Featured Poem: The Stone Beach

In the last of our poetry recommendations for this week Reader outreach worker and Reader Online editor Katie Peters chooses Simon Armitage’s ‘The Stone Beach’. She says: “I like stanzas 4 and 6 best, and especially the idea of living in the present but simultaneously carrying the memory of a distant past life which lives on in the present through that memory and through those who shared that life with you.”

Of course we asked permission to print this poem and Simon Armitage replied through his agent that he was happy for it to appear here, but to contact Faber, the publisher, to confirm. The agent said there was unlikely to be a problem. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I contacted the permissions department of Faber earlier in the week to ask if we could post the poem here. We promised of course to cite the conditions of the permission offered and it goes without saying that we would have linked to the Faber catalogue and to places where our readers could buy the collection The Universal Home Doctor, which was published in 2002. ‘The Stone Beach’ is characteristic of the collection, which was described by The Guardian at the time as “amusing and charming – effortlessly winning over an audience when read out loud – yet essentially serious, substantial enough to repay reconsidering. [The poems] achieve this because their preferred method is allegory, “mouthing off” about one thing while thinking about another.”

In the end on Friday I received word from Faber that we would be able to publish the poem here, but at a cost of £155 (ex. VAT, naturally). That would buy us a year of having the poem on this page, but Faber would retain the right to take it down with a month’s notice. Since we would be providing publicity for Faber, rather than the other way around, I declined this generous offer. So instead of the poem, let us all consider Faber’s permissions letter, published in full below. I’m going to be writing more on this topic in the next few days, since it seems to resonate with the mistakes made by the music industry over the last few years. I just love the bit about not ‘photocopying downloads,’ whatever that means. In the mean time if you think this document is as ridiculous as I do, feel free to contact Faber to tell them so. A contact address is available on this page.

The Permissions Form in Full:

Thank you for your email requesting permission to reproduce the above on your open-access web site www.thereaderonline.com (sic) in textual form.

We have certain conditions for the use of our copyright material on the internet and I have listed these below together with our fees for non-exclusive English Language permission throughout the UK and Commonwealth.

Fee: £155.00 plus VAT

This permission is granted for the period of one year only and we reserve the right to withdraw our permission with one month’s notice. A copyright line including the title of the work, the source of the poem, the author and Faber and Faber Ltd as the publisher must be printed, as well as a warning that photocopying downloads is against copyright law. We would also request that your web site is linked to a book shop site or our own web site [www.faber.co.uk].

Please indicate below how you wish to proceed and then return this fax to (+44) (0)20 7465 0108.

If we do not receive a reply within thirty days we will assume that you have proceeded.


If after all that you still feel like reading the poem ‘The Stone Beach’ is freely available online here. Interestingly very few of the conditions imposed above have been met.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Cheltenham Literature Festival: Eric Hobsbawm

I have just heard Eric Hobsbawm, amongst the first of the speakers at this year’s festival, talking at length about the issues raised in his new book, Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism: a polemic against the powerful democracies of the world and the barbarisation of our times. In this controversial discussion with Christopher Cook, the Marxist historian urged us to slow down our lives and stop seeking short-term solutions to long-term problems, warning that there are “no shortcuts in history”. Howbsbawm’s fierce critique of Western democracy, surveillence (which, despite its constant intrusion, provides the state with very little information about the actual lives of its inhabitants) and globalisation went deep into the internal contradictions of nations, which have both international and national interests that meet in a peculiar conflict of interests.

Despite the strong-minded political stance of this examination of twenty-first century living and the dangers of inflicting Western values on other nations, Hobsbawn punctuated his speech with amusing comments, saying as he came on stage, “It’s good to see that Cheltenham Literature Festival is more punctual than British Rail”, and provided an interesting insight into why writers come to literary festivals. He says it’s not really do to with book sales but to do with coming eye-to-eye with your reader in an attempt to “cross the void” from the truly closed act of writing to the open communication of reading. An honest comment, and no doubt true in sentiment, but the cynic in me can’t help but think of the huge book tent that is fixed to the back of Cheltenham’s Town Hall.

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Cheltenham Literature Festival: The Inner Sanctum

In the first of her reports from the Cheltenham Literature Festival Jen Tomkins picks up her press pack and gets to eat cake:

In the four hours that I have been at the festival, the crowds have begun to swarm to the main hub around Imperial Square. Luckily for me, I have access to the Writer’s Room, an inner sanctum of calm and quietude. Yet gaining my press pass wasn’t quite an easy as it could have been: I was shimmied from the box office to the information point to the press office to the Writer’s Room, no one could find my press pack. Eventually the (slightly ineffective) walky-talky operating system that is in operation behind the scenes of the festival located the person, my pack was discovered and here I am, writing away in the Writer’s Room: a beautifully decorated Georgian room, full of large white sofas, glass tables and the literary folk of Cheltenham (and a collection of frantic journalists and festival organisers) . It is here that I am hoping to ask some of the festival guests a few questions. I just need to pluck up the courage. I am sure that the delicious selection of cakes, fresh coffee and waiter service may help the situation. Let’s just hope I don’t spill coffee over any of the VIPs.

Posted by Jen Tomkins

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