Redeemable: Erwin James on reading and finding redemption

Ahead of his appearance at the London Penny Readings, we spoke to Erwin James about his new book Redeemable and his relationship with literature.

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Featured Poem: Procrastination by Edward Young

In every issue of The Reader, you’ll find Nellibobs – otherwise known as Brian Nellist – recommending ‘The Old Poem’; a poem pre-dating more contemporary times which, owing to the wealth of verse that is written each century, may have been unfortunately forgotten or consigned to history before its due. The latest issue features Edward Young – a poet whose name may not be immediately familiar, but mention the phrase ‘procrastination is the thief of time’ and you’re sure to have heard of him, as he was responsible for the immortal line. His major work was the blank-verse poem Night-Thoughts, describing his musings on death over a series of nine ‘nights’ – all of which are poems in their own right. Within Night-Thoughts, Young ponders the loss of his wife and friends, as well as opportunities and the status of life as being something fragile.

On a day where it can be too easy to put things to one side, why not have a read through the following – taken from Night-Thoughts, and which includes the most famous pondering on procrastination – and see if you feel inspired.

Procrastination

By Nature’s law, what may be, may be now;
There’s no prerogative in human hours.
In human hearts what bolder thought can rise,
Than man’s presumption on to-morrow’s dawn?
Where is to-morrow? In another world.
For numbers this is certain; the reverse
Is sure to none; and yet on this perhaps,
This peradventure, infamous for lies,
As on a rock of adamant we build
Our mountain hopes, spin out eternal schemes
As we the Fatal Sisters could out-spin,
And big with life’s futurities, expire.
Not ev’n Philander had bespoke his shroud,
Nor had he cause; a warning was deny’d:
How many fall as sudden, not as safe!
As sudden, though for years admonish’d home.
Of human ills the last extreme beware;
Beware, Lorenzo, a slow-sudden death.
How dreadful that deliberate surprise!
Be wise to-day; ’tis madness to defer;
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is push’d out of life.
Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
That ’tis so frequent, this is stranger still.
Of man’s miraculous mistakes this bears
The palm, “That all men are about to live,”
For ever on the brink of being born,
All pay themselves the compliment to think
They, one day, shall not drivel: and their pride
On this reversion takes up ready praise;
At least, their own; their future selves applauds;
How excellent that life they ne’er will lead!
Time lodg’d in their own hands is Folly’s vails;
That lodg’d in Fate’s to Wisdom they consign.
The thing they can’t but purpose, they postpone.
‘Tis not in folly not to scorn a fool,
And scarce in human wisdom to do more.
All promise is poor dilatory man,
And that through every stage; when young, indeed,
In full content we sometimes nobly rest,
Unanxious for ourselves; and only wish,
As duteous sons our fathers were more wise.
At thirty man suspects himself a fool,
Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan;
At fifty chides his infamous delay,
Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve;
In all the magnanimity of thought
Resolves, and re-resolves, then dies the same.

Edward Young

Featured Poem: March by Edward Thomas

The first day of a new month always gives a chance for a fresh state of mind, but perhaps the beginning of March is even more significant – Spring is around the corner, in both the meterological and astronomical sense, and that alone seems to mark a shift in our thinking, with green shoots, bright flowers and – hopefully – bluer skies that last for a while. Thanks to this poem from Edward Thomas, which is especially appropriate for today, we can be reminded of the tenderness and warmth that is imminent to retun – perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, if we’re willing to change our outlook.

