The Reader Organisation in South Africa

From Niall Gibney, Community Development Assistant

As part of my apprenticeship development, it was noticed that the furthest I had ever travelled was Benidorm with the ex (how classy am I?) or Disneyland Paris with my old school. Both top tourist destinations I know. Then one day we gave a presentation to the LFC Foundation (Liverpool Football Club’s Charity) and the Director of The Foundation got speaking about a project they were going to visit in South Africa called Whizz Kids. It was suggested that I travel with the LFC coaches but represent The Reader Organisation – I still had to wear a Liverpool coat and training gear though.

We visited a number of schools for football coaching and reading and I gave away copies of A Little, Aloud for Children to a really poor school in the province of Kwazulu-Natal. After this, I read a story about chickens with kids whose first tongue was in Zulu!

The whole experience was amazing but I’m going to leave you hanging though until next week when I’ll be doing a day by day account of the trip (and just how amazing it was).

In the meantime, you can read more about the trip on the LFC blog, The Kop.

Lemn Sissay: Sparking the nation’s imagination

Our visual representation of the story of Spark Catchers – pride of place in the TRO HQ kitchen…

It’s fair to say that the country, and in fact the whole world, is currently gripped by Olympic fever and while many of us at The Reader Organisation are partial to several of the sporting events, we’re particularly fascinated by the poetry that is playing a substantial part in the 2012 Games. In this week’s Communications Team meeting we shared the very intriguing Spark Catchers, the poem written especially for London 2012 by TRO patron and 2012 Conference guest speaker Lemn Sissay. It certainly sparked off some interesting thoughts and discussion (and is also currently being displayed against a flaming background of coloured paper reminiscent of both the Olympic flame and the London 2012 logo in the TRO HQ kitchen, in a small tribute to the way in which the poem is etched in the Olympic Park itself)…

It’s good to hear that it’s not just us at The Reader Organisation who have been ignited by the poem – it has also inspired ‘Sparked’, an educational exhibition series that took place at The View Tube, a new social enterprise and community venue located adjacent to the Olympic Park. The series ran from October 2011-May 2012 and involved some brilliant art workshops as well dynamic public readings of the poem by Lemn himself. You can take an overview of all the fun that happened as part of the project at the View Tube Art: Sparked Tumblr site.

Have a listen to Lemn talk about the story behind Spark Catchers:


Spark Catchers is part of the Winning Words Poetry Archive, the project that intends to highlight the inspirational role of poetry alongside the Olympic Games. In a Q&A with The Guardian, William Sieghart, compiler of the Winning Words poetry anthology, talks about how “an appropriate poem can be more helpful than many forms of therapy” – a sentiment that is firmly expressed within our weekly Get Into Reading groups.

Readers of the World: Greece (Olympic Edition)

Last time on our Readers of the World tour, we roamed the wilds and wonders of the East African country of Kenya. For this post, we’re sprinting across the globe to for some gold-medal standard selections of literature to celebrate the Games of the 30th Olympiad. Today marks the official start of London 2012 and the eyes of the world will be focused on the capital for an opening ceremony that is sure to be showstopping, anticipating the many thrilling victories of the next 17 days. If you’re one of the many unable to secure tickets to the Games, than have no fear, as ROTW is here to whisk you away to – where else? – the home of the Olympics, Greece. So on your marks, get set, and let’s go to race towards some Olympian sized literature…

At the advent of the Olympics of Ancient Greece, which formed the origin of the modern Games, feats in literature ran alongside the sporting activity and ability to compose an ode that would masterfully engage the mind was as highly regarded as great physical prowess. The earliest Olympics consisted somewhat surprisingly of one single event, a 190 metre long sprint, meaning there was much call for other forms of amusement and competition – and literary games featured heavily in the schedule, with battles between poets, writers and philosophers happening across the Olympic site. Away from Olympia the god of poetry, Apollo, was regularly honoured with fiercely fought competitions of verse recital – an Olympic event in reading aloud is one contest we could get especially excited about at The Reader Organisation!

Around the same time as the first ancient Olympics took place in the 8th century BC, arguably the most prolific and influential contributor to Greek literature, Homer, composed his epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. The two poems, charting the conflicts, onslaughts, glories and eventual aftermath of the Trojan War as experienced by their major characters the warrior Achilles and celebrated hero Odysseus , are regarded to this day as defining literary works, being translated from Homeric Greek (a particularly literary form of the ancient Greek language, mixing several different dialects) into many modern languages – and being transformed from its oral origins into written text, also.

