Featured Poem: Morning Mudslinging

Marion Leibl has chosen ‘Morning Mudslinging’ by Erich Fried as our featured poem for today. She writes: ‘Sometimes I meet the people I see every day in my dreams as well. When in dreams I have conversations with them, or something happens that upsets me or makes me happy, I cannot help but either hold it against them or feel more warmly towards them the next time I see them. There’s always a little voice in the dark recesses of my brain that says: you know very well what happened – you can pretend now that it was nothing, but we both know better. Reading this poem, I am relieved to find that I’m not the only one with this problem.

Morning Mudslinging

When I proposed love
you declined
and explained to me:
‘I just met
a nice man
in a dream
He was blind
And a German
Isn’t that funny?’

I wished you sweet dreams
and went down
to my desk
but so jealous
I was hardly ever before


This poem appears in Eric Fried’s Love Poems, published by Calder
Publications, £11.99
Translation (c) Stuart Hood, 1991, reprinted with permission

Cheltenham Literature Festival

The time has come for me to leave The Reader office, pack my bags and head to Cheltenham for this year’s Literature Festival. This year’s festival focuses on the question ‘What does change mean to us?’, which will undoubtedly lead to some lively debates and controversial answers. I will be submitting regular posts on this blog about the events that I have seen, the people I’ve been speaking to, recommended reads and news from the Festival site. Amongst the events that I will be attending this weekend are: Eric Hobsbawn examining our personal pursuit of happiness; Germaine Greer’s keynote lecture about Shakespeare’s private life and a discussion of her recently published book Shakespeare’s Wife; Jeremy Bowen, Michael Boyd and Michael Wood join James Naughtie to consider Shakespeare’s history plays and their relevance to today’s society; The Festival’s Guest Director Armando Iannucci shares some of his literary favourites, joined by actors to bring some of his own writing to life. It’s going to be a busy time but I shall keep you posted!

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Reader Editor Philip Davis on BBC Radio 3

Tomorrow (Friday October 5) Philip Davis, editor of The Reader magazine, is going to be talking with Ian Macmillan about his biography of Bernard Malamud on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb show, which airs between 9.45 and 10.30pm, BST:

In this programme, Ian and guests ask if there is such a thing as northern and southern poetry, and discover the neglected work of American writer Bernard Malamud, who for many once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.

If you miss it you can listen online. The show is available for a week after the original broadcast.

Featured Poem: The Dream

Today is National Poetry Day and this year its focus is dreams, a subject that poets (and readers alike) are continually beguiled by. When we enter sleep, we enter an entirely new world, one that is filled with dreams carrying their own pleasure and pain. In Part One of ‘The Dream’, Byron separates our lives into waking and dreaming worlds, explicating how dreams render their own reality, through power of vision and intensity of thought. Yet equally pertinent is the amalgamation of the two: how dreams borrow from our conscious thought and how we, in turn, bring essences of our dreams into our waking world.

From The Dream

Our life is twofold: Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of Joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off our waking toils,
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of Eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past,—they speak
Like Sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substance, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.
I would recall a vision which I dreamed
Perchance in sleep—for in itself a thought,
A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
And curdles a long life into one hour.


Posted by Jen Tomkins

Sean O’Brien Wins the Forward Poetry Prize

Sean O’Brien has become the first person to win the Forward Poetry Prize three times, picking up the £10,000 poobah for his collection The Drowned Book. Daljit Nagra won the £5,000 prize for best first collection while Alice Oswald took home £1,000 for best poem, the category won by Nagra in 2004.

We reported on the shortlist back in August.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Recommended Reads: Stuart … A Life backwards

This recommendation is posted by Sara Pendergast, writer, painter, working in Washington State.

Stuart … A Life Backwards: Alexander Masters’ Portrait of the Important Man on Level D

The underclass—occasionally homeless—roaming through streets, huddling in corners, or sprawling on park benches, don’t scare me. I used to work in Detroit, the city that T-shirts proclaimed was “no place for wimps.” Pregnant with my first child, I’d make my way from the bowels of the Joe Louis parking garage, along a nearly abandoned underpass, toward the financial district. The journey took me daily from one extreme of society to another, from bums to business. I’d see the same people sleeping on beds of crumpled boxes near the concrete pillars of the underpass, the same folks asked me for money retelling the same story one day to the next. Mornings would offer remnants of an active underworld, syringes littering the sidewalks, the occasional cast off shoe, a torched van still smoldering on the curb. Alarmed at first by the contrast between the lives of the homeless and the bustling executives and feeling vulnerable because of my physical state, I grew to understand as the months passed and my bulging belly forced my purposeful walk to slow to a waddle that there was a sort of rhythm to life on the streets, just as there was a rhythm in business. It was a rhythm I didn’t quite understand, but did not fear. The homeless I passed daily recognized me, and we’d nod our hellos. We too had a comfortable rhythm, one that kept me walking briskly by without asking questions.

The notion of how street people live, and more, why they live on the street left me personally when I moved from Detroit to a place where homeless rarely pause. Thankfully, across the pond in London, Alexander Masters took the time to stop and ask questions. In his brilliant biography Stuart … A Life Backwards cast light on the bowels of street life in a way that brought the cardboard huddled masses from the Detroit underpass screeching back to the forefront of my mind. Any one of them could have been Stuart Shorter, Masters’ subject.

