Venetian dreams

I have just (reluctantly) returned from Venice and although my body is back in England, my spirit has stayed there. I’m unwilling to let go of the romantic surreality of the watery metropolis. I want to soak it all up – the architectural magnificence, the dilapidated beauty of the place, the history and mystery that permeates from each street and canal – and of course, I’m not the only one. Literature about Venice, inspired by Venice, created in Venice is abundant (click here to see a few titles). It is obvious what lured artists and writers to this city – its dark mysticism and uniqueness is a challenge to our sense of normality and I suppose that’s its pull…

Since I have been back, Lord Byron’s ‘Beppo’, Ernest Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees and Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’ have been quickly devoured in an attempt to re-live walking along those narrow back canals, imagining the past that clings to the disintegrating stones and aware of its transitoriness. Each of these texts brings very different qualities of the city back to life and I can appreciate them all, glorifying and disapproving. These three works show very differing approaches to Venice, some majestic, some threatening and some peaceful. Yet it is Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities that utterly captures the ambiguous nature of Venice. Constructed as a series of short accounts of ‘made-up’ cities by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan, the descriptions offered are of just one place – Venice. So beautiful in its narrative style it is more akin to reading poetry, Calvino’s masterpiece brings together the fantastical and authentic, the celebrated and deprecated elements of the city. It is in the pages of this book that I can experience all the varying sensations that Venice offers, a true testimony to its uniqueness.

Language That Moves

Tyler Meier has posted an interesting piece on the Kenyon Review blog about figurative language and its role in making writing ‘move’ and especially the way it seems to have become more ‘extreme’ in the twenty-first century. Meier is responding to an essay by D.A. Powell on the same topic entitled ‘The Great Figure: On Figurative Language’. In his essay Powell argues that ‘If rhythm is the heart and breath of poetry, then surely figurative language is its beguiling and sexy skin and musculature.’ But times have changed. Simple similes, Meier says, are impossible these days:

Can you get away with a simple simile these days? I suppose the mitigating factors are too complex to get a straight answer, but suffice it to say (as Powell suggests) that unless irony is your goal, you are using something of a relic from the 20th century, and would do well to acknowledge that fact (and, one would suppose, the baggage and risks.)

The whole post is well worth reading. Here’s the link.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Offset Your Reading

Carbon offsetting is all the rage at the moment. Take a short flight somewhere warm for some well-earned beach time and you get to offset the burnt jet fuel by planting trees. It is difficult to make the connection between a sapling planted in Sweden and a guilt-free sandwich at 35,000 feet, but as the history of world religions shows assuaging guilt has always been big business.

The connection between books and trees is more intuitive. It is estimated that ‘virgin’ paper production for the US market alone accounts for 20 million trees every year. As an avid reader and profligate buyer of books that makes me feel a little uneasy. Ecolibris, which it should be noted is a for-profit organization, has come up with a way to do something about it. Ecolibris users register with the website and decide how many books to balance out. The word ‘offsetting’ is not used, because this isn’t really offsetting. For every book you register a tree is planted by one of several reputable organizations in developing countries, mostly in Africa and South America. In return you get a sticker to put on your ‘balanced’ book.

Combined with a booksharing service like Bookcrossing this is one of those ideas that just might work. Here’s the link to Ecolibris.

Posted by Chris Routledge Powered by Qumana

Voices from the past

by Angela Macmillan

One of the great things about the Internet is the wealth of material that would never see the light of day without it. One such wonderful thing is this recollection by Walter de la Mare of an interview with Thomas Hardy. Walter de la Mare is an old man at the time of the recording and there is something quite wonderful about listening to this very Edwardian voice, speaking to you across 50 years. He describes going to Max Gate to meet Thomas Hardy and being surprised to find not a dour old pessimist but an affable old gentleman. Walter de la Mare has never been fashionable in the academic world but his poems continue to delight the old and young. ‘The Listeners’ – ‘ “Is there anybody there?” said the traveller’, is the most requested poem of Radio 4’s Poetry Please. Walter de la Mare, Selected Poems is an excellent new collection of his best work edited by the poet Matthew Sweeney and published by Faber and Faber, 2006.

de la Mare as fiction writer is not so well known these days. Fortunately Hesperus Press have recently collected and published three of his short stories (‘Missing’, ‘The Almond Tree’ and ‘Crewe’) with the added bonus of a foreword by Russell Hoban. If you enjoy Missing (Modern Voices), see if you can find a copy of his brilliant dark short story ‘Seaton’s Aunt’

Forward Poetry Prize Nominee Eleanor Rees

Jane Davis writes to point out that Liverpool poet Eleanor Rees has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, for her new book Andraste’s Hair. The collection is published by Salt Publishing and you can find out more about it here.

Eleanor has also recently launched a collaborative piece with writer Rachel Rogers for Merseyside Dance Initative documenting the rehearsal process for The Migrant Body project, a collaboration of European dancers and experimental choreography. She is also working with artist Jyll Bradley on The Fragrant Project responding to the complex history of Liverpool Botanical Collection as part of the Liverpool Commissions for 2008. This is due to launch August 2007.

Eleanor’s website is here and she also has a myspace page which is here.

