I am in New York. I just got back from Harlem where I went for brunch at the Tsion cafe on St Nicholas, I recommend it. I’m one of five writers who has been sent out on the #Outriders journeys by Edinburgh International Book Festival. We are Harry Giles (Canada), Malachy Tallack (USA: North Dakota via Appalachia to Louisiana), Kevin McNeil (Argentina), Stef Smith (Mexico) and myself. I am doing the Rust Belt to Silicon Valley. I am exploring truth in current political times and meeting loads of people along the way, making a film of some of those conversations, writing a lot of stream-of-consciousness style poetry and prose. My aim is truth so sometimes that will cut a little and sometimes it will do so a lot. That’s the point of poetry. To remove the filter between what we should be and what we actually are. To encompass the raw and validate it. Well, that’s some of its purposes anyway. So far my journey itinerary looks like this —
New York, whilst I am here I am going to Liberty island, it seems like the right place to start. Then I am going to Ellis Island, which processed over 12 million immigrants before it was closed. I believe Irish ancestors of mine passed through there. I never feel comfortable in a city until I’ve visited some of its oldest institutions. I am heading over to the NYPL, visiting an artist in Harlem who I’ve never met before, apparently he’ll be wearing a white linen jacket. I am photographing art and chatting to artists at The Carlton Arms where I am staying, trying to catch Miwi La Lupa, meeting writer Sassafrass Lowrey to talk all things political, word-like and otherly. I am also heading out to Woodstock. Over there I will be meeting an assortment of writers and artists including Team Love Records (I adore their label), Kelly Braffet, Gerard Malanga (he’s doing my portrait) and I will catch up with Bill from Bottle of Smoke Press. The morning after that writer Cyndy Drew Etler is flying up to meet me, she reached out because of my background growing up in the state care system in Scotland and because she connected with my debut novel. Cyndy spent time in care in the US, in a unit where they used to (among other things) drug the girls. We are going to the Guggenheim to talk all things institutional and art based, I will also meet my NY Editor for the very first time, that will just be the first four days!
Detroit — I am then going to fly to Detroit, spend time there with writer Lolita Fernandez and meet up with my travelling companion in literary outlaw chic — Bonnie Jo Campbell.
Kalamazoo river in Michigan — I’m staying in a river shack belonging to aforementioned extraordinary writer (Bonnie-Jo Campbell), we will drive there from Detroit. I hope to meet her donkeys. I may go shooting. I want to speak to people locally (like I am doing everywhere I go).
Chicago — Whilst in town I’ll be on an Indie radio station talking all things truth, visiting a boxing club (possibly) forming a day long grind core band with writer Beth, catching Irvine for a few sherries, going to the DuSable Museum of African American History, speaking to people at the Poetry Foundation.
Portland — Flying there, there will be stuff, it will be done, Bonnie Jo and I start our main leg of the journey together here.
Oregon — We are driving out with Eric, who we will have picked up in Oregon, he is driving, we are writing, arguing, debating — first stop is to see Ken Babbs at his farm, he is one of the original Merry Pranksters, was a huge part of the famous counter culture bus that drove with among other the Beat poets and prior to that he was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He has told me the truth is at a house near the old commune. I am glad at least one person is being direct about it.
On the Road — Taking in the Redwood National Park, looking for wolves, taking eco readings, going through Napa Valley, all on the way to our next stop. Nature is not an incidental part of this journey. Global governments and climate treaties are nowhere near where they need to be, to even remotely, address climate change. I will be looking at that and also, focusing on the extraordinary changing landscape as we head further down to Silicon Valley.
San Francisco — Visiting a literary outreach programme where I will be talking to the kids about my upbringing, what words have meant to be, how I came to be a writer, Bonnie Jo will be chatting with them too and we will both read them some work. We may visit one of the homeless tented communities, although that could be in Portland. I will do a reading in a tiny old-school S&M bar.
Again … all the way, I will be filming, chatting, debating and writing about truth.
We will also meet Emer Martin and get political before sailing forth on our trusty train from San Francisco to LA.
Los Angeles — I want to book end the ideological exploration of what the USA has built itself upon (started on Ellis Island and the route of immigrants across the history of this country) we will pass by the Hollywood sign, among other things and there are a few more people to meet there too (yet confirming). I will find somewhere to get a tattoo and speak to some of the body artists I meet about truth in our political times.
The truth to be debated as I see it is … political, personal, global, peripheral, industrial, historical and geographical.
I am talking to taxi drivers, people in the laundry, on the street, the tube, in bars, I am listening! The first night I got here I dreamt about a giant ear …
My foundation for all things is often structural. The position of the other. It’s where I came from and I think it gives the best view of the mainstream, the centre, the powers that be and how they are being and how we are all impacted.
