Calendar boys: Write Out Loud at the naked launch

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It’s not often a girl gets to watch a man strip whilst tucking into cheese and grapes, washed down with fine wine… so when Julian Jordon suggested that Joy France and I should take a trip into Manchester to review the Naked Muse calendar launch, I was tickled pink!  This of course, had nothing to do with the plethora of husky, musky, naked male bodies I might be exposed to and everything to do with my appreciation of fine art, fine wine, fine conversation – oh and the odd bit of poetry.

Those of you abreast of WOL’s news articles may already know the calendar to be an innovative (though oddly controversial) fundraiser, hopefully bringing public awareness to the charity Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Furthermore that it owes its existence to the tireless efforts of Adam Clarke and Victoria Bennett, whose three-year-old son Django was diagnosed with type one diabetes in August last year.

Quirky naked calendars are of course no recent concept, the first major charity calendar hitting the headlines back in 1999 when a group of middle-aged housewives stripped off to raise funds for leukaemia research following the untimely death of a much-loved husband.  The alternative WI calendar netted millions and went on to become a major Hollywood film.  It also inspired others to look beyond the conventional "tin rattling" for new and joyous ways of raising funds.  For me, the Naked Muse calendar is a first because it links my greatest love in life (poetry) with something else I’m rather partial to – the naked male form.  Its charm comes from the joyful celebration of life which leaps out at you from every page you turn.

Although the calendar has caused ripples in a few literary circles, I loved the idea right from the start.  It's great to see something fun and upbeat happening in the poetry world.  For me, it turns on its head the idea that poets are an introspective bunch of bleeding hearts, feeding off their own angst. 

The launch night itself at the Kraak gallery in Manchester was a great success with impressive performances from: Alan Buckley, Alexander Hutchison, Gill Hands, Tony Walsh, Graham Eccles, John Siddique, and Ernesto Sarezale.  The night was compered by the indomitable Dominic Berry, who showed us his true performance credentials, along with much else.  Regrettably I was only able to catch a "brief" piccie of Dominic but the energy and verve of his naked oratory will be grafted to memory for life. 

Photos of the night will be up in the galleries before long, including all performers and the star turn of the night, Ernesto Sarezale.  Those of you with long memories may recall that Ernesto was perhaps WOL’s most controversial Poem of the Month winner some two years ago, his "near the knuckle" love poem creating a few waves, to say the least.  Watching and hearing Ernesto perform was a pleasure and gave me greater insight into his poetry.  For Ernesto, there are no barriers in poetry or performance; the human body and its every sexual act, bears no stigma or shame.  After the initial surprise of seeing Ernesto strip off, I started to feel the same way.  In fact the whole room could have stripped off and it would have felt quite natural – a lesson learnt, maybe.

Perhaps I should say a little more about the calendar itself.  The collaboration of male poet models with female photographers and female poets makes for interesting dynamics.  The poetry accompanying each of the 12 months is based around the theme of love – not the easiest of topics for any poet to write about with originality – but somehow they do.   I was totally impressed by the quality of the pieces and find myself unable to choose a favourite – I just loved them all.

As for the photography, if I say it’s incredibly subtle and tastefully done, I might deter voyeurs from buying it.  So let’s just say it’s totally outrageous and should jolly well be banned!   If you want to find out why October needs to learn his poetry off by heart, why November needs to get himself a Perspex shower cubicle, or why January is my favourite shot – then buy the calendar! Buy it for your girlfriend, buy it for your wife, buy it for your girlfriend and your wife -  buy it for the love of humanity.

A calendar (wrapped in cling-film) will be raffled at the Christmas Wigan Tudor party.  Why don’t other venue organisers get on board and do the same? Calendars can be obtained from this link together with details of original prints for sale and other giving ideas:

Thank you to all the marvellous performers who entertained us so well on Saturday night.  A big thank you to all the photographers and poets, naked or otherwise who collaborated on the calendar.  And a huge thank you to Adam and Victoria for bringing this wonderful idea to fruition.  I hope the calendar is a great success -  and can I offer to be a photographer on the next one?     

The poet in the photograph is Andrew McMillan; the picture - at the launch exhibition, although not in the calendar - was taken by Annabel Williams at Greta Hall in the Lake District, the former home of Coleridge and Southey.

The calendar features 14 male poets and poems, 12 main months, one cover and one extra Wild Time month for all the creative dreams we say we don't have time for

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Comments

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Isobel

Sun 27th Nov 2011 13:35

You seem like a nice man, are you married?

