Meet Mr Inquisitor
Hello again, everyone, and welcome to another edition of the only Post interview feature hosted by a naked grey-skinned man with his hand superglued to his chin - the graphic's a pretty good likeness, n'est ce pas?
Onto this week's victim guest. Jim Broadbent is one of this country's most respected character actors, his CV spans the original radio version of the Guide, plus Blackadder, The Crying Game, and Moulin Rouge, to name but a few, while he received a well-deserved Oscar for his role in Iris.
Unfortunately Jim still isn't returning my emails, so we've had to make do with A Broad Called Ben this week, whose name sounds a bit similar.
Ben, when I think of you, one of the first things that comes into my head is the Loving Kindness Meditation and your commitment to peaceful conflict resolution. Who's your favourite wrestler?
Pro or Am? Pro, I don't know enough about to comment. Am? Well let's just say that any conflicts are resolved to our satisfaction. Actually, innuendo aside, my cats wrestle like good 'uns, and they are very good at the mindfulness-of-sleeping.
Er, the what of which?
(Never mind, it is a litle zen-joke). Back to the questions eh?
Oh, I get it! That deserves a one-handed round of applause. Actually, I thought it had something to do with my own experience of meditation - i.e. the desperate struggle not to doze off every time. How do you see meditation - is it detaching one's inner being from phenomenal existence in order to achieve a greater sense of self-awareness, or is it more a case of temporarily forgetting your own identity and becoming one with the world around you?
You don't want to know my version of what exactly is going on when one hand is clapping!
Is meditation about self-awareness or about one-ness with the universe?
Interesting question. I have to say that I am a bad and intermittant meditator. The best I can really achieve is stilling the mind very briefly, and seeing what comes bubbling up, so I guess that I am at the self-awareness stage, rather than the one-ness with the universe stage. I like the metta-bhavna (which is the meditation described in the entry) because it has content. In many ways it is a structured affirmation more than anything else.
But most of the time meditation is about back-ache and pains in the knees. I am pretty good at meditating on pain!
Crikey, that makes you sound hard. Of all the h2g2 members you've encountered over the years, who do you think would make the best human cannonball?
Yep! Well 'ard, me!
Best human cannon ball in terms of 'it would be a really good thing if they were a long long way from me' or best human cannon ball in terms of 'looks good in lycra and can bounce nicely on a trampoline'?
Erm - in terms of 'who do you think would be best suited, psychologically and physically, to being fired out of a cannon into a reservoir'?
Just now? Well, there are a couple of people who haunt this site who spring to mind, but I am not going to be *that* permanently spiteful in public.
Most of the so-called Labour Government, starting with Campbell and Blair1. The Shrubbery. But to be honest, I have very few individual enemies, and I am too cynical to think that deposing individual leaders makes any changes at all. As the anarchists used to say 'whatever way you vote, the Government gets in'.
Freedom for Tooting! Who would you employ as your gardener, Hugh Grant or Russell Crowe?
Anyone who was good with a mower! I have never mown a lawn in my life, and have no intention of starting now. Having said that, I have never knowingly seen a Russell Crowe movie in my life, so maybe I have already employed him as a gardener in one of those long lists of extraordinary jobs that actors do before they become famous. I'd have remembered if I'd employed Hugh Grant though.
Yes, I doubt your garden would ever have been the same either. Consider: John Wayne, right-wing action hero (real name: Marion). Big Daddy, famous wrestler (real name: Shirley). Ice-T, founder of gangsta rap (real name: Tracy). All men with girl's names who chose to follow violent careers. As a woman with a boy's name, do you have any insights into this phenomenon?
Well, it confuses the hell out of all concerned!
In real life it is tedious to have to explain again and again and again that 'yes, 'Ben' really is my real name'. Every now and again I speak to people on the phone who clearly assume that I am part way through a process of changing from one gender to another. I tend to notice this only when the idea of trans-gender is a problem for them, and though that says more about them than it says about me, or anyone else, it is always irritating to be on the receiving end of presupposition and prejudice.
Having an unusual name has made me very careful with other peoples' names. I have been known to say things like: 'Your name is 'Smith?' - can you spell it for me, please?' (Well, it could be Smythe, now, couldn't it? Though it is arguable than anyone called 'Smythe' deserves to have their name mis-spelled!)
