Alan Morrison on

amazement
an anthology of new work from marginalised artists and writers across
Sussex and beyond
Published by Creative Future 
(designed by Harrison and QueenSpark Books, Brighton)

Creative Future is a vital social arts organisation based in Brighton which is doing sterling work in promoting marginalised (whether through homelessness, drug misuse, mental illness or long-term unemployment) writers and artists through their mentoring programmes, art exhibitions and now publications. Their finger firmly on the pulse of Brighton’s throbbing broken-toothed terraced creative vein, CF have managed to provide a long-needed forum for the less well-heeled of the city’s poets and painters. Brighton is a place which is almost pathologically creative, although many might argue that a large proportion of its output is fuelled on a certain amount of mock-bohemian pretention, and finding the genuinely gifted craftspersons – some of whom, by their very natures, are reclusive and publically unforthcoming, not to mention, in this case, forced to be so due to lack of money or stigmas of disability – among the morass of very mixed talents, natural born networkers and a certain endemic breed of fame-hungry performers who range from the novel to the risible, can be a little like finding the proverbial needles in a haystack. There is of course the annual Brighton Festival – practically VIPs only these days – and the growingly exclusive Brighton Fringe Festival (soon no doubt to inspire a counter-Fringe Fringe Festival), but all of course marketed on the dubious pretext of being ‘inclusive’ (so as to tick the proverbial politically correct boxes for arts funding forms, and so on). But the festivals continue to exclude the underprivileged artists of the Brighton community due to their exorbitant charges for inclusion in their glossy brochures, and are largely middle-of-the-road, middle-class affairs; to their own detriment in the long term, lacking the real edge and grit that a wider social inclusion would gift them.

Thankfully now the city has an organisation like Creative Futures to start parting the fiscal barriers and opening the doors to those local writers, poets and painters on the social margins. A truly important organisation that is in many ways enacting today the very same principles of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 19th century: bringing art and culture to the ordinary people by, crucially, facilitating their participation in it. It can be out of such movements as this that society, not only on a material and social, but also artistic and spiritual basis, can rejuvenate itself and move forward in a humanistic sense. A sort of Arts Socialism in which many of us are still recusant believers, and which ultimately, by igniting a new revolution in thought, might very well in time prove to be an intellectual and social anecdote to the slow-coursing poison of Thatcherite materialism, which has stunted this country’s cultural growth over the past thirty years. I firmly believe it is organisations such as Creative Futures that will play their part in a wider renaissance throughout our country – if we support them that is. They need continued generous patronage to fulfil their admirable and worthwhile socio-artistic aims, and face many barriers of snobbery no doubt in the more well-heeled and established literary elites of the scene. Having said this, I sincerely hope my cynicism here is misplaced. But the biggest challenge of all is for organisations such as CF not to be perceived as creating arts ghettos for the marginalised, which is implacably not its intention, nor by the evidence of the work it has been promoting to date, their remit. CF seems focussed on promoting the best quality work by the marginalised artists they represent and this bravery of approach – as opposed to flakier political correctness – is also to be applauded.

CF’s brand new publication, appropriately entitled amazement – each title uniquely paint-sprayed and stencilled by hand to add that personal touch – is a stunning publication, not simply in its production – perfect-bound, with gloss paper throughout – but most importantly of all, in its considerably striking content. The first thing that hits one between the eyes are the beautifully reproduced original paintings of many of the contributors. Subjective as it is to pick out certain pieces for mention, I have to say I found myself particularly struck by, among others, Paul Colley’s half-scribbled-over Self-Portrait, the brilliant greens of Stuart Davis’s Tree Study, the eerie cornflower blue sky of Sharron Rosa Giles’s Déjà Vu, Russell Jones’ sublime Tree of Life, Paul Bance’s confidently sparse Julia and Todd Evershed’s Matisse-esque Aquilegia.