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winston plowes

Sat 26th Nov 2011 22:04

Dick Emery! - Now you're talking Isobel. "Dad, I think I got it wrong again", Win x

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Isobel

Fri 25th Nov 2011 15:22

It’s an interesting point you make Steve. Are we as a society more tolerant of women ogling naked men, than men ogling naked women? I’ve been giving that one some thought and think that we possibly are.

I think that’s because women are more tongue in cheek about it. On the whole, they need more than just a body to be turned on. The personality and the chemistry are of equal importance, whereas very many men seem able to function at just a physical level. Is there even a commercial market for naked male calendars – somehow I doubt it – in what workplace have you ever seen one?

I think accentuating the reaction to male calendars is a natural for most feminists – which I consider myself to be. It’s a way of having a laugh and saying – hey we are equal in all this – so we can behave like you. I doubt any of us would ever sneak off to the lavs with one though...

I’m not sure what you are referring to with your ‘narcissism’ comment. We are all narcissists to some extent – particularly us performance poets. The moment we set foot on a stage we are seeking attention. By leaving your comment you were seeking attention and I am seeking attention by responding to you.

The poetry in the calendar is truly beautiful. If 12 naked men help to bring it to a wider non poet audience, that’s all the better, to my mind - all the money raised for charity being an added bonus.


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Steve Regan

Tue 22nd Nov 2011 01:19

The human body - in its male and female form - is glorious. It can be, and often is, as horny as hell and just simply beautiful (the eye of the beholder considered, of course).

But let's not forget two things - the hideously anti-male sexism which holds that it is now morally OK to ogle the naked male body but that it is somehow cheap, nasty, and dirty to ogle the female one. Bollox, tits, and other naughty words etc (honestly, how provinical!).

Also, we should not, as poets, ignore two very important negatives: (1) narcissism is(paradoxically) very unnatractive, and(2)the widespread contemporary belief in human autonomy (which underpins narcissim) is ultimately ... EVIL.

As poets we should look beyond the obvious.

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Isobel

Mon 21st Nov 2011 19:14

Thanks Cynthia! Your comment about smiles really made me laugh. Our photographs were a little rushed on the night - if we'd only had a more time...

I just love the old style comedians like Dame Edna Everage and Dick Emmery - now they did wry twist of lip with mock abash really well!

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Cynthia Buell Thomas

Mon 21st Nov 2011 16:39

Great review, Isobel. I, too, would have enjoyed the night. 'Nakedness' has many interpretations, and being without clothes is the least of them. Your funny little smile in the photo is marvellous, half-abashed with a wry twist of lip.

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Julian (Admin)

Sun 20th Nov 2011 15:09

Chris, you are right: it is not news; it's a review feature, as the tag says.

It involves poets and photography. We all go naked when we read our words in public anyhow.

Still, I am glad you are happy to debate such things and care passionately about poetry.

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Isobel

Sat 19th Nov 2011 20:55

Thanks for that Peter. I feel a little guilty accepting any credit for this though. Reviewing the launch night was a pleasure, as was meeting all the people who have worked on the project for the past year. I'm sure I speak for Joy also, when I say how privileged I feel to have been involved in this small capacity, via WOL.

This cause is also close to my heart. Dear family members and friends have suffered/do suffer from type 1 diabetes, so I have good knowledge of what you live with day to day.

I'm really grateful for your contribution Peter. I think it helps for people to hear first hand exactly how it changes a person's life.

Let's hope a cure is on the horizon.

Isobel x

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Peter Asher

Sat 19th Nov 2011 18:26

Thanks Isobel. For involving yourself in such a worthy cause. Diabetes is a slowly debilitating disease and can realy get you down at times. No matter how well you control it it is always there in the back of your mind whenever you eat, think about going out and even when you don't want to eat or do anything it has an influence.

I've been a type one for over 32 years that equates to over 58400 injections and believe me it needs sorting outwith a cure. Well done, X

darren thomas

Sat 19th Nov 2011 01:12

Right, can I put this arse away now?

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Isobel

Fri 18th Nov 2011 22:56

Thanks for your comments everyone.

I'd agree with Dominic that page and performance poets cannot easily be compared - in particular how they engage and connect publicly. I'm delighted that Victoria gave us further background to the creative process behind the calendar as well as its perceived goals. The calendar is indeed a work of art and the words of those beautiful poets lift it above and beyond accusations of tackiness.