So all in all, I make fewer assumptions about gender, about spelling, about race even, than maybe I would do if I had a more 'normal' name. But unlike Marion, Shirley and Tracy, I don't try to over-compensate. Anyone who has met me would find a couple of good reasons staring them right in the face for knowing I was female. I may not be a particularly girly girl, but I am definitely womanly, and in many ways very feminine.
Blimey Awix - you tapped a vein there!
Yes, I think I need a lie down and possibly a cold shower now. The impression I'm getting of you as a sort of Old Labour version of Xena: Warrior Princess is of course softened somewhat by the fact you write poetry. Would you care to say a few words about this?
An 'Old Labour version of Xena: Warrior Princess'? You flatterer!
Ah, there's a thing. It un-nerves people in many respects, and I know that it un-nerves me. Pinniped said that it 'has a very measured kind of abandon to it', and that is probably true. It is raw emotion filtered through increasingly ruthless analysis. I cannot not write it, and know when I am brewing a poem in the same way you know when you are brewing a cold.
I have only been writing poems regularly for just over three summers. Interestingly my first adult poem was written about six weeks after the death of my mother. None of my poems are about her, but I do wonder about that sometimes.
The early ones - the ones written in 2001 - are basically stream of consciousness and were written down verbatim, just as they arrived in my brain.
In 2002 I started experimenting with more strict forms, and I am fascinated by forms with repeating lines. A formal poem can take several days to craft, and is like a cross between doing a jigsaw puzzle and doing extremely careful reconstructive archaeology. Once the structure is there, it often feels like a process of uncovering the meaning word by word. I am too lazy to write formal verses very often, because something like 'Equilibrium' (which is about severe emotional confusion) is both deeply felt and highly structured takes a huge amount of energy as well as a lot of time.
I try to make my poems extremely lucid, and extremely accessible. I strive to write lines as simple, structured and powerful as Larkin's:
'They f**k you up, your mum and dad, / They may not mean to, but they
Recently I have started writing more about landscapes. I have a very strong sense of the history of a landscape, and of the emotions we feel within and about landscapes. My most recent poem is a new departure, because it uses the landscape as a metaphor for my situation. It is about a thunderstorm sweeping across a valley. I did sit up on the
hillside and watch the thunder roll in, but the whole thing is filtered through the emotions I felt at the time, and I hope that it conveys the emotions as strongly as I hope it conveys the look and feel of the landscape.
Mmmm, yes. I've read some of your poetry in the Post archives and as a poet myself I've noticed that not all of your work actually rhymes. Would you say that was a fair assessment?
Oh, well. Personally many times I've seen, I don't know, a greengrocer's or a lovely bowl of fruit, and felt inspired to verse, but it's so damned difficult - apple, banana, orange - none of them actually rhyme with anything. And you can't really wax lyrical about a lovely pear or some melons in case people get the wrong idea. So you're stuck with grapes, but it's hard to work words like 'ape' and 'tape' into a poem about fruit. What do you do in this sort of situation?
Nothing! My muse either grabs me by the throat and chokes a poem out of me, or she doesn't, bitch that she is. I don't actually like writing poetry, I just cannot not do it. Think of it as emotional vomiting.
(Is there any other kind?)
On the other hand...
Awix wants a rhyme for 'grape'
(beloved food for man and ape)
but it's hard, and we must scrape
the bottom of the barrel.
Then he suggests I try 'banana'
ripe and yellow, from Guiana,
(I use real words, unlike Carroll).
I did once write about my Apple -
Windows sucks, you'll find a Mac'll
do all you want, unless you grapple
with really tricky words.
Then we find a rhyming dict-
ionary helps when we inflict
on wary people rhymes so strict
or scary they write us off as nerds.
I am really, really sorry about that.
Nothing to apologise for there! Ladies and gentlemen, what a star! Ben, it's been an absolute delight to talk to you, and just before we go I'll ask what I always ask - what's the single most important thing you've learned through being a member of h2g2?
People are stranger and richer and rarer and far more important than you
Enormous thanks to hard yet womanly Marxist versifier A Broad Called Ben for giving up her time for this. If you think you're up to the Inquisitorial mix of philosophy tutorial, pop-culture quiz and talent contest, feel free to volunteer via Shazz the Post Editor's email account. Or, if there's someone you'd particularly like to see questioned, nominate them at the foot of the page. Until next time, I've been Mr Inquisitor. Ta-ta!