Friday, 21 April 2023 08:44

Subverting capitalist realism: Ivor Cutler and the cherry blossoms of Glasgow

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Subverting capitalist realism: Ivor Cutler and the cherry blossoms of Glasgow

Late in March 2023, I went on a Cherry-blossom Season adventure to Glaschu (Scottish-Gaelic for Glasgow). Some years ago, my Auntie Sandi – or Alexandra Lucky – who grew up in the Gorbals there, passed away. When she was dying, she got a number of guide-books on ‘JAPAN’, to look at the cherry-blossom on the pages, even with no intention of going. How beautiful, I thought.

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My road in Aberystwyth is called Alexandra Road and has two flowering cherry-blossom trees. The pinkness of the blossom makes me feel like it’s party-time. Nature Aesthetics can be fraught; but I like the idea of Party Nature. Cherry-blossom confettis off trees like party poppers, and it’s nice.

Somebody whose Nature Aesthetic I really appreciate is the humorist, poet, and man of great whimsy: Ivor Cutler. Ivor Cutler was a master of CELEBRATION in a world of GRIM-NESS. His surrealist, absurdist poetics work against the dull monotony of everyday life at a time of capitalist realism (see Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism from 2009 if you haven’t already) – against the horror of a grey grind, for the joy of a tickly pink. Like my Auntie Sandi, Ivor Cutler grew up in Glaschu – Govan, not the Gorbals – and, after struggling with orthodox employment including decades as a primary school teacher, is remembered mostly as – with harmonium – a courageous performer.

This year Ivor Cutler would have been 100! To ode his strange brilliance, KT Tunstall made BBC radio 4 and Sky Arts programmes saying he’s ‘the sort of eccentric that’s been s q u e e z e d out of the world today and, I think, the kind of person that we should hang onto’. Yes, and in no fat-cat way either; Ivor Cutler’s rare mode of eccentricity no less than subverts and transcends the routine oppressions and exploitations of working-class life and culture under our economic regime.

Ivor Cutler talks about flowers in a snazzy way. In ‘RIDE OFF’, ‘The flower / leans over the table, listens to my / hand feeling the surface of your / stocking’. In ‘NOT ASKING’, ‘A pot sits on a table. A flower sits / in the pot, […] When you leave the room, the / flower, and the pot, and the table / stay exactly where they are’. In ‘HE HIMSELF’, God and human-angel ‘Trouble-makers’ drink ‘nectar’ bees make from flowers in ‘grey areas at the edge of heaven to which the bored sneak off’.

When I turned 30 in February, my friends Meg and H----- bought me a cherry-blossom pink copy of Ivor Cutler’s 1997 poetry-book A Wet Handle, where these flower-poems come from. The book looks like this, beside my hat hosting Ivor Cutler’s naked punching torso in badge-form:

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As well as flowers-at-large, A Wet Handle alludes to blossoms-in-particular (I imagine Ivor Cutler referred to them as ‘tree flowers’). On page 58:

FACES OF PEOPLE

April is a tidy month. Trees grow
their leaves. Dust lies quietly at the
edge of the path, away from the
middle. You don’t see footmarks
often in April; you’re so busy
looking at the fresh young leaves,
or, if your neck hurts, at the faces
of people who are looking at them.

‘FACES OF PEOPLE’ talks about trees and people at post-blossom phase; it talks about pleasing cherry-blossom in a world of strife. Before straining necks to see ‘fresh young leaves’ in Ivor Cutler’s April, you strained your neck enjoying pink cherry-blossom in Ivor Cutler’s March. Listen to how Ivor Cutler reads ‘FACES OF PEOPLE’...

......and watch an extremely delightful record of cherry-blossom in Glaschu here.....

Research revealed that late March was to be a Decent Moment to attend Cherry-blossom Season in Glaschu, so I booked my train and went to Meg – half A Wet Leg giver – now in Glaschu’s Dennistoun, hooray. Meg had JUST been to an Ivor Cutler memorial event at The Glad Café in Glaschu’s Southside, and she said it was v. good. The event’s details are here, and  I asked Meg a number of questions about it, and she kindly provided some beautiful answers:

Q: Ivor Cutler’s a weirdo – did the event at The Glad Café give him space for it?

A: Yes. There wasn’t much physical space, so the room filled up with weird quite quickly. Weird came from the microphones and instruments of the 5 Ivor-appreciator-musicians, and recordings of the weirdo himself too.  

Q: Ambience is pretty important. What colour was the event at The Glad Café for Ivor Cutler – plz say pink – ?

A: The event was overall murky.

Q: What drinks and or snacks were available at the event for Ivor Cutler at The Glad Café and would he have liked any of them do you reckon?