I'll let you know how we get on with the raffle Victoria. Wigan is a warm, rumbustious venue - I know it will get a great reception. x

Adam Clarke

Fri 18th Nov 2011 20:00

Just wanted to say a big thanks to Isobel (and Joy) for coming along to our launch and for writing such a lovely review.

Obviously we are biased, but we believe that what we have created with the other 41 artists and the wonderful designers who worked with us, is a unique collection of poetry and photography that explores the beauty, fragility and strength of the male muse, as seen through the creative eye of the female artist.

On each page there is a poem, written on this subject, from poets including Wendy Cope, Pascale Page, Eva Salzman, Clare Pollard, Penelope Shuttle, Linda France (shall we go on?). These poems sit with the final images created, each one completely different in style and perception.

We carefully selected poets and photographers to work together in pairs, and each pair was given one of the poems (again, this was thought about) to read, discuss and respond to creatively. They then met and did the photo-shoot, and the finished result is what is shown in the calendar.

This is so much more than "tits out for the lads" mentality, and that is not political correctness speaking, that is simply an observation of the process and product involved. We do not feel that it demeans the art of poetry nor the poets involved, nor the amazing 13 women photographers involved. We do, however, feel that it allows poetry to reach into the home and spaces of people that perhaps would not read it otherwise, which in our mind is a good thing.

It also gets people reading about and discussing the cause. WE understand it is not everyone's cup of tea, and we welcome those wanting to donate without buying the calendar and appreciate that everyone will have their own opinion. In our opinion, the nakedness of the body, perceived through the eyes of the artist, is not degrading, to the person or the poem, but is a celebration of life. But each to their own.

Once more, thanks WOL for your review and coverage of this project - and it was lovely to meet you. And thanks to all the poets, photographers, designers, volunteers and others who gave of their time and creativity for nothing. It has been an amazing journey and I am (rightfully) proud of what we have created together, in the spirit of collaboration and in a bid to raise funds to find a cure for Type One Diabetes.

Good luck with the raffle!

Posted from Victoria, on behalf of Adam and myself xx

Adam Clarke

Fri 18th Nov 2011 19:27

Our chosen charity is JDRF here is a link to make direct donations - http://www.jdrf.org.uk/page.asp?section=237&sectionTitle=Donate

Thanks for everyone's support in making this an artistic endeavour to remember and behold...

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Chris Co

Fri 18th Nov 2011 19:12

If a link was added to a relevant diabetes charity that does not require 'arse outery'
I'll donate. I might even click the relevant buttons in the buff with my credit card out.

P.S

I claim no universal right.
No one has to agree.

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Francine

Fri 18th Nov 2011 18:36

Wonderful sparky discussion indeed!
Chris - you are hilarious! Thank you for being you!


p.s. I would have absolutley no problem doing something as tasteful as this just for art's sake OR a good cause... : )

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Dominic Berry

Fri 18th Nov 2011 12:43

What a wonderful sparky discussion! Great to see so much splendid debate.

I have been particularly inspired by Ernesto's fantastic work. If he did the same poems clothed they would not be the same. This does not mean the words are not good on their own, it just means they are part of something else, in the same way leonard cohen's words sound great on their own but hearing them sung with a guitar backing makes them something different.

Not all poems would work sung, nor with guitar, nor with or without a certain costume. Not all poems would work performed naked.

Carol Ann and Andrew Motion would probably not do something like this but they are not performance poets. Most of the poets involved in this project are. Performance poets don't have to perform naked but they do have to think about how they perform and find a way that works for them. If, like Ernesto, they find an audience who is inspired by their work then bravo indeed, long may it continue.

Darren Thomas I cannot wait to see a picture of your arse / tits / both! Brilliant!

Chris I would love to see your hard core porn fest for charity it is overdue!

Graham, you were wonderful at the event, hitching eh bloody hell good on thee, look forward to hearing your words again :)

darren thomas

Fri 18th Nov 2011 09:21

I've changed my profile picture accordingly...

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Chris Co

Fri 18th Nov 2011 07:03

I hope to see the tits/arse
(delete as applicable) of;

Darren
Isobel
Francine
Stella

Cause the ability to do so in a 'tasteful' way, clearly allows me to gain a greater understanding of their poetry.

I shake my big deep mack and shake hard upon such things
Urrrrgh- I reaaaaaaly!!!!!!!!

Poetry my arse.

Can you see Carol Ann doing this?

How about Andrew Motion?

Ooops

Seriously this is utter bollox and arse!

