e a m harris

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The power of poetry to prolong a generation – an envelope full of verse

Yesterday I received my quarterly mailing from the Poetry Book Society. This time the book was When God is a Traveller by Cover ArtArundhathi Subramaniam, who writes in English but lives in India.

As always, there’s something appealing about the slim book of verse with an exotic title; something that encourages both reading and thinking. Inside the colourful cover I love the way the poet uses the page, laying out her poem to enhance it’s meaning and to guide the eye to the emphasised bits.

I haven’t had time to really study this book yet, but already I’ve found my favourite poem: ‘How Some Hindus Find Their Personal Gods’. The process is logical and sensible:

It’s about learning to trust
the tug
that draws you to a shadowed alcove

The seeker recognises the god as he who is

… content to play a cameo
in everyone’s life but your own.

Isn’t this kind of recognition at the heart of all spiritual experience?

Along with the book and the Bulletin I’ve also received a booklet, Next Generation Poets 2014: a selection of poems from writers who might be the leaders of poetry in the future. This is part of a major campaign by the Society to bring to their work to the public. They define the next generation poets as having published their first collection within the last decade. As might be expected, the photos and brief bios in the booklet indicate that most of the poets are quite young, though a few could describe their ages as ‘late youth’.

I wonder if someone who published their first collection at the age of 90 would still be of the ‘next generation’. I like the idea of this strange extension of life. How long does a ‘next generation’ last? Perhaps in twenty years time their spirit can look down from Heaven (or up from the other place) and watch budding poets reading their collection.

Surrounded by darkness

Recently I bought a copy of One Hundred Poems from the Japanese: poems selected and translated by Onehundredpoemsfromthejapanese_300_504Kenneth Rexroth. Years ago I borrowed this book from the library and loved it, but at the time I didn’t have spare money to spend on books.

Reading these clear and heartfelt short poems is to wander in a different world: a world of underground passion, verbal precision and appreciation of small things, many with wide implications.

My favourite so far is:

I go out of darkness
Onto a road of darkness
Lit only by the far off
Moon on the edge of the mountains.

This has the human condition so right in so few words: where do we come from? where do we go?

The original was written by Izumi, who I suppose is the same person as Lady Izumi Shikibu. She was a lady in waiting at the Imperial court in the tenth to eleventh century. Apparently writing poetry was a popular activity for courtiers at the time.

Would that the fashion had spread and endured. If our political scene contained more poets who knows what it might achieve.

 

Cover art from New Directions publisher.

The words of rhetoric

cover art from goodreadsI recently bought a book about rhetoricThe Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. Subtitled How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase it gives information and examples of numerous rhetorical devices that will hopefully expand and improve the reader’s writing.

As a writer I found it fascinating and useful, but what I really loved was all those fancy names for the different devices. Words like polyptoton, aposiopesis, litotes, or epistrophe – how have I missed out on them until now? Did you know that the four names in the last sentence is a congeries (yes, that is singular and the plural is the same – like sheep)? So much grander than ‘list’. (And that verbless sentence is a scesis onomaton.)

Anyone can use rhetoric. When the main man in Dr No introduces himself as: ‘Bond. James Bond.’ he’s using a diacope (or verbal sandwich in English), as well as a scesis onomaton.

While the Greek and Latin words may take some learning, the English explanations are very readable and interesting. They open up a whole array of new understanding about what writers from Shakespeare to John Lennon have been up to.

Cover art from Goodreads.

A first poetry book is published “The Lotus of Fire”

An interesting story of self-publishing and the value of keeping trying.

Congratulations to Sharmishtha Basu on this milestone.

A to Z Reading Challenge: My Answers

E A M Harris:

I love these questions and the answers; I may even do this quiz myself one day. In the meantime I pass it on for those of you who like to mull over your thoughts on books.

Originally posted on A Small Press Life:

I ran across this on Not a Punk Rocker. I enjoyed reading her answers, so I thought I would participate, too. It’s not as if I am working against a deadline today. Nope, I am not shirking my professional duties to write this post. Okay, so maybe I am taking a slight break. Yes, that is it. A break.

If you’re a long-time reader of A Small Press Life (and if you are, thank you!), you’ve probably wondered what happened to our own reader questionnaire series, [R]evolving Incarnations. Never fear. It returns this Friday.

Until then, there’s this.

Oh, and I’ve decided to do it backwards. Z to A, which is how my books are organized.

ZZZ-SNATCHER BOOK (LAST BOOK THAT KEPT YOU UP WAY LATE): I am a late-night reader, so this is a pretty normal occurrence. It helps that I work from home and set my own…

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A book worth buying and a charity worth supporting

E A M Harris:

A good read and a fundraiser for a vital service.

Originally posted on BRIDGET WHELAN writer:

Martlets Hospice anthologyI’m not making any excuses. This post is a brazen plug for a book that has just been published on Amazon. it is the work of 17 authors and is a very good read.  You will meet memorable characters on every page from the silent workhouse survivor to the wife who is right to be suspicious of her husband’s sat nav – but that’s not why I am asking you to buy it.
I edited the book and I think you will enjoy the Where Did that Come From? section at the end of every chapter where you will discover the source of each story. But that’s not the reason why I think you should  have Dancing with Words on your bookshelf.
No, I hope you will consider spending £7.99 on this hefty paperback (at 280 pages you are definitely getting your money’s worth) because it is a tribute…

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More deeply into haiku

Stepping Stones coverI’ve started to read Stepping Stones: a way into haiku by Martin Lucas, a former president of the British Haiku Society. I was very sad to learn that he has recently died. He leaves behind much influence and inspiration for those who enjoy haiku.

This book is not a technical ‘how to’, apart from the introduction which concentrates mostly on the important differences that the Japanese and English languages force on haiku. It is an anthology of modern English language haiku with a commentary on each one.