A: I had a nice non-boozed booze, but it was 5 whole pounds which I don’t think Ivor would have liked. There were jars of snack-things in the murk. Ivor would have liked the jar things. 

Q: Finally, was there any presence of flowers at the event for Ivor Cutler at The Glad Café as far as you could tell?

A: Yes. Verbal flora were present in several songs, e.g. Track 5 of Return To Y'Hup – The World Of Ivor Cutler: Instance The Yam.

Meg then sent a sparkling review of Glaschu’s independent-record-label Chemikal Underground’s musical-product from the event; The Guardian described it a ‘charming tribute’.

Appearing on telly next to John Peel a lot, Ivor Cutler is also in Faber’s collection of Scottish verse. Before Glaschu, I looked at wider politics of poetry, nations, spring-flowers, celebrating. In sikfan glaschu from 2021, sean wai keung explores eateries in Glaschu – incl. The Glad Café! – and there’s pink flowers in a dining-table vase on its back cover; at the same time, Wikipedia tells me ‘common people’ customarily gather in ‘cheerful feasts’ under flowering trees during times of cherry-blossom. Wikipedia also tells tales about nationalistic potentials of cherry-blossom meanings world-over. Edwin Morgan spoke in the 1980s on international flower politics in ‘The Flowers of Scotland’; so does Eluned Gramich in ‘Flowers of Wales’ forty-years-later; no doubt much flower trouble’s in England and both Irelands too. Derek Jarman’s utopian America has ‘pink neon trees’ on ‘silver lawns’ in Through the Billboard Promise Land Without Ever Stopping in 1971 – ‘just look at the flowers of spring’, ‘the blossoms dropping’. Poetic flowers make political points.

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Arriving at GLASCHU CENTRAL STATION on a Wednesday there’s cherry-blossom immediately, fake on the walled-terrace of a fancy-looking restaurant. It’s a different blossom to when Laura Grace Ford in her 2018 poetic prose Radiant Futures describes the old Gorbals’s demolition as an ‘obscene blossoming’. Seeking ‘Alexandra Park’ for cherry-blossom hunting on Thursday, Meg and I crossed Cumbernauld Road leading to new-town Cumbernauld; it’s here Laura Grace Ford’s friend’s inner-city gran is displaced in a spate of post-war ‘regeneration’ (read ‘gentrification’). It’s all a bit sad but together they imagine a ‘flowering of new possibilities’.

At Alexandra Park, a line of cherry-blossom trees memorialise people. A goldfinch flies out of one. Robin eats its worms, people roll wheel-BARRAS. Back on the park’s edge there is Alexandra Parade with an Italian café and I remember you had seen violence. To navigate by cherry-blossom. On Friday, I’m to your house in the Gorbals; pink cherry-blossom tree signals Old Rutherglen Road, with robin and bluetit and another bird inside and this is where you lived though it’s all different now. New Gorbals 1 and 2 on brand-new bike sheds. Pigeons hum, like back in Trafalgar Square. It’s mid-day.

Ivor Cutler’s poem ‘READY’ in New Departures: Third International Poetry Olympics Issue 15 from 1983 speaks endearingly of birds at blossom-time: through ‘spring fields’, one alights his elbow ‘singing and laying / eggs’ and ‘drinking the tears of happi- / ness as they slid off my chin’. Aside Ivor Cutler in the Poetry Olympics are Kathy Acker, Linton Johnson, Heathcote Williams, William Blake, plus others – a host of socio-poetic radicals hoping for a better future for the everyday lives of everyday people.

I walk to Govanhill and Mount Florida then back to the city-centre whose big pink PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW billboards loom out the rainy concrete – some kind of cultural / residential / waste-management campaign… Back at Meg’s, Ivor Cutler watches with sceptical, critical, spectacled eyes in his very own face-badg’d hat. 

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Like another radical writer also from Glaschu, Alexandra Trocchi, Ivor Cutler praised JAZZ-song to enliven dull post-war modernity robbing people’s fun. After Saturday’s Cherry-blossom Variations at the Barras Market’s ‘Hong Kong Takeover’, I saw old-fashioned jazz-dancers dancing 2 til 5pm and imagined Ivor Cutler finding it joyful. Ivor Cutler’s celebration poetics cut through capitalism’s infliction of bad-type boredom & ouch-sad functionalism. We must Thank Him.

On Sunday, after paying respects to Ivor Cutler and Auntie Sandi at the Necropolis with Meg, it’s time to go home. Ivor Cutler’s Glaschu cherry-blossom is in my head and my eyes and my heart and my feet, as he raises spirits that might otherwise be razed or erased, truly.

Read 1218 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 April 2024 09:22
Amy K Grandvoinet

Amy K Grandvoinet is currently trying to complete at PhD in literary psychogeographies at Aberystwyth University