P.S

Graham;
I have no need of your special pen marks...sadly I have my own.
I wish I had doubts about sexuality, just so I could help your needs- unfortunately I am a failed hetro who also believes the same type of female poetry calender would also be equally as sad and bollox.


P.S to the P.S

Wol is very good for news...overall. It does a great job generally IMO.

Also I would welcome future news articles from Isobel and people as talented.



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Isobel

Fri 18th Nov 2011 06:55

I respect your views Chris and you have every right to express them.On this one we will just have to disagree, for all the reasons that I have already stated in my article.

I concede that I am not exactly the Brian Sewell of the poetry world, but think there is a place in every newspaper for a light read - why not WOL? I think we can both agree that this type of venture, news article (if you want to call it that) is a rare one - so unlikely to cause you much future concern. I believe the quality of all WOLs news articles to be excellent so you will have plenty to choose from.

What I will thank you for is the controversy. There's nowt like a bit of controversy to get a product known and out there. For me the end does justify the means - even in poetry. x

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Chris Co

Fri 18th Nov 2011 06:52

Just to add. I am no prude and will gladly indulge in hard core porn on behalf of your charity. So long as I can pick my girlfriend and men and women to do the same at random from wol.

At least by doing so, there would be a clear, unambiguous and forced reality...

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Chris Co

Fri 18th Nov 2011 06:22

This is not news- Sorry but it just isn't. This is an editorial position/item based upon an eyebrow raiser/ questionable news item that has been and gone.

Oh the cause is good! No shit- so what?
The cause is obviously good. That has never been in doubt- it also is not the point!

The point is getting naked or semi-naked has absolutely nothing and I repeat NOTHING!

To do with either poetry or the cause in question!

More importantly this is absolutely demeaning when it comes to poetry and our art form.
It belongs to the same era as miss world. It's a complete saddo joke.

It demeans the art form- and that IS the point!!!

Good cause- no shit- go find a better way to express it!!!! That in pure essence is the nature of this issue.

The absolute key- bottom line- sinker and everything!!!!!!

Poets should be known, good, bad or indifferent for their poetry and pretty much bugger all else. What you are doing is taking poetry to a level that is demeaning- whatever is said.

Disagree if you want.


P.S

Be careful with any idea of political correctness- push that idea too far and it might just bite you on the arse.

Chris

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Isobel

Thu 17th Nov 2011 19:36

Thanks Stella. I must say, it was a gift to review - so easy to find things to say.

I'd have loved to have had more poet friends with me but did enjoy talking to people I had never met before - which I probably wouldn't have got round to otherwise. John Siddique and his friends were lovely and I now own his book. And if Graham is true to his word, I'll put myself down on the list for his too!

It's just as well Greg knows how to edit well though - I got all the names wrong! I'm blaming it on the grapes...

Hope to see you at the Wigan Tudor, if not before. Come all ye poets and recite till our hearts sing...

stella jones

Thu 17th Nov 2011 15:27

Oh you and Joy get all the fun!!

Seriously though the whole evening sounds great fun Isobel...no wonder Joy looked a little flush at Poets Corner and there I was thinking the heating was up too high!!

A great review that I enjoyed reading..thanks Isobel x

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Graham Eccles

Wed 16th Nov 2011 21:49

I hitched in both directions that day. I'm saving the shots for my first book cover. :D

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Isobel

Wed 16th Nov 2011 19:29

Oh Francine - you would have loved it!

Graham - I'm so sorry I never got to chat to you - hopefully our paths will cross at some other venue! Your photo was brilliant - but it wasn't one of the months, so hard to reference. Next time, do make my year by hitching a lift in the opposite direction ;-) xx

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Francine

Wed 16th Nov 2011 17:36

Sounds like a fabulous night out - something I know I would have enjoyed!

This is such a wonderful, creative, fun way for poets and photographers to collaborate and fundraise for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Great review, Isobel. : )

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Graham Eccles

Wed 16th Nov 2011 16:47

Brilliant review, thank you. :)

If i'd have known that you were 'Isobel', I'd have been out hunting Grapefruits especially so you could join in. There were grapes, but that might have been too revealing. :)

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Isobel

Wed 16th Nov 2011 12:52

Thank you Darren - that means a lot.

If Joy and I look flushed on that picture, that's because we were. Phworrrr - what a great night we had!

When are we going to get another review off you anyway? I miss reading them. The humour and style is totally inimitable.

darren thomas

Wed 16th Nov 2011 11:29

Enjoyed reading this - thanks Isobel.

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