The commentaries encourage a deeper and more thorough reading of the poems by questioning and speculating about the context and significance of each of them.

For instance, on the haiku about the actions of a monk while swimming in a river by Steve Dolphy, some of the questions to consider are: was he alone or with other monks? was he wearing his saffron robes or had he stripped? was his ducking under the approaching oar hasty and fearful or calm and dignified? Of course, we don’t know. Each reader must ‘see’ the scene for themselves and arrive at an understanding accordingly. In another, by Andrew Detheridge, about clinging to a donkey’s tail we are encouraged to ask the circumstances: a children’s game? a moment of disorientation? a real donkey or a paper one?

Considering questions like this has made me take note of how selective a haiku writer is. The points important to the poem are abstracted from a much more complex scene.

A lot is left up to the reader. This is one reason haiku don’t contain judgements – the reader’s response should not be coloured by someone else’s opinion.

I am learning a great deal from this way of looking at an individual poem – more as a reader than a writer. But if we can’t read properly, how can we write?

Prizes galore

Congratulations to Eimear McBride for winning the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction. It’s nice to read about someone pushing the envelope of the novel out and being rewarded for their courage.

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Also announced yesterday was the lower-key but still important HWA Debut Crown shortlist. The Historical Writers Association has decided that they too should have a range of  awards similar to those given by the Crime Writers Association (CWA).

It’s lovely to read about these successes. But I still wonder about those who don’t win them. Does the existence of a prizewinner affect other people’s sales? logo

As a reader I also wonder if all the hype and publicity skews what I read. While wandering round a bookshop I’m likely to pick up books I’ve heard of, even if I can’t recall why they seem familiar.

Does winning a prize affect a book’s long term sales? Or does it fade from popularity as fast as it would without the prize?

We seem to live in a world of awards and competitions. Is this a good thing? bad? totally irrelevant?

Secondhand serendipity

I recently went to Crimefest, and had a really good time. Among the many tables dedicated to books is a swap table. Browsing through the books left for swap I saw one with ‘Johnson County Library’ and a bar code on its cover.3026099

My first reaction was that someone had left their library book by mistake; then I opened it and inside was printed ‘Withdrawn from Johnson County Library’. So it was the result of library weeding and it was OK to take it.

The book was Daughter of Deceit by Patricia Sprinkle, an author I’d not heard of. I’m not sure if her work is available in the UK – Johnson County sounds like it’s somewhere in America.

I really enjoyed it. I’m so glad that someone at Crimefest left it. Now that I’ve read it I feel honour bound to pass it on to one of the local secondhand bookshelves so someone else can enjoy it too.

It is set among the very rich in Atlanta. Not an underworld setting – well-mannered, well-dressed women living in beautiful houses in a lovely town. Like my own, less wealthy, neighbours they spend their time raising families and raising funds for good causes. The mystery, when it strikes, is all the more shocking for being in such a society.

A middle-aged woman deeply into genealogy is called upon to help a woman neighbour whose world has been turned upside down by the discovery that her late father may not have been related to her at all. How did he really feel about her? Is she entitled to the wealth she’s inherited? And, to top it all, did she really shoot her husband?

I will certainly look out for more of Ms Sprinkle’s work.

Cover art from Goodreads.

The end of the 30 day book challenge

A few days ago I posted my last instalment of this challenge. I have to thank the writers of Snobbery for setting me going on what has turned out to be a long journey.

These are the stops on the way:

Day 1:  My Favourite Book
Day 2:  My Least Favourite Book
Day 3:  A Book That Surprised Me
Day 4:  A Book That Reminds Me of Home
Day 5:  A Non-Fiction Book I Like
Day 6:  A Book That Makes Me Cry
Day 7:  A Book I Find Hard to Read
Day 8:  An Unpopular Book I Think Should Be A Bestseller
Day 9:  A Book I’ve Read More Than Once
Day 10:  The First Novel I Remember Reading
Day 11:  The Book That Made Me Fall In Love With Reading
Day 12:  A Book So Emotionally Draining, I Had To Set It Aside
Day 13:  Favourite Childhood Book
Day 14:  A Book That Should Be On High School Or College Required Reading Lists
Day 15:  Favourite Book Dealing With Foreign Culture
Day 16:  Favourite Book Turned Movie
Day 17:  Book Turned Movie That Was Completely Desecrated
Day 18:  Book I Love That I Can’t Find On Shelves Anymore
Day 19:  A Book That Changed My Mind About A Particular Subject
Day 20:  A Book I’d Recommend To An Ignorant/Racist/Closed-Minded Individual
Day 21:  A Guilty Pleasure Book
Day 22:  Favourite Series
Day 23:  Favourite Romance Novel
Day 24:  A Book I Later Found Out The Author Lied About
Day 25:  Favourite Biography/Autobiography
Day 26:  A Book I Wish Would Be Written
Day 27:  A Book I’d Write If I Had All The Resources
Day 28:  A Book I Wish I’d Never Read
Day 29:  An Author That I Completely Avoid/Hate/Won’t Read
Day 30:  An Author That I’ll Read Whatever They Put Out

Most of the route has been down memory lane and it’s been useful, and at times exciting, to scour my recollections of past reading in order to write the posts. Looking back I see I’ve read a lot of great stuff.

Remembering the books has also made me remember how I felt on reading them: I had forgotten that I cried over Black Beauty, felt really cross with Dennis Wheatley, and thrilled at the description of the research in Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time.

My original plan of writing one post a week has long since failed, but I think that may have been a good thing, giving me more time to mull over what to write and, importantly, what to leave out.

I’ve considered taking up the NaPoWriMo challenge but, if I can’t stick to once a week, every day has no chance.

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