What I’ve been reading this summer

The UK summer heatwave rendered me incapable of doing little else but hugging the shade with a goodly supply of water, tea and reading material.  I granted myself leave from writing a blog post, last Sunday.  Writing output amounted to little more than notebook drivel on nights when it was too hot to sleep.  I never find it too hot to read, though.

I’ve blogged before about collecting poems that I’ve read in magazines or online: the ones I love and those I might wish to re-read or refer to, at some point in the future.  There are more than a few I’ll cut out and keep from the Europe issue of Magma.  As a long-term subscriber, I think it’s quite possibly the best issue in years (I can’t comment on my TBR copy of the Film issue).  It could so easily have been Brexit-centric but issue 70 was, as always, a net cast wide in terms of style, subject and takes on a theme.  Poems that made me smile: Duncan Chambers’ Les Vacances; Sarah Juliet Walsh’s Le Rêve.  One that made me laugh out loud: Astra Bloom’s Sacré.  My absolute Top Three poems of political/social comment: Fiona Larkin’s Hygge; William Roychowdhury’s Farage for a Migrant Worker; Katriona Naomi’s Slowly, as the talk goes on, we are getting nowhere.

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Occasionally I admit to abandoning a book I wasn’t enjoying.  I did enjoy Lemn Sissay’s lecture, Landmark Poems, at University of Leicester in May.  I follow his morning tweets.  I was looking forward to reading Gold from the Stone, New and Selected Poems (Canons).  However, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t for me.  So I will gift it to someone who will read and treasure it.  If you think that could be you, do let me know in the comments box below.

Hot off the TBR pile, my current poetry read is Deborah Alma’s Dirty Laundry, (which I pre-ordered at the same time as Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After?)  It’s daring, direct and highly readable.  I’m enjoying it immensely.  I have a large and growing collection of Nine Arches Press poetry collections, and justifiably so.

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I’ve recently re-subscribed to Shawna Lemay’s blog, Transactions with Beauty.  It’s a tranquil space amidst the clamour of the world-wide web.  I related to her latest post, Ways of Being a Writer. I think I’ve been several of these kinds of writers, at certain points in time.  It’s a reminder to stop beating myself up over my (lack of) writing (as in paragraph one, above, for instance!).

On Thursday evening, I attended an author talk at a neighbouring village library, organised by the lovely Debbie James, independent bookseller extraordinaire, of The Bookshop, Kibworth.  (Do drop by if you’re in the area.  The Table of Temptation is aptly named).  Damon Young, author of The Art of Reading, gave a fascinating and thought-provoking talk: a philosopher’s perspective on the power (and responsibilities) of the reader.  Damon is appearing at Edinburgh Book Festival, if you’re interested. I’m looking forward to reading this, my latest book purchase:

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What have you been reading, this summer?

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Re-fuelling the writer: a day trip to London

Wednesday’s day trip to London for the Royal Academy’s 250th summer exhibition put another tick on my Life’s for Living list.  It was a full-on day in city heat but I like to think that a change of scene can be a re-fuel for writing if not a battery re-charge.

On arrival at St Pancras station, I was greeted for the first time by Tracey Emin’s message of love to the rest of Europe:

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With the exhibition extending over more rooms than on my last visit, I spent over three hours taking in the eclectic mix of subjects, styles and media that typifies the RA’s summer exhibitions.  I became fascinated, too, with the ways in which others engaged, both on first response and at close quarters, with particular exhibits.

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My personal favourites included labours of love, elements of surprise, titles as messages, the power of words harnessed, classics made current, quirks and the downright funny.

I used to feel so alien, so out-of-water in London but, over time, I’ve come to terms with that feeling of anonymity I experience there, more than anywhere else I’ve ever visited.  In fact, it’s quite freeing, on occasion.  Wednesday brought conversations with strangers: on the choice of breakfast breads with a woman on the next table at Le Pain Quotidien; on the joys of new babies and breastfeeding with a young mother as we shared a bench at St Pancras station; on poetry and discovering friends-in-common with three fellow passengers on the return train journey to Market Harborough (my copy of Under the Radar magazine proved a great conversation starter).

From my TBR pile:

Since finishing Rowan Coleman’s The Summer of Impossible Things (I do like novels that that play with the concept of Time), I’ve read two poetry books: Marion McReady’s Tree Language (its recurring themes and subjects are almost a series of studies; I enjoyed these quiet but affecting poems) and S. A. Leaveley’s How to Grow Matches (there’s a range of styles and sources of inspiration in this short collection of poems towards a ‘template’ for the visible, powerful woman).  I’ve just started reading Nell Stevens’ Bleaker House: a fact-fiction fusion on how far one writer is prepared to travel in order to fail to write a novel (and become a writer in the process).

