour long hungry kisses

I was on my knees at this stage, clenched fists to my face, punching back tears and trying to conceal my silent sunny morning sobs

Build a rocket boys

My heart was pounding and i was doing that breathless thing, you know when your crying that hard you loose your breath, you know, don’t you?

I didn’t hear much of the track after that but after a few minutes i got up off the floor and got me act together – Well, it was 7 am on a tuesday morning, no one was awake yet, my cornflakes were going soggy and i’m on me knees on the floor balling.

So i started it again and listened to the most beautiful tune i have heard in my life.  It had everything but most importantly it had what all great art has- the ability to floors you and while i was on the floor i saw johnny bowers swinging across the brook at Blue Bell Woods on a rope swing,  I heard my mam calling me in for me tea and i smelt Park Drive burning in an ash tray.

It was 7.45 by the time i left for wigan and i arrived to tea and toast at the breakfast club and piss taking young men bantering about what we were doing today.  After the tea and toast i got a group of  6 together and asked them to write about their favourite games as a kid, what they like to do in the evening and weekends and how those things change as you get older.

Top discusions ensued about what is a teenager, addolescent, kid and the subject of when we grow up – the group were brilliant and expressed themselves  eloquently in words and writing and it is a major struggle to get these kids writing for loads of reason but they scribbled away.

Then, i told them what happend to me at 7am on my kitchen floor and they laughed their heads off ripping the piss non stop, but i loved it – it means they love me.  I told them how the words made me miss my youth but that i wasn’t sad about it – i was happy.

Then i played them the tune and for 6 minutes and 6 seconds the kids fell silent – it’s the first time they’ve ever been silent and they listened like they have never listened  before.

School won’t have these kids and in some ways, i understand why – but they are smart intelligent and gifted – freshly painted angels.

I then asked them to look at their notes and to write a short piece based on what we had talked about for the last hour.  The results were magnificent and i only wish i could publish them here.

Those six kids in those six minutes and six seconds grew sixfold but most importantly – they enjoyed the whole experience and they will never forget that song for the rest of their lives and neither will I.


3 thoughts on “Freshly Painted Angels – Raymond Carver and Guy Garvey

  1. As ever, loving your thoughts and your work Mike! Didn’t know you were a Raymond Carver admirer. 1985 and 1986 I met him a couple of times and interviewed him (the interview is here; although at that point his poetry was pretty unavailable, or certainly less known, but his wonderful stories share that simple style. I put the interview in my fanzine alongside interviews with bands (like you, I won’t accept that there are barriers between music and “literature”). In the old days I’d sell fanzines at gigs and one kinda lippy lad bought a copy flicked through and scoffed a bit when he saw the Carver interview. Books, bloody American writer, never heard of ‘im. The following week he came to the club in a t-shirt but not a Mondays t-shirt or a smiley face; a Raymond Carver t-shirt he’d made himself. He’d read the Collected Stories, taken a screen print of the cover, and turned into a t-shirt. Two on fact – he gave one to me. Amazing, he said, amazing. I still have the t-shirt; I’ll wear it next time I come to a Mike Garry reading. Lots of love. x

  2. Nice post. I am also re-reading “Short Cuts” the Carver anthology and listening to the new Elbow album today, so this blog is weirdly relevant. That song (and this post) describes that golden nostalgia perfectly. I am in San Francisco and the sun is shining but I remember the lippy kids on the cold rainy English corners well…

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