March

Now I know that Spring will come again,
Perhaps to-morrow: however late I’ve patience
After this night following on such a day.
While still my temples ached from the cold burning
Of hail and wind, and still the primroses
Torn by the hail were covered up in it,
The sun filled earth and heaven with a great light
And a tenderness, almost warmth, where the hail dripped,
As if the mighty sun wept tears of joy.
But ’twas too late for warmth. The sunset piled
Mountains on mountains of snow and ice in the west:
Somewhere among their folds the wind was lost,
And yet ’twas cold, and though I knew that Spring
Would come again, I knew it had not come,
That it was lost too in those mountains chill.
What did the thrushes know? Rain, snow, sleet, hail,
Had kept them quiet as the primroses.
They had but an hour to sing. On boughs they sang,
On gates, on ground; they sang while they changed perches
And while they fought, if they remembered to fight:
So earnest were they to pack into that hour
Their unwilling hoard of song before the moon
Grew brighter than the clouds. Then ’twas no time
For singing merely. So they could keep off silence
And night, they cared not what they sang or screamed;
Whether ’twas hoarse or sweet or fierce or soft;
And to me all was sweet: they could do no wrong.
Something they knew–I also, while they sang
And after. Not till night had half its stars
And never a cloud, was I aware of silence
Stained with all that hour’s songs, a silence
Saying that Spring returns, perhaps to-morrow.

Edward Thomas

Shared Reading: a secular church?

From Robert Lyon, Communications Intern

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet, sounding heaven and earth;

Prayer, George Herbert

Here at The Reader we have developed a Shared Reading model that brings people together, creates community and builds confidence and trust through reading aloud. The creative and essentially human aspects of short stories and poetry are the vehicle we use to explore important issues and draw out the experiences and beliefs of our readers. Even when phrased in this way many may be surprised to learn that The Reader has been mentioned in the same breath as a religious body.

Casper ter Kuile is a trainee minister for non-religious people and in a recent article for The Huffington Post Is the Church of England Fit for Purpose he discusses the potential failings of the modern Church of England. After identifying a growing gap between the public and the Anglican Church Body he suggests the church still has much to offer but he seeks to imagine ‘‘articulating the purpose of the church differently’’. It is here that Kuile draws attention to The Reader as one of the organisations which is helping to build communities of belonging and make meaning in our lives.

While The Reader has no religious agenda there are parallels to be drawn between what happens in Shared Reading and within communities that meet within the Church. In the reading groups our readers can feel a sense of community, where friends are made and support can be found. At The Reader we believe in the power of poetry and literature which can remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

It is a pleasure to be mentioned in Casper’s article, especially in conjunction with other meaningful projects.

There is a great opportunity to hear more about the relationship between reading and belief as we look towards Easter. In partnership with The Reader, Wednesday 2nd March will see author, screenwriter and our patron Frank Cottrell Boyce appear as part of Liverpool Parish Church‘s Lent Talks. Frank will be talking about his award-winning book The Unforgotten Coat – written especially for The Reader’s Our Read campaign in 2011. The book, described by Frank as ‘home-made’, could not be more timely given the context of the ongoing refugee and migration crisis in Europe.

Tickets for the Lent Talk at Our Lady & St Nicholas Church this coming Wednesday starting at 6.15pm are free but can be registered online now.

Attending social groups can improve health and wellbeing after retirement

P1000151New research has suggested that taking part in social activities, including book groups and church groups, is linked with improved levels of health and well-being for people after retirement – and can be as important to health as staying physically active.

Researchers from the University of Queensland tracked the health of over 400 people aged 50 and over in England for six years after they had retired, comparing their health and quality of life with people of the same age who were still working. The study, published in the online journal BMJ Open, found that membership of social groups was associated with quality of life, and for every group no longer attended after retirement there was a 10% drop in a person’s quality of life six years later. As an example, if a person belonged to two separate social groups before they retired and continued with them for the next six years, their risk of death was found to be 2%. However this rises to 5% if they gave up membership of one group, and even higher at 12% if they stopped attending both.

The study also looked at how changes in exercise and physical health after retirement can affect a person’s risk of death – and found that the impact was the same as giving up membership of social groups. The researchers suggested that “practical interventions should focus on helping retirees connect to groups and communities that are meaningful to them.”