Onto the literary content, a consistently strong and powerful collection of poems and prose vignettes each perfectly paired up with paintings that echo their sentiments in some sense. The standard of the poetry is considerable: to my personal eye, Tom Jayston and Neal Pearce are real finds. Both demonstrate a real confidence with language, phrase, metaphor and imagery, a deft grasp of poetic form, and no shortage of hard-hitting subjects. Tom Jayston’s ‘Television’ works very well on many levels – not to mention scrutinising a subject which few established poets of today ever go anywhere near – and displays a mastery of rhythmical constraint and spot-on half-rhyming couplets throughout, a tip for naturally rhyming poets of the aa,bb,cc,dd etc. breed to occasionally loosen up slightly into half-rhyme or assonantal chime, if you like, so as not to force rhymes and constrict meanings – take these two strikingly aphorismic examples:

Mornings same and similar, an analgesic daze,
Talk shows sharpen hatred, which stabs through vacant gaze.

And;

...the grief that always comes from the corner of the room
We need like the placenta that we lived with in the womb.

Jayston’s rhythmical precision and control, and imagistic ability, almost smacks a little of early T.S. Eliot, and is more than up to the standards of many formalistic poets lauded today – take this:

Cathode ray tube misery exciting half dead cells,
Synthetic light sucks life and time from ghostly human shells.
Nothing but a palimpsest, recording logs and files,
Bringing woe of all degrees to those who turn the dials.

Brilliant stuff. Neal Pearce is equally impressive, as in deceptively straightforward lines such as these from ‘Black Gold’, that crackle with a subtle alliteration:

and the taste of black gold at the
back of my throat was unmistakeable. 

Pearce’s unusual descriptions and images are worthy of particular note, as in the brilliant opening stanza from ‘Consequences’:

I shook the hand of a man
with shoehorn teeth today;
he wore the watery smile of
someone who understood the
misery of umbrellas.

Exceptional. Toni Obee and Mary O’Dwyer are also particularly strong poetic presences; and there is an anonymous poem included called, unambiguously, ‘Rape’, which is written with an almost Plathian metaphorical intensity, including lines such as, ‘Poisonous snake fork-digs his tongue,/ Poking, twisting,/ Dipping inside an ox-bow lake’. Disturbing and moving in equal measure; the kind of writing which often only comes through an intensely traumatic experience.

The prose contributions too are consistently impressive: the cryptically named author ‘B’’s witty dystopian piece Real Friends Reunited, about people who are ‘far too busy for reality’ in their inexorable pursuit of virtual experiences, serves as a lesson to us all. Sarah Jane’s brilliantly titled A Ball of Rubber Bands also stuck in my mind, partly due to its compelling subject, obsessive-compulsive disorder, but equally for its quirky vignette style. Martin Curtis’ Weatherproof is another beguiling vignette. And there are many other contributions in a similar ‘poetic-prose’ vein throughout, all of which are worthy of note, but expediency in view of a slowly growing pile of books I have still to review, I need to draw a line somewhere.

But that should say it all: this is a genuinely excellent publication, brilliantly compiled and edited by Max Crisfield, touchingly introduced by one of CF’s leading lights Dominique De-Light (the other being Simon Powell), beautifully produced by John Riches at QueenSpark Books, and Harrison, and of course, most importantly of all, superbly populated by the valuable work of the following authors, poets and painters: Sally Waldren, Neal Pearce, Paul Colley, Mary O’Dwyer, Stephen Hawthorne, Sonia-Ann, Peter Cutts, Moray Sanders, Toni Obee, Frank Lee, Sarah Jane, Michelle Roberts, Tom Jayston, Rhiannon McDermott, Stuart Davis, M. Mullinger, Mitch James Hadley, Ian Healey, Sharon Rosa Giles, Malcolm Budgen, Juliet Widget, John Hart, Jennie Hallett, Christoff Brunetti, D. Jones, Jay Flesher, Joanna Roberts, Zoe Leonard, Kath Bates, Smudge, Howard Pearce, B, Denis Newark, Kathy Rowland, Russell Jones, Martin Edwards, Richard Sitford, Thomas France, Jane Baxter, Ness Watson, Paul Bance, Todd Evershed, Anonymous, Gary Elcome, Chris Ellis, Duncan Roberts, Steve Potterton, Elizabeth Barnett and Charlotte Stephens.

While I am presently embarking on compiling and designing an anthology of writing and artwork from my workshops in mental health at Mill View in Hove, I am now minded to take note of Creative Future’s exceptional anthology: for they’ve set the benchmark for the Brighton community publishing scene.