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Archive for July 20th, 2010

The 2010 Mercury Music Prize shortlist was announced earlier today. Amid the teeth-gnashing and question-asking (who are the Kit Downes Trio and what the hell is Paul Weller doing on there?), it’s wonderful to see Laura Marling nominated for her album I Speak Because I Can. The 20-year-old has a huge future ahead of her, whether she wins or not.

The full shortlist is here and the winner is announced on September 7th. As Jim Carroll has pointed out predictions are pointless with the Mercury. It would be wonderful to see Villagers win, but my money is on The XX or Marling’s bloke’s band Mumford & Sons.

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For make-up collectors, the excitement around a new collection by MAC is akin to that of tweens and the new Twilight movie. It’s a time when beauty bloggers in particular speculate what the imaginative beauty brand will come up with next. Known for its bright, flashy colours, quality products and imaginative approach to marketing (it has collaborated with Barbie and Hello Kitty in the past), MAC’s limited edition lines sell out as quickly as it takes to slick on one of their fundraising Viva Glam lipsticks. But the latest collection, a collaboration with fashion house Rodarte (run by the young sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy), is getting bloggers’ attention for all the wrong reasons, and the fallout from it has demonstrated the immense – and perhaps unanticipated – power that customers wield online.

The problem with MAC’s new Rodarte collection? The products are inspired by a city in Northern Mexico. But not any Mexican city – they’re inspired by Ciudad Juárez, a place so dangerous for women that the term ‘femicide’ has been coined to describe the death of hundreds of females who lived there. At least 500 (some estimate that number could in fact be in the thousands) young women have gone missing from the town, their decomposing bodies later found in the desert – in some cases, feet away from the corpses of other missing Juárez women. Women have disappeared into the ether on their way to or from work; vacant lots have become crime scenes, the desert a giant graveyard.

The violent deaths of las muertas de Juárez (‘the dead women of Juárez’) have been occurring since at least 1993, and the senseless crimes are continuing year on year. Men have been arrested, some have been charged, but still the violence continues, and questions are on the lips of every mother, father, friend or child who has lost a woman in their life to an invisible murderer.

The majority of these women worked in the maquiladora, known for their intensive, sweatshop conditions, long hours and monitoring of women’s fertility. These are not pleasant places to work. But they are a means to an end for women, for it is mostly women who work in them. A handful of the women who were murdered worked as prostitutes.  Some were natives of the town, others had moved to work in the maquiladora. The youngest women were in their teens.  Many women have never been found; many bodies have never been identified.

Juarez may not be a household name in Europe, but it is not a place that can have escaped MAC’s attention. Groups such as the Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa and the Juarez Project, to name just two, have been formed. Numerous television programmes, films and documentaries have been made about the deaths. Books, poems and articles have been written about the city. Musicians such as Tori Amos and At the Drive In have been inspired by the shocking violence and murders.

When some beauty bloggers realised that the MAC Rodarte collection was inspired by the landscape of Juarez, but that the items were named ‘Sleepwalker’, ‘Ghost town’, ‘Factory’ and ‘Badlands’, they were incensed. These names have clear links to the plight of women working in maquiladora – and the promotional photographs feature a ghostly, dead-eyed model. Women who love make-up are sometimes seen as having a frivolous hobby, of only being interested in make-up because of its camouflaging (rather than transformative or creative) power. As we saw when Beaut.ie won the best blog award at the Irish Blog Awards, beauty blogs are seen by some as fluffy, unimportant websites that aren’t bothered with big issues. What this case has shown is that in fact there are many beauty ‘junkies’ who do care about what they purchase; women who will not wear an eyeshadow that is streaked with bright red rivulets when they know that it is inspired by a city where women have been left to die on bloodied concrete floors.

Thanks to these bloggers, MAC have stated that they are sorry for offending customers and fans, and that this was never their intention. “We are committed to donating $100,000 to a non-profit organization that has a proven, successful track-record helping women in need and that can directly improve the lives of women in Juárez in a meaningful way,” they announced yesterday, adding that the names in the collection will be changed.

Rodarte said their makeup collaboration with MAC “developed from inspirations on a road trip that we took in Texas last year, from El Paso to Marfa”, but that they “are truly saddened about injustice in Juárez and it is a very important issue to us”.

The names can be changed, the apologies made; but the fact remains that women are being murdered every year in Ciudad Juárez, and there is nothing beautiful about that.