I want to photograph Detroit as a city full of new energy whilst also having the highest area of depopulation as an industrial centre that experienced a devastating decline. I spoke to one of the outreach volunteers in Detroit who had spent time there after working in a natural disaster zone in India. He said conditions in some areas he spent time in (in Detroit) were far more distressing.
I am thinking of Celine’s Journey To The End of Night.
I am thinking of Gotham City.
All things here are presided over by the daily news of Donald Trump. I went to the Trump building yesterday and had some strange conversations, the security men were suspicious and the elevator was gold. There was a lot of gold to be fair. I have never seen so much gold in a building. I will go to Trump towers and I will of course write about the political situation. Every day there is talk of Donald Trump facing impeachment, his leaks to Russia, the ever rising and dangerous situation with North Korea, that skirts into the territory of nuclear weapons and war. Trump makes grandiose declarations about nuclear power, about a war that would affect everyone. He is dismissal of climate change (claimed at one point it was a conspiracy thought up by the Chinese government). He is passionate about the removal of women’s rights, human rights, any rights he chooses. He appears to be running the country via Twitter. Last week he sent out a tweet that merely read — We. He is the cult of celebrity gone monstrously wrong. In the US protests are widespread including the rise of some far-right, racist white supremacy groups out on the streets. I somehow couldn’t imagine this just a few months ago and now the US is a country that appears to be teetering on a constant brink of something awful. The media are being refused access to truth. Trump talks about truth all the time and anything he does not like is dismissed immediately as fake news. Psychiatrists are concerned. Environmentalists are concerned. Teachers, parents, children — those who lived through the civil rights movement, the LGBT community, even the poor communities whose vote he went after with a mercenary zeal — are concerned.
For the last few days FBI members have been putting pictures of James Comey up on their social media, in solidarity after his dismissal.
Trump is considered unfit for his position at best and dangerous to civilisation full stop at worst.
Somehow everywhere I go this disturbing situation is everywhere.
Anyway, I want to listen more, read more, talk more, formulate my thoughts and I will get back to the subject of current politics in the US and how they relate to what is going on in the UK and Europe.
The other pieces of writing I will be posting throughout the journey make up my own literary endeavour whilst on the road, unusually, they will not be edited and will come out pretty much as they are. When I say I intend to seek truth and tell it, I mean that. My personal take is often direct, brutal, poetic, coarse and heavily influenced by art and music. My own particular take on ideology and the structures of society inform almost everything I do.
I am here to extend my thoughts political, personal and otherwise and I intend to give back to this journey with an open heart, humour and all the artistic and intellectual energy I have, but first — too — emotion.
I cried on Ellis island yesterday, because of this picture below.
The journey of immigration across the globe is so huge, so vast, so powerful and frustrating and at its core there are people who are brothers, sisters, children, parents. This photograph is from after the end of the Vietnam War, when hundreds of thousands of people attempted to flee Southeast Asia, mostly from Vietnam, by riding overloaded boats to nearby countries. Those countries, like Europe currently does, did not know how to cope with the scale of the immigrant crisis. They eventually announced that they would refuse any more “boat people,” which sparked action in the international community to try and devise a global resettlement program with the help of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 1.3 million Southeast Asians were settled around the world including 800,000 in the US.
Current estimates of how many need resettled in the EU today come in at around two million distributed through the “global north”— EU, US, New Zealand, Canada and Australia. Over five years that would be 400’000 per year in countries that comprise 850 million inhabitants.
That barely tips the 12 million exiled by war in Syria, violence in Afghanistan or Iraq or Eritrea or the huge myriad of countries where people are currently unsafe.
Germany, which expects to take in 800,000 asylum seekers this year, but several other EU countries are openly hostile to accepting refugees.
I think about the kids and the parents a lot. I know what it is like to not know anyone in the world and to rely on the kindness of strangers for your safety. I don’t know what it is like to do that in a camp where you may not even have a social worker to turn to, or speak the language or have anyone appear to care at all. It really, really gets to me.
The world has become more frightening and I am afraid. I am angry at the current political situation across the planet and I no longer feel I can be silent, if I am silent then I am complicit.
I will not be that.
I began my journey into the US on Ellis Island to start out in a place where 12 million immigrants passed through to become US citizens.
I took the US citizenship test. I failed, spectacularly.
I’m going to post a whole lot of Ellis Island photos after this, then my truth no.1 blog, then I have to find my way to Harlem to meet an artist in a white linen jacket who I’ve never met before, who paints extraordinary owls and faces based on African death masks. I shall be back before too long.
PS — I’m doing this in transit so forgive me any errors, do, honestly.