Modern day literature lovers can get some indication of what the ancient Olympics were like by reading these epic poetic works; in The Iliad, Homer dedicates an entire book to the funerary games held in honour of Patroclus, Achilles’ closest companion, which feature chariot racing, boxing, wrestling, running, shotputting, archery and javelin throwing, and closely resemble the Olympic Games in their lively and celebratory nature, although the prizes for the victors were quite unconventional; instead of receiving medals, competitors were given such spoils as a cauldron, a two-handled urn and a six year old mare (which definitely couldn’t fit on the mantelpiece quite so handily). The showcasing of athletic abilities is also featured in The Odyssey, whereby Odysseus is challenged to prove his worth and bravery against the Phaiakians by undertaking physical activity. Although the characters in both poems allowed themselves to be influenced by the Gods to a far greater degree than any human would today, Homer’s classic works still have many significant lessons to teach, particularly to prospective Olympians, considering themes such as pride being balanced between greatness and ruin and the pursuit of glory as something that long defines.

Another Ancient Greek poet, Pindar, was especially famous for connecting the Olympic Games with literature, writing epinikion – victory odes honouring the successes of the athletes in the Ancient Olympics. Such odes would praise winners as ideal representatives of the places they came from, elevating them almost to the status of cult heroes – but would not go so far as to turn them into Gods as hubris was a quality reviled in Ancient Greece, considered as serious as a crime. Pindar was himself revered amongst poets and scholars, and was the first Greek poet to reflect upon the role of poetry in life and culture, although his writing does appear quite unusual to the modern reader.

Best of all things is water; but gold, like a gleaming fire
by night, outshines all pride of wealth beside.
But, my heart, would you chant the glory of games,
look never beyond the sun
by day for any star shining brighter through the deserted air,
nor any contest than Olympia greater to sing.
[The Odes of Pindar, Olympia 1]

Heading closer to current times, a strong literary tradition has continued to flourish in Greece, especially when it comes to poetry. Two of Greece’s most influential and revered modern poets, George Seferis and Odysseas Elytis, received the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1963 and 1979 respectively. Twice nominated for the prize, but never a recipient, was Kostis Palamas, considered to have been ‘the national poet of Greece’ during the height of his literary career in the 1880s. Palamas played a major part in ensuring the thread between literature and the Olympics remained in place – he wrote the lyrics to the Olympic Hymn, first performed at the inaugural modern Games in 1896 and which has become a central aspect of every Opening Ceremony since 1960.

Perhaps the most familiar of all contemporary Greek poets is Constantine P. (C.P) Cavafy – of Greek parentage, even though he was born in Alexandria in Egypt, and spent a great proportion of his adolescent years living in England, specifically in Liverpool, a place he was familiar with given his father’s profession as an importer-exporter. Though his work was largely obscured from the public during his lifetime – preferring to circulate it solely to his close friends – Cavafy went on to be instrumental in reviving Greek poetry to readers across the world. His distinctive style, defined by uncomplicated language and direct delivery, was unlike anything else that had appeared in either Greek or Western European poetry, and so allowed Cavafy to become a hallmark figure in modern literature, creating a poetic dialogue and genre all of his own. However one of his most well-known works, Ithaca, consolidates him firmly alongside his literary ancestors; it was inspired by the journey of none other than Odysseus of The Odyssey, and emphasises to the reader that it is the journey of life and its enjoyment that should be regarded above the final destination – another, perhaps more consolatory, lesson for Olympians-in-waiting from every corner of the globe.

It’s not just Readers of the World that are uniting as part of the Cultural Olympiad, which started to gear up everyone for the big event over a month ago, but writers of the world too. The Poetry Parnassus sees the largest poetry festival ever staged in the UK in celebration of the 2012 Games and the cultural and literary activities that stem from it, uniting 204 poets from the competing countries together to showcase and celebrate the power and importance of the spoken word internationally. Representing Greece at the Poetry Parnassus is poet, artist and translator Katerina Iliopoulou, co-editor of Greek Poetry Now, which provides a platform for contemporary Greek poets and stems from previous projects, such as inthepill, which have explored alternative communication of poetry and art to a wider public. Speaking in an interview with SJ Fowler, Katerina expressed her belief that

“poetry is a universal language, but more importantly is the language of doubt. Poetry opens up space within what we consider as reality: more space for us to cross and look through and think, a space of risk where our conscience is awakened, where we question our beliefs and ideas, where we become active.”