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/12/04/juarez/

http://www.thejuarezproject.com/

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I wrote a post about literary tattoos on my writing blog last year, featuring the tattoo site Contrariwise, where people display photographs of their writing-inspired body art. The photo from Contrariwise I used shows two lovers hand-in-hand. The woman has Sylvia Plath’s ‘I am. I am. I am.’, from The Bell Jar, tattooed on her inner arm, from elbow to wrist; the man has Marlowe’s, ‘Fly, o man’, from Doctor Faustus on his. Interestingly the Plath phrase also appears in her poem ‘Suicide Off Egg Rock’:

‘And his blood beating the old tattoo
I am, I am, I am.’

Most of the traffic that comes to my blog as a result of this post uses the search string ‘Sylvia Plath tattoo’. Plath’s introspective but direct poetic style clearly has huge appeal to younger readers and the variety of Plath tattoos on the Contrariwise site is testament to this. One of the tattoos on display use three lines from Plath’s poem ‘Tulips’; the lines are winding tattooed stems that hold up three scarlet tulip heads. It looks beautiful.
Another young man has ‘by a mad miracle I go intact’ on his chest from Plath’s ‘Street Song’:

‘By a mad miracle I go intact
Among the common rout
Thronging sidewalk, street,
And bickering shops;’

That poem continues quite bloodily – ‘heart and guts hung hooked / And bloodied as a cow’s split frame’, but I suppose that’s not pretty or profound enough to be inked forever on the skin. Other favourite poets for tattoos include ee cummings, Longfellow, Poe, Frost and Ginsberg. It’s an American-based site.

On another site, Every Tattoo, I found a woman with the words ‘Virginia Woolf’ tattooed in large letters on her breastbone, like a torc. There is also a quote, on a woman’s foot, from Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’:

‘It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.’

Most tattoos on these sites are introspective and life-affirming. They follow the dictum of the tattooist Carmey, in Plath’s short story, ‘The Fifteen Dollar Eagle’: ‘Wear your heart on your skin’.

I’ve been wondering what an Irish poetry fan or writer even might get inked on their body. Maybe Séamus Heaney’s squat pen in the form of an arty quill? Or the line ‘Hunting words I sit all night’ from Flower’s translation of ‘Pangur Bán’?

Tattoos are not the rebel yell they once were; it’s probably more unusual now to find a thirty-something without a tattoo. But they often have deep meaning for their owner – and probably even moreso when they are taken from a much-loved poem.

My favourite book on tattoos is Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos. One of its editors, poet Kim Addonizio says: ‘It’s natural that writers and literary readers would be drawn to commemorating some bit of language that has moved or changed them – or that maps a direction they want to go.’ However, although she has five tattoos already, none of them are text-based. She says, ‘As soon as I find the right words, they’ll be inked somewhere on my skin.’ I’m in the market for a new tattoo but I think I’ll follow Kim’s lead and take my time choosing the words.

(A version of this post first appeared in the Poetry Ireland Review newsletter.)

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I was a smoker for the best part of 17 years. I started taking sneaky drags of Sweet Afton ( yack) at 13, progressed onto Rothmans by 15 and was a full on Consulate smoker for most of my adult life, apart from when I lived in Spain and then I was a Dunhill menthol gal.

Smoking for me was about being cool, edgy, rebellious even. It was also a source of comfort. As a miserable teenager I used cigarettes as an emotional crutch, hurtling away from the world to go puff my resentments into the atmosphere. In my twenties it was not uncommon for me to place cigarettes higher on the chain of necessity than food. A friend of mine, Joy, used to comment she knew I was around when there was an empty coffee cup and an over flowing ashtray filed with ash and the sheared tops of cigarettes ( another annoying habit, I used to nip the very top of cigarettes off, very rarely smoked a full length one).

To my great shame I smoked throughout my pregnancy, I smoked while driving, I smoked while waiting for anything, I smoked instead of eating breakfast, I smoked on night outs, I smoked on nights in, I smoked in airports, bars, churches, outside schools, hotels, cafes, oh lordy, click suck inhale. I was relentless.

Then I hit 30 and I decided to give them up for two reasons. One, I was about to be thirty and having lost a father to a smoking related illness I decided to cop myself on, the other reason was the real catalyst. My daughter  was inching into teenagehood, a perilous time when parental hypocrisy can be held up to close scrutiny.

How, I reasoned, was I supposed to demand my child not smoke whilst standing there with a fag hanging from my hand? Oh I might try the ‘do as I say not as I do’ line, but here be dragons. It was not likely to work. Lead by example was the only way through Mordor,  teenage hood.

