Since our last meeting with The Reader magazine, a chill had crept into the air and it won’t be long now until the changing of the clocks brings on the darkening evenings of winter… BUT, at least can rest assured of a good read to curl up. Issue 67 is out now!
The latest issue of The Reader magazine has an almost embarrassing wealth of new poetry and fiction for you to enjoy, preferably wrapped in something woolly and with a mug of something warm to hand.
There are new poems from Alison Brackenbury, John Gladwell, Clifford Forde and Ian Tromp, whose atmospheric 2am draws us out into a back garden with a sickly dog to soak up the urban animal sounds of a too-bright night. Julian Flanagan is The Poet on His Work this issue, discussing a poem from his new collection Cooking With Cancer, published by Mica Press earlier this month.
“As soon as it looked like I had cancer, I wrote poems about it… My notebook followed me through wards, treatment suites, chemotherapy units. Rough poems were written in waiting rooms, ideas noted down, the quotations that pepper the poems transcribed straight after they’d been said. The notebook was with me at the hotel in One Night’s Stay, and I began writing the poem there.”
One Night’s Stay is a poem, not solely about the poet’s dealings with ‘the big C’, but about the other everyday challenges of life that carry on regardless, in this instance, a son’s first night at a new boarding school. Flanagan says that his children helped to “prevent the collection becoming a series of ‘O I was really ill’ poems.” During the 18 months he was undergoing treatment, they continued to grow up, to present him with their own individual challenges and moments of simple happiness.
As ever, Brian Nellist, the Godfather of The Reader also has an Old Poem for readers to get their teeth into with an extract and reflection on John Milton’s Paradise Lost and and Old Story, this time from Mary Russell Mitford, who writes about the simple human intricacies of village life in Lost and Won.
There is also new fiction from Reader Patron and magazine regular, David Constantine, with a short story called bREcCiA:
“Between it’s two stout covers, on its three hundred and sixty-six sewn pages, the book contains around fifteen thousand items. Once the collecting ceased, and we can’t know how long it went on, the making of the book must surely have taken at the very leas five years. The title of it, in a very large font, made out of black lower and upper case letters cut from newspapers and pasted dead centre on the front cover is: bREcCiA.
And those letters, upper and lower case, in a small font, are strewn in great profusion and as it were at random, like a handful of black seed, all over the inside covers of the book, facing page 1 and page 366. The Oxford English Dictionary defines breccia as ‘A composite rock consisting of angular fragments of stone, etc., cemented together by some matrix, such as lime.’ … ‘Breccia’ is an apt title for a book made at a certain date out of pre-existent bits and pieces.”
The Essay this quarter comes from Dr Andrew Schuman, a GP of 24 years who writes in The Vanishing Trick about a poem, passed to him by the wife of an 83-year-old patient with dementia, who describes himself in the final verse as “a left-over chap in a ring of husks, a cat-smile, no more, on a garden wall, a fading shape in an archway…”:
“He knew I shared his passion for words, and in the ability of literature (and poetry in particular) to capture and make sense of aspects of the human condition that are often impossible to explain in any other way. We swapped poetry in the same way that two small boys would swap Top Trumps cards – and with the same sense of joy and wonder.”
Dr Andrew Schuman
For Schuman, the memory of this patient, who he’d known for years, brings further sadness about another loss, a professional one, for the continuity of care which GPs rarely get to offer their patients in light of new policy priorities. Schuman talks about the importance of knowing his patients, of gaining their trust and throughout his essay, highlights the need to be ‘interested’ in the person, not just their symptoms. For him, this often emerges through his personal interest in literature:
“Our demographic is about as broad as it gets: titled folk and head of Oxford colleges; people working in offices and call-centres; parents, students, children – and the unfortunate many who wash up in Oxford’s bail and probation hostels.
It’s this latter group of people that I often find so interesting, and so deserving of (and grateful for) the help we can offer during the few months they’re under our care. You get to know something of their stories – often years of abuse, foster care and drug addiction. But what is surprising is that so many manage to carry on – a day at a time – looking for a roof over their heads, a job, love…
Not infrequently, these patients and I talk about reading – and a surprising number do read. One man I saw last week was half-way through a paperback, so I asked what he was reading. It’s impossible, for some reason, not to wonder about what people are reading when they’re waiting to see me.
Dr Andrew Schuman
In a declaration that could almost describe the practice of Shared Reading, Schuman recognises the importance of human connection in his own work: “We make connections with our patients. We serve as witnesses to their suffering – and we do our best to relieve it.”
Elsewhere in The Reader magazine, our Patron Rob Trimble talks to Jane Davis about the social factors which impact on our health, and how that philosophy has shaped the Bromley by Bow Centre where he is Chief Executive:
“Our work is based on the idea that health is mainly driven by social factors not by medicine. We think there are three big things that make for a healthy life – having purpose, a decent home and some strong human relationships. So we gear our model to delivering services that help make those things happen for people… And at the heart of what we do is the idea that build strong and healthy communities by helping people connect with each other.”
The values of Bromley by Bow align closely with that of The Reader and Rob recognises a collective purpose between the former organisation, which he runs, and the latter one, for which he is now a Patron. The Bromley by Bow Centre has been an inspirational place for The Reader in shaping the future of Calderstones Mansion House, and it seems that in turn, we might be having an influence on them:
“…perhaps now I am a Patron of The Reader I should ensure we build a library!”
In The Reading Room, a series of features which focus on Shared Reading, Reader staff and volunteers explore the intricacies of their practice and how it has bled into their personal lives.
Liz Ison discusses the fine balance needed to bring a poem or story alive in a group without turning to the giveaways of context.
“… we often keep the author at bay, deliberately steering the conversation away from considering the writer’s intentions, their background or the historical context in which they were writing. There’s a good reason for this: it’s all too easy to get away from the poem by going into what seems the easier truth of history or biography. So while I don’t want to lose the poem in what may or may not be factual detail I do want to cultivate a sense of the author as the writer of these words.”
Tom Young reflects on George Saunders’ Man Booker winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo, how Shared Reading and literature in general can help you to become unstuck:
“You have to start by recognising what it is that is keeping you. You have to tell yourself the truth about yourself, or else you get stuck. In the bardo, as in life, this true-story telling is hard to do.
… the force that enables you to come unstuck often comes from outside yourself, is timely, and it rooted in real life.”
Amanda Brown interviews Anne, a lady who came to Shared Reading in prison and went on to become a volunteer with The Reader following her release:
“I didn’t like being locked behind my door and I did like reading. That was first activity where I felt I was being treated like a person again.”
And finally, Grace Farrington explores the Blind Spots we can acquire in Shared Reading. Recalling that sense of getting ‘stuck’ which Tom mentions, Grace reflects on how our familiarity with individual group members can lead us to miss important moments within Shared Reading.
“The analogy with the car helps me. As a driver one confronts the fact that every day that the minutest of decisions, or lapses in focus or concentration, can change everything if one’s timing, position or choice of direction is even slightly wrong.
Shared Reading may not be a case of life or death but it is an opportunity to experience a model of human interaction, with a group of people in one place at one time, where what is read or said can either go deep, or miss the mark; go unnoticed, or fail to scratch the surface of our lives at all.
Shared Reading only matters to me as far as it is a chance to go somewhere, to face and encounter something, to be present with some fellow human beings, in a way that would not otherwise have known. The problem is this means there is always a risk. There is always a blind spot.”
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The Reader magazine Issue 66 – £6.95
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