A Fitness Diary from Wembley Stadium

You know you’re taking the 5k run seriously when even on arguably the best day of your life, and within an hour of a feeling of pure elation, you find yourself doing a spot of training for the run raising money to support our excellent work reading with looked-after children.

On Saturday I watched the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at the iconic Wembley Stadium, seeing Wigan Warriors defeat Leeds Rhinos 28-18 in a very tense match that did little to help my blood pressure. On the train down to London I was reading This Sporting Life by David Storey, a novel set in the days when professionalism was fairly new to the sport, and Arthur Machin has to juggle managing his personal life with the physical demands and politics of rugby league in a working class town. It was a brilliant little setup for the match on Saturday. (This is a Reader blog post, I had to cram a reference to literature in somehow!)

When you’re training for a run there are a few important things to remember:

1. Warm Up 

Supposedly the best way to do this is by having a few minutes of light exercise. Instead, I jumped up and down like a little kid who had eaten too many sweets whenever Wigan scored, best exhibited when Tommy Leuluai scored a clinching try in the final minutes and the full-time hooter sounded. I did some chest exercises, mainly by roaring ‘advice’ at the referee. A final aerobic workout consisted of dancing to Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ during post match celebrations in the stands.

2. Do Some Stretches and Wear the Right Gear.

T-shirt, shorts, running shoes etc. Stretch your calves, quads, glutes, intercostal muscles and any more I’ve missed out on. I put my shorts and trainers on and did my stretches in a cubicle in Wembley mens’ toilets. Not a sentence I anticipated writing a couple of months ago. Of course, you feel like a bit of a wally walking down the seemingly ridiculous amount of steps at Wembley (another warm up) whilst dressed like someone who should be in the gym, but when the bloke next to you is wearing a red and white checked hat or is dressed like a chicken then everything is relative.

3. Get Running!

So a lap of Wembley commenced and although this is far from a remarkable distance, it remains challenging. Problems being – you’re carrying a bag of various things, you may have to run past dejected Leeds fans whilst wearing opposition colours and there are thousands and thousands of people pouring out of the stadium, making this an assault course. Rather than be put off, I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to practice overtaking and a chance to appreciate the challenges faced by Anna when she narrowly avoided a catastrophic collision with an old lady.

There is something quite brilliant about running around Wembley Stadium as you get to see all sides of the ground and the various people celebrating with big grins on their faces, and jogging past the statue of Bobby Moore whilst filled with glee and adrenaline.

4. Warm Down

A bit of light exercise, such as walking down Wembley Way towards the tube station. Standing on a packed tube is excellent detox as it can help flush out your sweat if the run hasn’t already.

It would be absolutely fantastic if everyone could help give the children we read with a smile as big as the one on my face late on Saturday afternoon. All funds raised will go to this great cause, and you can make a donation by clicking here.

Recycling Johnson – The Grand Total

News just in! Through their charity cycle and herculean efforts, Phil and Sheena Davies have managed to raise a grand total of £1,117 for Get Into Reading, which is certainly something to celebrate! We have to say a massive “Thank You” to Phil and Sheena from everyone at The Reader Organisation – they really have gone above and beyond to support us, and their efforts are very much appreciated.

To find out more about their immense 504 mile trek and to see some of their stunning holiday snaps, take a look at their blog.

Recycling Johnson – A Diary

As promised, here’s Phil and Sheena’s diary of their mammoth cycling trip to the Isle of Skye and Wester Ross, along with some of their stunning holiday snaps. Whilst the couple endured torrential rain, bicycle breakdowns, and a great deal of camping, their journey did end in style, with a triumphant return to the distinctly Scottish sound of bagpipes and clarsach (played by their nephew and niece respectively). To find out more about Phil and Sheena’s Scottish adventures, just visit their Recycling Johnson blog.

A massive thank you to Phil and Sheena from everyone at The Reader Organisation for their phenomenal efforts – so far, they’ve raised £667 for Get Into Reading, which is a definite cause for celebration!

