Today’s Featured Poem is Sonnets are full of love by Christina Rossetti, which appears in her collection A Pageant and Other Poems.
Here at The Reader Organisation, we start every team meeting with a poem. Sometimes, one poem makes such an impact that it is passed from staff member to staff member and ends up being read at multiple team meetings, groups or events in the same week. At last count, this poem has popped up at least three times this week in Liverpool alone, and I’ve no doubt it’s made an appearance elsewhere around the country.
If this poem strikes a chord with you, why not share it with your own colleagues, family or friends and enjoy some shared reading on a grand scale?
Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards o’er the starlit sea.
And a look of passionate desire
O’er the sea and to the stars I send:
‘Ye who from my childhood up have calmed me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!’
‘Ah, once more,’ I cried, ‘ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!’
From the intense, clear star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
‘Wouldst though BE as they are? LIVE as they.’
‘Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.’
‘And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silvered roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.’
‘Bounded by themselves and unregardful
In what state God’s other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see.’
O air-born voice! long since, severly clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
‘Resolve to be thyself; and know that he
Who finds himself loses his misery!’
Yes. I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than in the high cloudlets in the sky,
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and father, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
The Reader Cafe and Gallery opening
6-8pm, Thursday 3rd April
Calderstones Park, Liverpool, L18 3JB
After the Lord Mayor has cut the ribbon at 6pm, visitors will be welcomed into the gallery to hear from our Director, Jane Davis, and photographer Carl Hunter, whose exhibition will be on display. Barefoot Wine are providing free refreshments and, after exploring the gallery, visitors are invited to head over to the cafe to sample the delicious menu and enjoy a shared reading taster session at 7pm. All welcome!
The Reader Gallery
The Reader Gallery is in the Coach House building, and the opening exhibition is one very close to The Reader Organisation’s heart; The Unforgotten Coat. Carl Hunter and Claire Heney worked with author Frank Cottrell Boyce to create the stunning and atmospheric photography in the award-winning book, transforming Liverpool into a version of Mongolia through the medium of polaroids.
This exhibition, originally from Edge Hill University will be on display in the gallery from 3rd -19th April, 11am-5pm (closed Mondays and Bank Holidays).
The Reader Cafe
We’ve been delighted with the reaction to The Reader Cafe, which opened for the first time last week with our friendly team behind the counter. Pop in to enjoy a tasty lunch, hot drink or slice of cake with a lots of books and good company, every day 8.30am-4.30pm.
The stats about reading speak for themselves:
- 70% of pupils permanently excluded from school lack basic literacy skills (National Literacy Trust)
- 60% of the prison population lack basic literacy skills (National Literacy Trust)
- 20% cannot fill in a job application form (Prison Reform Trust)
- 75% of adult prisoners have a dual diagnosis of mental health problems combined with alcohol or drug misuse (Prison Reform Trust)
Writer, TRO patron and former prisoner Erwin James wrote about our work in prisons for the Guardian recently, and is interviewed in the brand new issue of The Reader magazine about his own prison reading experiences. For him, it is clear that reading offered the possibility of change:
I did not think I had the intellectual capacity to think outside my four cell walls.
I wouldn’t have called myself a thinker but in prison you live inside your head. Everyone is a thinker in jail.
I was literate, thankfully – so many people in prison are not. Joan Branton, the psychologist, lent me a number of books, among them Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, a dark tale with huge resonance to me; it was depressing but at the same time also very compelling. And Joan started giving me the mental tools to try and figure out how I’d become what I’d become.
We run shared reading groups in prisons across the UK each week, bringing men and women together to share great literature, connect with each other and improve wellbeing. Reading and shared reading groups provide opportunities for self-reflection, increase confidence, encourage greater social engagement, all of which contribute to reducing reoffending.
“From mistakes that I’ve made in the first few stories about what I thought about characters, I’ve learnt not to judge a character too quickly, not to rush in but reserve my judgement, not to judge people. Yeah, I think it has affected the way I am with people too.”