“I’ve got arthritis, which used to make me incredibly miserable, and I was always at the doctors moaning basically because I didn’t have anything else to do really, but I find if you have another interest and start meeting new people it does have an impact on how you actually feel, and you do feel better because you’ve got something nicer in your life than you had before.” – Shared Reading group member

“The group is the only time in my week that the conversation stimulates my mind and I never know what we will be talking about, it’s always something different.” – Shared Reading group member at a community centre in Barnet

P1000157It’s great to hear the findings of this study encouraging social inclusion, which supports research on Shared Reading from our partners at the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool. The cultural value of Shared Reading groups as a participatory and voluntary experience was examined, both in the impact it has on individuals and in creating a community. A number of factors unique to Shared Reading – such as the ‘liveness’ of the literature being read solely within the group itself, and the creativity and emotional responses that emerge from reading in action – combine to give benefits to group members in their social and cultural lives, which include re-invigorating a sense of purpose and improving an individual’s sense of value and meaning in life. Reading aloud in the groups offers a sense of achievement to members, as well as forging connections and friendships through discovering stories and poems together. The full report from CRILS is available to download on our website.

Shared Reading helping people to live longer? These findings would suggest that it’s at least a step in the right direction.

The new research from the University of Queensland can be accessed on BMJ Open.

Get ready for World Read Aloud Day 2016

WRAD 2016 logoBy Robert Lyon, Communications Intern

Reading aloud holds so much value for individuals of all backgrounds and communities and so it is with great excitement that we look forward to World Read Aloud Day. On February 24th 2016 – that’s tomorrow – World Read Aloud Day calls attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories. To read is to understand the thoughts and ideas of others; reading takes you away to another time and place and gives voice to the chaotic emotions of life.

“When reading, I could breathe.” – Former inpatient and Shared Reading group member

To read out loud is to take the words out of a book and bring them to life, making them resonate with readers on a personal and emotional level. World Read Aloud Day does something very special in seeking to encourage everyone to take the time to pick up a book, get reading and connect with themselves and others.

“Normally when I’m reading, I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for my tea! But reading aloud really helps you to concentrate and take it in.” – participant in a Shared Reading session

World Read Aloud Day is organised by LitWorld, a not for profit organisation that aims to promote global literacy and has had a lot of success doing it. With projects in places like the Philippines, Haiti and Africa they seek to give all children the ability to be a reader no matter their social or economic backgrounds. Their work in many ways reflects The Reader’s passion for literature and a desire to use it to help others.

One of our current projects that utilises reading aloud and encouraging it amongst a younger generation is the Off The Page project, commissioned by Liverpool Families Programme at Liverpool City Council.

“With a book it’s not like telly ‘cos it’s your imagination” – Charlie, 12 years old

Our Off The Page team are training volunteers to read one to one with 8 to 16 year olds for an hour a week, wherever possible in their own homes, taking a love of literature to disadvantaged young people across Liverpool. As well as reading one to one the project also hosts Family Fun days where Shared Reading is enjoyed with not only the children but the adults in their lives – be they parents, foster parents or workers. You can find out more about volunteering with Off The Page on our website.

Our new read-aloud anthology A Little, Aloud with Love - perfect to celebrate World Read Aloud Day!
Our new read-aloud anthology A Little, Aloud with Love – perfect to celebrate World Read Aloud Day!

Want to try reading aloud yourself? Here are some of our top tips for reading aloud from our dedicated Group Leaders:

  • Read silently to yourself first to familiarise yourself to the text
  • Practice reading aloud a couple of times to familiarise yourself with how you speak the text
  • Make eye contact with your audience every now and then
  • Mark your place with a finger so you don’t get lost!

Now have a go! Here’s something from our new anthology A Little, Aloud with Love to sink your teeth into and get reading aloud. Why not share the love of reading aloud with someone close this World Read Aloud Day?

To A Stranger

Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking,
(it comes to me, as of a dream,)

I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other,
Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me,
Were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you, and slept with you—your body has become
Not yours only, nor left my body mine only.

You give me the pleasure of your eyes,
Face, flesh, as we pass—you take of my beard, breast, hands,
In return,

I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you
When I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

Walt Whitman