Shorter is a glue-sniffing, self-destructive, occasionally violent, chaotic homeless man with a fascination for knives from London’s streets. While these details don’t normally bode well for a compassionate tale of humanity, Masters’ book is. Masters doesn’t cast Shorter as a shadowy figure collapsed by the door of the pharmacy, but as an opinionated, busy fellow who commands attention. The detail comes from Masters’ own developing friendship with Shorter. Shorter and Masters work together to win the freedom of two imprisoned social workers, share dinner, loan each other money, and never shy away from telling each other exactly what they think. Masters made me feel like I was right there with them, slumped on the couch listening to Shorter rant about Masters’ poor writing and offering genuinely helpful editorial advice.

The deference and compassion Masters afforded Shorter enabled him to enjoy his friend’s humanity, his wit, and his charm. Contrasting those qualities with Shorter’s life of suffering, Masters’ reveals the true horror Shorter struggled with his entire life. The rhythm I had detected on the streets in Detroit was a rhythm of survival brought into vivid detail in Masters’ book. Rewritten after Shorter’s critique that it was “bollocks boring,” the final manuscript sheds light on “a man with an important life,” as Masters put it. Moreover, it offers a compelling reason why we should all care.


By Sara Pendergast

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Featured Poem: Hamatreya

So it’s my turn to recommend a poem and I choose ‘Hamatreya’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson is better known as a philosopher, perhaps the philosopher of American Transcendentalism. I like this poem because of the way it confronts the tension between humans and the environment and for its clear-eyed realism about our transient dreams:


Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood.
Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
Saying, “‘Tis mine, my children’s and my name’s.
How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees!
How graceful climb those shadows on my hill!
I fancy these pure waters and the flags
Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize;
And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.’

Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.

They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain;
‘This suits me for a pasture; that’s my park;
We must have clay, lime, gravel, granite-ledge,
And misty lowland, where to go for peat.
The land is well,–lies fairly to the south.
‘Tis good, when you have crossed the sea and back,
To find the sitfast acres where you left them.’
Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth says:–


‘Mine and yours;
Mine, not yours, Earth endures;
Stars abide–
Shine down in the old sea;
Old are the shores;
But where are old men?
I who have seen much,
Such have I never seen.

‘The lawyer’s deed
Ran sure,
In tail,
To them, and to their heirs
Who shall succeed,
Without fail,

‘Here is the land,
Shaggy with wood,
With its old valley,
Mound and flood.
“But the heritors?–
Fled like the flood’s foam.
The lawyer, and the laws,
And the kingdom,
Clean swept herefrom.

‘They called me theirs,
Who so controlled me;
Yet every one
Wished to stay, and is gone,
How am I theirs,
If they cannot hold me,
But I hold them?’
When I heard the Earth-song,
I was no longer brave;
My avarice cooled
Like lust in the chill of the grave.


Audio versions of this poem from Librivox:

64kbps mp3

128kbps mp3

ogg vorbis 

Posted by Chris Routledge

Author Readings and Workshops Near Liverpool

Manchester-based publisher Comma Press is promoting a new book of short stories entitled Elsewhere: Stories From Small Town Europe and is organising a series of events that may be of interest to readers in Liverpool and the surrounding area.

The first event is at Southport Library (Southport Library, Lord Street, Southport, PR8 1DJ) on Wed 10th October, and features Micheál Ó Conghaile (Ireland), Jean Sprackland (UK), and Zoe Lambert (UK). The second is on the following day at Bebington Civic Centre, Wirral (Civic Way, Bebington, Wirral, CH63 7PN), and features Micheál Ó Conghaile (Ireland) and Zoe Lambert (UK).

Both events will feature ‘simultaneous translation’ readings – as Micheál reads in the Irish, with a translation scrolling on screen beside him – allowing audiences to experience the cadences of the original. The events will be preceded by a workshop on approaches to writing the ‘small town story’, with Forward Prize nominated poet Eleanor Rees, offering up-and-coming writers a chance to share Micheál and Zoe’s wealth of practical experience and advice.

Anyone interested should contact Jim Hinks via the Comma Press website.

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Featured Poem: The Lake Isle of Innisfree

ReaderOnline contributor Siobhan Chapman has recently returned to teaching after a year’s sabbatical to write a book. Judging by her selection of W.B. Yeats’s ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ she is finding Liverpool’s city streets rather unforgiving. She says she chose this poem because, as well as being a powerful evocation of a particular place, it will resonate with anyone who has ever found themselves on ‘pavements gray’:

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.


Here are links to audio versions of this poem from Librivox:

64kbps mp3

128kbps mp3

ogg vorbis

The Reader 27 has landed!

In Issue 27, The Reader tries for happiness and we couldn’t be more happy that it has arrived so we can share its delights with our subscribers! The collection of stories, poetry, essays and recommendations in this issue focus on moments of joy and simple pleasure, moments that we should try to capture and remember how important they are to our lives.

This is also the first issue of The Reader with Phil Davis as editor, taking over the helm of the magazine from his wife and colleague Jane Davis. It is an exciting time in The Reader office, lots of changes are afoot – a new design for the magazine, extensions of The Reader‘s outreach projects – yet the magazine’s heart and soul remains concerned with the human content to be found in literature. That will not change. You can read Phil’s editorial here.

Highlights in this issue include poetry by Omar Sabbagh, a young new poet we’re thrilled about publishing, reading his poems makes you aware of the solidity and lightness of life. There is also poetry by Tom Paulin, R. S. Thomas, Martin Malone, Sean Elliott and Andrew Shields. Bernard Beatty writes an animated essay on ‘Ecstatic Moments’ and Josie Billington focuses on the late love of the Barrett Brownings. David Constantine and Jo Canon provide us with some great short stories in which the chance of happiness in glitteringly present and real but is often transient. You can read more about this very full issue on The Reader‘s website.

To subscribe to the magazine and read it all for yourself, click here.

Posted by Jen Tomkins