Shared Reading group member, HMP Frankland
“I spend a lot of time lying in my room. A lot of the time, I’m not even there really. I don’t know where I am. I’m just – I don’t know – just a lump. And then I come here and I’m thinking so much. My thoughts are going in all sorts of unexpected directions. And it changes things. I mean – I’m not the same when I go back to my room.” Shared reading group member HMP Liverpool
67% of those we read with feel more understanding towards each other and 61% feel more positive about life. Read the most recent research report into our work in prisons here.
Reading opens doors, offers intellectual and emotional development and helps us to evaluate our place in society. It is vital that those in prison are given access to books and the opportunity to discover their potential through reading.
“Asking for the Care Home Reader volunteers was the best thing we’ve ever done!”
Activities Coordinator, Wirral Care Home
The Reader Organisation’s Volunteer Reader Scheme, funded by the Big Lottery, is recruiting for volunteers in Liverpool and Wirral for our next training course. Our focus is to provide reading groups for older people living in care homes and sheltered accommodation throughout Merseyside.
Our volunteers currently deliver reading sessions to over 500 older people a week. The reading sessions provide residents with the opportunity to engage with great literature and to share it together.
“You read this… it touches you and you realise how much you have been longing for it” Care Home Resident
Volunteers receive full training and support for the role and are usually paired together to deliver their reading sessions. Each course has a variety of trainees on it, from lifelong lovers of literature to complete beginners.
“There is more in it and [it was] more enjoyable than I thought it was going to be. I never thought I would have all this confidence that I got out of it.” Volunteer on attending the training
The Volunteer Reader Scheme also gives opportunities to volunteers who are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing mental ill health, isolation or unemployment. We have the flexibility to respond to an individual’s personal circumstances and needs. Don’t worry if you feel a little nervous about getting involved. We understand this is a big step for you and we will support you all the way.
The next training course is taking place on Tuesday mornings from April 29th to June 3rd. Attendance at all sessions is required.
We are interviewing for the next course between 24 March and 11 April. Please get in touch with Katie Stevenson if you would like to apply or for more information about the role. email@example.com
Looking forward to hearing from you!
10 Second Film Workshop
11am-4pm, Thursday 20th March
Calderstones Mansion House, Calderstones Park, Liverpool, L18 3JD
Channel 4, Edge Hill University, The Reader Organisation and City of Readers present a 10 second film workshop introducing budding film makers to the world of Micro Films. Organised by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney, photographers behind the beautiful polaroids and design of The Unforgotten Coat (Frank Cottrell Boyce), and Nick Heaven. Over the day, you will learn more about the artform before creating your own 10 second film inspired by your favourite line of literature, your favourite novel or poem.
Films will be created on phones, so please bring your own if you have one, along with a packed lunch; tea and coffee are provided.
The workshop is FREE and open to all over 18, ideally those who have little or no experience with film.
Places are very limited, so please email Roisin Hyland to book: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Books, like the minds from which they are born, are, by nature, unpredictable. They can shock us to the core, enlighten us or let us experience the whole range of emotions that we as humans are capable of feeling. Some very rare novels achieve of all these. For me, such a book is Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’.
In an age when the threat of nuclear attacks are discussed and debated, a world where the calls to change planet earth and humanity’s abuse of
it are stifled and ignored, perhaps more than ever a view of a post-apocalyptic world is needed to shake us out of our complacency. The vision created within ‘The Road’ is bleak and foreboding. A father and his young son travel through the ravaged remains of America, experiencing the unimaginable sense of hunger, those who turn to savagery to survive and the continual fear that the next day of monotony and hardship will present an insurmountable obstacle. Yet equally, juxtaposed against the raw terror are images of untamed beauty and wonderment:
‘Human bodies. Sprawled in every attitude. Dried and shrunken in their rotted clothes. The small wad of burning paper drew down to wisp of flame and then died out leaving a faint pattern for just a moment in the incandescence like the shape of a flower, a molten rose. Then all was dark again.’
Such is the power of McCarthy’s formidable accomplishment as a writer. The language is restrained and simplistic yet on an epic, biblical scale. Whilst every sentence is measured and crafted, moments of intimacy between father and son strike one down with amazement. I felt my eyes sting with tears as McCarthy described the father’s undying affection for his son: ‘He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.’