The End of the Road for Recycling Johnson

Today is the final day of Phil and Sheena Davies’s herculean efforts to raise money for Get Into Reading by following the trail of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s Scottish exploits, cycling 504 miles in the process. After almost two weeks of non-stop exertion, the couple will complete their journey back where it all began – in Faolin on the Isle of Skye. After an exhausting journey, and the experience of last night’s camping, they will be glad no doubt of a warm bed and a hearty welcome at the Faolin Lodge.  It’s certainly well-deserved. Thanks so much to Phil and Sheena who have gone above and beyond to support Get Into Reading. Hopefully, in a few weeks time, we’ll be able to regale you with tales of their adventures, and maybe even see a holiday snap or two!

So far, Phil and Sheena have raised £632 for Get Into Reading – an enormous amount. But there’s still time for you to sponsor them by visiting their charity giving page and donating whatever you can. The more money we raise, the more books we can buy to use in our reading groups, the more people we can read with, and the more tea and biscuits for our Get Into Reading group members to enjoy!

Recycling Johnson Takes A Literary Turn

As Phil and Sheena begin the final stretch of their Scottish cycling tour (only 91 miles to go after today!), my research into Dr Johnson has taken a more literary turn, with the announcement of the shortlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction yesterday. The Samuel Johnson Prize aims to reward the best non-fiction and is open to authors of all non-fiction books in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. This year’s selection appears to be pretty heavy on history and biography, with works on Caravaggio, Bismarck, and Mao’s Great Famine appearing on the shortlist. Other entries include John Stubbs’s Reprobates, which offers an insight into the Cavaliers of the English Civil War, drawing on the writings and experiences of “wits, womanisers and wanderers,” and Maya Jasanoff’s Liberty’s Exiles, which tells the story of the remarkable global diaspora created by the emigration of Americans to other parts of the British Empire, in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The only non-historical entry shortlisted is The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley, a book which apparently proves that, however much we like to think to the contrary, things are getting better and, compared to 10,000 years ago, we are better fed, better sheltered, better entertained and better protected from disease.

The shortlist looks great – I’d be especially interested to read Maya Jasanoff’s book – we’re so used to thinking in terms of people emigrating to America,  I think it would be fascinating to discover the life stories of those who left the country to start a new life in some distant corner of the British Empire. One to add to my summer reading list methinks.

The winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize will be announced on 6th July, with a special edition of The Culture Show the following evening discussing the result and shortlisted entries.

So, as it turns out, Phil and Sheena aren’t the only ones to be inspired by Johnson! But, whilst the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize will receive the princely sum of £20,000, Phil and Sheena are trying to raise £1000 for Get Into Reading. If you’d like to help them reach their target, visit their charity giving page and donate whatever you can.

Recycling Johnson – Back on the Mainland

Whilst I enjoyed a lazy weekend of sleep and sunshine (followed by an awful lot of rain), Phil and Sheena Davies managed to cycle 68 miles further around Skye, and make it back over to mainland Scotland to continue their tour this week. Makes me think that I really should start doing more with my weekends. Anyway, back to Phil and Sheena, who will today be travelling from Lochcarron to Torridon via Applecross. Lochcarron is a beautiful village located on a sea loch, and boasts some stunning views. To be fair, I’m yet to find an ugly place that Phil and Sheena have visited on their travels, and I’ll be mightily disappointed when they return, as I will no longer have an excuse to research breath-taking Scottish landscapes during work hours.

So far, Phil and Sheena have raised a total of £632 but there’s still time for you to donate. Just visit their charity giving page and give whatever you can towards Get Into Reading.

Recycling Johnson – Almost Halfway

After today’s 46 mile slog, Phil and Sheena Davies will have covered 203 miles – almost half of the total distance they’ll be travelling on their trip. Setting off from Kingsburgh, they’ll first head down to Ullinish before moving on to Talisker. As soon as I heard the couple were heading to Talisker, I must admit that my first thoughts were of whisky. After scanning Johnson’s account of his Scottish tour, I was disappointed to find no mention of this world-famous tipple, now one of Scotland’s largest exports. However, I suppose it would be unfair to blame Johnson for this omission, as his visit to Talisker took place in 1773 – over 50 years before the distillery was actually built in nearby Carbost. Still, let’s hope that devotion to the historical accuracy of Recycling Johnson doesn’t prevent Phil and Sheena from taking advantage of this local luxury!

Phil and Sheena have already raised £610 for Get Into Reading, but they still hope to do more. More money means getting more fantastic books into the hands of people who need and love them. To donate, please visit the couple’s charity giving page and give whatever you can.