In other news:

I was mistaken in thinking that the Bridport Poetry Prize longlist was to be published last Tuesday.  Only the longlist for the Peggy Chapman-Andrews award (First Novel) has been announced online, so far.  The rest of us will have to wait until September (winners and highly commended for Poetry, Short Story and Flash Fiction, by email) or October 22nd (full competition results published online).  Oh, well…

Public libraries

I came across this book at my village library, last week:

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I’d just returned How To Be Both, discovered this on the shelf and promptly took it out on loan (cue a new author crush). The short stories in this collection concern themselves with our relationships with books and their effect upon us. Between each story are anecdotes – from writers, friends and people on the street – or, rather, affirmations of the real value of public libraries at a time when this free and openly-available public resource is under threat as never before.

The testimonials in this book set me thinking about my own relationship with public libraries. I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. As a young child, I spent many a night reading by torchlight under the bed covers. Aged 8, I’d cycle to the nearest branch library just over half a mile away and spend my Saturdays getting lost in the worlds of books. During school holidays, I’d sometimes take a book into the blissful silence of the reference room and copy out whole passages, for the love of words. O’ and A’ level English Lit followed by a B. Ed degree (English Lit and History) meant I did fall out of love with reading for a while (all those holidays spent chewing my way through set books for the following term’s syllabus). Then we emigrated to South Africa and, when the new life we’d craved seemed largely unfamiliar and daunting, the town’s public library became my sanctuary.

I don’t remember when I went from borrowing books to buying books. Perhaps it began with the appearance of cheap paperbacks on supermarket shelves. Or when library stocks no longer satisfied my growing appetite for poetry. But I do know that, for years now, my buying habit has out-stripped both my reading speed (I’m a slow reader as I sub-vocalise everything) and available time for reading. Concerted efforts to quit have been short-lived. My habit is fed by my poetry social life, social media links to reviews, publishers/small presses, book vloggers, etc. My collection of poetry books remains relatively intact despite a massive cull of ‘stuff’ when we down-sized last year. The reading of poetry is a vital part of my writing process and my ongoing education. Much of what I read is published by small presses and unavailable on library loan. But I do wonder if my buying habit is, in part, consumerism by another name.

Of course, public libraries offer so much more than books. Our village library is a real community hub (and it’s one of many public libraries in the county that are now community-run and will soon be entirely self-funded). Most Thursday afternoons, I go there to knit and natter, drink tea and scoff cake (oh, the joys of retirement). I’ve very recently completed my training and induction as a library volunteer and I’ve learnt there’s so much more to do than stamping books for loan and shelving returns. Library loans are once more part of my TBR pile. Only the other day I came away with this 5-CD box set from the audio bookshelf. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a certain recent second-hand book purchase:

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Oh – and I’m also listening to BBC’s Book at Bedtime abridged version of Salley Vickers’ The Librarian, set in 1958: my birth year! It’s available on iPlayer Radio for the next month or so, here.

I’d love to read your public library testimonials via the comments box below.

After GDPR: some thoughts on my inbox

My inbox seems to clear of a rash of GDPR-related emails, at last.  A disconcerting number of them were from sites I don’t remember subscribing to.  I updated my preferences for receiving updates and newsletters (mainly of the poetry kind) but consistently failed to find ‘unsubscribe’ links for those companies who expected me to wade through the legalese of their Updated Privacy Policies (I tried; I gave up).

I’d already begun reducing my email subscriptions, anyway.  Online reading seems to occupy an ever increasing amount of my time.  Instead, I could be bramble-wrangling in the garden, cracking the spine of ‘shelved’ recipe books, relieving the loft of a burden of boxes.  Or mining the TBR pile for treasure.  Or writing.

What my (poetry) subscription emails do provide:

  • a window on what’s new and happening in the poetry world
  • updates on events I’d like to attend
  • publication news
  • new posts on my favourite blogs
  • reviews of poetry pamphlets I’ve read/can’t wait to read
  • discovering the interesting and surprising via linked content
  • discovering ‘new’ poets whose work I enjoy
  • information on MOOCs, workshops, etc

However, I’m mindful that my inbox currently holds 770 emails.  Almost all of these are poetry/writing-related subscription emails.   They’re fantastic resources for an ongoing poetry education (Brain Pickings, POETRY magazine, Poets.org, Poets & Writers) so why do these ‘Round-to-its’ continue to stack up?  I think most of the backlog is a legacy from my working life when I used to daydream about WHEN, of sitting in my favourite armchair, reading my way through the lot.  I thought I’d have oh, so much more time for all my Neglecteds when I retired.  How misguided I was!

One day, I’ll give myself permission to delete the lot and make a fresh start.  Maybe.  Right now, I’m heading for my lounger with a book.  The garden’s looking starry-eyed, despite last night’s storm.

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