‘The Road’ is not entirely bleak and ominous. There is an underlying streak of love and the hope that even on the road to their inevitable demise, there will be a solution, an antidote to the protagonists and their troubles. At the very least they have each other. The father’s energy and fears are directed towards their search for food whilst the boy looks to his father, equally afraid, as a source of support, a foundation. Their exchanges are sparse and limited but there remains the paternal that survives beyond the pages of the novel. ‘We’re the good guys’, the boy reiterates, his mantra to survive. ‘Yes’, his father replies. McCarthy has described how both are ‘each other’s world entire.’ In his dedication of ‘The Road’, McCarthy writes to John Francis McCarthy, his own son, and it is this raw and steadfast love within this relationship that lies at the very heart of the novel.
McCarthy’s ability to transfix the reader on the two companions’ mundane life, his ability to grip the reader in a novel where the outcome is painfully real and set in motion merely proves his prowess as a writer. The words are as bare and as naked as the landscape which encapsulates the characters, as this encapsulates the reader. McCarthy’s prosaically beautiful lament lulls the reader into a security. At times the reality hits and its reverberations hit home.
Such reverberations are the stark reality of death. McCarthy never simplifies nor does he elaborate upon its reality but confronts it with stark honesty. Indeed, within the novel, the finality of death is one of the few honest and startling truths in a world governed by fear and uncertainty of what is to come. For this reason, the man’s wife, the boy’s mother, kills herself. The father yearns for his wife and his memories of their time together as a married couple is heightened in joy and sensuality with its evocation of colour and music, as equally absent and missed: ‘He could remember everything of her save her scent. Seated in a theatre with her beside him leaning forward to listen to the music. Gold scrollwork and sconces and the tall columnar folds of the drapes at either side of the stage.’ Yet he remains stoical in the presence of his adoring son, retaining his composure to preserve the boy’s innocence.
It is the gradual diminishing of this childhood innocence which is one of the most painfully real and heartbreaking aspects of ‘The Road.’ While the boy initially remains fixated upon himself and his father remaining the ‘good guys’, he soon becomes all too aware of death and the harsh brutality which others turn to in order to survive. This is preparation for his final act that requires tremendous courage and maturity: the realization of his father’s death. As his father lies dying, he vows to continue on his journey south and to retain the ‘fire’ within. Perhaps this is the real pilgrimage, the road of the title. While the actual journey is ultimately futile, the harsh and painful transition from a nervous and shy boy to strong-willed and independent young man is a triumph. The boy’s eventual acceptance of his father’s passing is marked with a simple burial before he continues on his way, accompanied again but with a strong sense of maturity and resolute.
Yet hope and triumph is evident in many facets of the novel. The father’s carving of a flute to entertain his son and the boy’s playing of it is a rather searing and warming refrain from the the silence: ‘After a while he fell back and after a while the man could hear him playing. A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its ruin.’
Another break from the routine of ‘The Road’, a routine that provides a steady and reliable foundation for father and son, is the appearance of the mysterious Ely. Elderly and impoverished, his proclamation that ‘There is no god and we are his prophets’ is open to reader interpretation. Whether these are the musings of a mad man or a startling truth from the lips of a prophet remains to be seen. Faith is a recurrent theme within the novel, for it is a faith of sorts that drives the boy and his father forward. The implications of the world as it is prompts and demands a questioning of god’s existence and Ely is determined that such an existence cannot be possible or permissible of the horrors that have besieged them all.
Nietzsche wrote, ‘When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you’ and this is certainly true. In confronting the very depths of despair and human fears, McCarthy’s novel explores the many facets and great depths of human emotions. While the novel is a prophetic call to take heed of the planet that we inhabit and regrettably abuse, it is also a celebration of human resolve, willpower and the love that binds us together, even more so in times of need.
In many ways I admire the novel for what it is not: it is moving without being sentimental, honest and yet non-judgmental, ambitious and yet completely free of any pretension. This is writing, although simplistic in narrative, at its most daring and complex. The wife is neither heroic nor cowardly. Ely is neither foolish nor wise.