Here’s the complete 2007 shortlist:

Best collection prize (£10,000)

Domestic Violence by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)
Gift Songs by John Burnside (Jonathan Cape)
The Drowned Book by Sean O’Brien (Picador)
Birds with a Broken Wing by Adam Thorpe (Jonathan Cape)
The Harbour Beyond the Movie by Luke Kennard (Salt Publishing)
Beasts of Nalunga by Jack Mapanje (Bloodaxe)

Best first collection prize (£5,000)

Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dimitri Shostakovich by Joanna Boulter (Arc Publications)
Galatea by Melanie Challenger (Salt Publishing)
Look We Have Coming to Dover! by Daljit Nagra (Faber and Faber)
Andraste’s Hair by Eleanor Rees (Salt Publishing)

Best single poem prize (£1,000)

The Hut in Question by David Harsent (Poetry Review)
Thursday by Lorraine Mariner (The Rialto)
Dunt by Alice Oswald (Poetry London)
The Day I Knew I Wouldn’t Live Forever by Carole Satyamurti (The Interpreter’s House)
Goulash by Myra Schneider (The North)
The Birkdale Nightingale by Jean Sprackland (Poetry Review)

Posted by Chris Routledge

Ian MacMillan–New Reader Regular

Philip Davis, editor of The Reader writes to say that Ian MacMillan, poet, performer and broadcaster is to become a regular contributor to the magazine, starting with the Christmas 2007 edition. Ian MacMillan, who has been described by the TES as “the Shirley Bassey of performance poetry”, presents The Verb on BBC Radio 3 and has recently been appointed Poet in Space by the Yorkshire Planetarium. We’re pleased to be on his trajectory.

Keeping Track of Library Books

Let me confess. I love libraries. I love almost everything about them, from the faint smell of dust to the sound of distant voices, the gentle clatter of book trolleys and the click-thump of the date stamp. Back when university libraries were quiet, empty places where you could do serious work, I did serious work in them, including a PhD thesis and some of the first things I ever published. I even wrote two high-speed, strictly-for-the-money, no names no pack drill history books in a university library, scribbling away for weeks like a student with all the deadlines for an entire degree course coming down at once. It was great fun.

But one thing about libraries annoys me: having to take the books back before a certain date. It’s not so bad if you have one library card and you visit regularly. But if you have three or four library cards, plus a couple belonging to your kids, it can be difficult to keep track. Even more so if the loan periods are all different and the numbers of books large. My staff library card at the university library, for example, allows me to take out more books than I can lift for an entire year. And while my local library cards only give me five for a fortnight, I have two cards. My daughter’s card allows her to take out books for a fortnight and DVDs for a week. You see where I’m going with this. We pay fines.

Let it not be said however that I am a person who sits back and puts up with something when a complex technological solution is only a few clicks away. Many libraries these days allow you to manage your borrowing online, much like a bank. But what would really help would be a way of getting the due dates from the library website to my calendar. Enter a clever piece of Mac only software called Library Books, which can be downloaded from here. The developer asks for donations if you like using the software.

Library Books places a little star in the taskbar and a number to indicate the books you have on loan. Click on the star and you get details of all your borrowings from multiple libraries. You can add the information to the Mac’s calendar, iCal, with a single click, to receive reminders in good time about when your books should be going back. Setting up the system is easy. Several UK library systems, and many others from other countries are listed as presets and you can also set up unlisted libraries using the “generic” library types. University of Liverpool is an INNOPAC system, for example which is listed. You enter your user name and password, and Library Books connects to your library account. You can even list several library accounts at once, which is very useful. If your specific library isn’t listed the developer will add it as a preset if you ask nicely.

I’m going to see how I get on using it. Here’s the link to Library Books again (Mac users only).

Posted by Chris Routledge

Mersey Minis Giveaway: Liverpool 800

Today marks the 800th anniversary of Liverpool’s town charter and publisher Capsica is celebrating the event by giving away the entire 5,000-copy print run of Longing, the third in its Mersey Minis series. Mersey Minis contain writing about Liverpool and the River Mersey from the past 800 years. The final two volumes, Loving and Leaving, will be launched in September and November respectively. Names already featured in the series include Charles Dickens, John Lennon, Will Self, King John, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Courtney Love, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Tracey Emin.

Copies of Longing, which includes new writing about Liverpool by over 80 authors, will be handed out at over 50 different venues across Merseyside on August 28th and The Reader is helping to give away copies of the book. Everyone who emails us on Tuesday 28th August will get a free copy of Longing. Just send an email including your postal address to us using the contact form in the menu above. All new subscribers to The Reader magazine will also get a free copy of Longing until all our copies are gone. Deborah Mulhearn, editor and compiler of Longing is featured in The Reader Number 28, which will be published at Christmas 2007.

More information about Mersey Minis is available here. You can subscribe to The Reader here.

Winter Blues

Writer and editor Helen Tookey is already predicting the start of autumn and the approach of winter and to make matters worse she’s been reading Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet almost guaranteed to bring on an attack of the winter blues. Over on her blog she’s written a short appreciation of the poem ‘Spring and Fall’ that addresses his remarkable ability to ‘feel’ his mortality and accept it:

There must have been hundreds of poems prompted by the melancholy scent of autumn in the air (as it is at the minute, towards the end of August), but one of the best must be ‘Spring and Fall’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), subtitled ‘To a young child’:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, nor no mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

There are so many things so perfectly expressed here: what seems the simple sorrow of a child at the dying, falling leaves; the painful adult knowledge of the world’s ways, and of death, and the painful knowledge too that your child will come to know this in his or her turn; and the feeling that the child is actually suffering from a sadness she can’t yet understand or articulate; and the awful thought of the child’s own mortality as well as of your own.

Here’s the link to the whole post.

Rebel Girls

Rebel Girls: their fight for the vote is a new book by Jill Liddington, about the forgotten suffragettes across the north of England. Published by Virago it tracks the story of those who took their message out to the remotest Yorkshire dales to win Edwardian hearts and minds.

Jill Liddington will be speaking about the book at a host of events across the country this autumn, and is visiting Liverpool on Saturday 6th October. For full details of these events click here