So the fags had to go.

But how? I had never given up smoking before, it was nigh on impossible wasn’t it? I had heard the horror stories. I imagined myself lying in a bed a la Trainspotting, watching a tobacco filled piñata baby crawling towards me, with eye burning embers of delicious smoky coals.

I gibbered.

What would I do with my hands? What would I do in traffic jams? What would I do when I finished a chapter? Wither the rewards for getting through the blasted day?

In the end I was saved by Allen Carr, he of the easy way to do stuff. Through reading his ‘Easy Way To Stop Smoking’ I allowed some rather sneaky CBT  (cognitive behavioral therapy) to influence my thinking. I managed to shift my ‘smoky smoky nom nom’ thinking to ‘smoke? Now why on Earth would anyone want to do that?’ I managed  this 180 degree flip in the space of 24 hours. I didn’t even finish the pack of cigarettes I had, leaving them to wither and dry up on the landing until I threw them out a week or two later.

And then, voila,  I was no longer a smoker. I found other ways to reward myself for life’s little trials and tribulations. I eventually got into sport and this turned out to be rather a good thing for the mind and the body.

Feeling all smug about my ‘sacrifice’ for my child’s future health, I basked in my ‘rightness’ for a number of years until the reality of life gave my tush a solid kick. Teenagers don’t play by grown up rules.

I caught Jordan smoking.

Whereupon I turned directly – puff- into my mother.

‘You bloody great eejit!’ I said. ‘Smoking! Stupid, rah rah only eejits smoke, expense, blah blah think of your lungs, reeking yadda yadda, numpty  cancer cancer numpty, grounded! For all eternity!’

Naturally, as all teenagers are wont to do, this caused sulky glares and sullen promises of ‘yeah I won’t smoke, I said I won’t didn’t I?’

Hmm, I had said much the same clap trap to my own mother to get her off my back, and then went skippity bop off to smoke furiously behind her back. Was Jordan any different?

Of course not. Every time she came home my nostrils twitched.

‘You stink to the high heavens of smoke.’

‘I was with smokers, it gets on your clothes you know.’

‘Pfft.’

While washing her clothes I would find a lighter and go on a tedious rampage.

‘Look! Look!’ I would say brandishing it triumphantly.  ‘See, see?’

So triumphant I would repeat myself.

‘It’s not mine,’ little misssullenpants would assert, ‘I was minding it for someone.’

‘Oh balls! I didn’t come down in the last shower.’ I would counter, turning not just into my mother, but her mother too.

And so the status quo held for many months, she smoked behind my back, I’d find out and lecture her. I’d cry, I’d shout, I’d threaten. I would go on and on about the dangers of smoking. She would promise to never smoke again, I’d feel smug, then she’d post a picture of herself on Facebook, with a cigarette in hand. I go on the warpath, do the lecture stuff, and so the cycle would continue.

Then one day I was in my office looking up cadaveric spasms and  it hit me  square between the eyes. No not a spasm,  a solution! I was going this the wrong way. She was a Hunt after all and we don’t do well with threats and ultimatums. There was a better way to get through to this flesh of my flesh why I didn’t want her to smoke.

‘Jordan, just to let you know, I am taking up smoking again.’ I informed her, when she came into my office looking for a loan of a hair bobbin.

She gave an incredulous look.

‘What?”

‘Well, see, I’ve been thinking about it. I don’t want you to smoke, we know that. But see the thing is I only gave up smoking because I didn’t want you to smoke. But if you’re going to smoke anyway I might as well restart.’

She put both her hands on her ( skinny) hips. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘It’s not ridiculous Darling,’ I said. ‘In fact it makes perfect sense to me. I think I still have some of my old ashtrays in storage.’

‘I don’t want you smoking.’ She said, using a tone that suggested the lineage of our fallen apples are close to the family tree indeed.

‘Oh? Why would it bother you?’

‘Because it’s bad for you and I don’t want you to get sick, Jesus why do you think?’

I looked at her.  I said nothing, I merely raised an eyebrow.

She frowned, looked down for a long time and said in a small voice. ‘I see what you mean.’

And as far as I know she stopped smoking not long after that.

Children, they are tricky complicated people, but logical. Instead of always lecturing we must  sometimes stretch our minds so that they might reach conclusions on their own.

That said, keeping a close eye on Facebook helps too.

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