Ultimately this is a novel of contradiction. It is a celebration of love in times of utter depravity. It is an intimate exploration of its characters yet always maintains a restrained distance. It is an elegiac and prosaically beautiful lament upon destruction and unimaginable horror. Yet most importantly it is an ageless parable of such startling and unsettling relevance for today.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy, Picador (2010)
Liverpool Learning Partnership’s City of Readers project to transform Liverpool into the UK’s foremost reading city was officially launched
last week at a celebration at Calderstones Mansion House. The project developed out of Mayor Joe Anderson’s pledge to improve education standards and ensure that no child, if able, leaves primary school unable to read. The Reader Organistation are key partners in the project, and Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation, Jane Davis, has been appointed by Liverpool Learning Partnership to run the campaign alongside her current role. City of Readers aims to raise the profile of reading in the city and developing a new generation of readers.
Children from Springwood Heath and St Christopher’s primary schools enjoyed stories and crafts at the launch event, alongside Cllr Lana Orr, Cabinet Member for Reading, and representatives from the project’s media partners, Liverpool Echo and Radio Mersesyside. Calderstones Mansion was buzzing with reading activity last Friday, as alongside the launch event we also welcomed PGCE students from our Hope Readers project at Liverpool Hope University were joined by children from local schools to enjoy some shared reading and get passionate about books.
The importance of reading to a child’s development has never been so clear, with a recent study from the Institute of Education demonstrating that reading for pleasure is more important to a child’s social mobility than their parents’ education, and that those who read more perform better academically at maths as well as spelling and vocabulary.
“Reading simply for enjoyment is so important to a child’s development and a wonderful activity to share with others. We need everyone in Liverpool to act as role models for our children, reading at home, reading in schools and reading in the community.
City of Readers is asking individuals and organisations to ‘Give Us Five’ towards the project, whether joining the Echo’s campaign pledging to read an extra five minutes a day, donating £5 towards an event, or volunteering for five hours a week.
Together we can make Liverpool a City of Readers. ”
The Give Us Five campaign is central to the first year of activity and the first pledge was given by our patron and local writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. He has offered 5000 words through the writing of a brand new book for the project which will appear in installments on the City of Readers website from June. Members of the public will be invited to send in sound recordings which reflect Liverpool to inspire each installment, before the book is finally unveiled at The Reader Organisation’s Penny Readings in December.
Liverpool Echo is calling for people to spend a minimum of five more minutes a day reading – adding up to a grand total of five million more minutes across the city in a single year. You can sign up to the Echo pledge here.
If you’d like to Give Us Five or find out more about the City of Readers project, visit www.cityofreaders.org.
The Reader Organisation held one of our quarterly ‘Think Days’ a couple of weeks ago, in which every member of our (increasingly numerous!) staff get together to think about the future of the organisation and, of course, enjoy some shared reading. This time, we were all asked to bring poems on the theme of ‘change’, something we’re experiencing a lot of at the moment.
One of the chosen poems was ‘Revolutions’ by Matthew Arnold, prompting the thought that although we may never know if what we’re doing in life is ‘right’, if we don’t at least try and create something with good intentions, then we’ll never make any difference at all.
Before man parted for this earthly strand,
While yet upon the verge of heaven he stood,
God put a heap of letters in his hand,
And bade him make with them what word he could.
And man has turn’d them many times; made Greece,
Rome, England, France; yes, nor in vain essay’d
Way after way, changes that never cease!
The letters have combined, something was made.
But ah! An inextinguishable sense
Haunts him that he has not made what he should;
That he has still, though old, to recommence,
Since he has not yet found the word God would.
And empire after empire, at their height
Of sway, have felt this boding sense come on;
Have felt their huge frames not constructed right,
And droop’d, and slowly died upon their throne.
One day, thou say’st, there will at last appear
The word, the order, which God meant should be.
Ah! We shall know that well when it comes near;
The band will quit man’s heart, he will breathe free.