e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the category “Out and about”

Walking the city – modern flânerie

Online magazine, Stepaway, has released its latest issue today. I’m naturally excited, not just because it contains one of my flash fictions, but because it resurrects a literary idea – the flâneur or gentleman stroller.

To modern minds someone who has no job and spends his time wandering around the city in a kind of literary mood might sound anti-social, but in 19th century France, where he was born and lived, he was an explorer, a connoisseur of the streets and quite acceptable.

I doubt if the French flâneur would have had a high regard for modern urban explorers – investigating crumbling ruins or forgotten tunnels would ruin his elegant clothing and annoy his valet.

Stepaway magazine aims to put a modern spin on flânerie and looking at the current edition they succeed. The title comes from a poem by Frank O’Hara. His strolling was a bit constrained as he wasn’t unemployed, but nevertheless he did his best in the tradition. A Step Away from Them begins:

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs.

I often wander around cities and many of my poems start when I’m on the move. I think other writers find the same. I don’t know if the original French strollers ever produced literature, but they are believed to have appreciated it and have inspired scholars and writers – enough justification for their wandering ways.

245x145xWalkThisMay15.jpg.pagespeed.ic.MSDH7-nCsSFor those more interested in serious walking, there is a National Walking Month (May 2015). This is a much more serious type of walking, but it is a chance to explore the streets and their literary possibilities.

The website belongs to an organisation called Living Streets which has a tagline of

Putting People First.

I’m all for that. I hate parts of cities where only vehicles can go.

Poetry and greenhouses

 

orchids in greenhouse

Wouldn’t if be wonderful to have the sort of greenhouse that could grow exotics like these orchids? But it would be a lot of work to look after, so I’m probably better off without.

Looking at the picture did make me wonder if there is any poetry about greenhouses, and, of course, there is. I found a whole page of them at Hello Poetry, starting with:

I like to think of people as a greenhouse
We are only a short moment in history
We can be radiant and beautiful …

apparently written by someone who signs himself ‘Drunken State’. I think one has to be a member of Hello Poetry to understand their system fully.

Theodore Roethke also wrote poems with greenhouses in them, though his seem to be more about memory than giving priority to the building.

It’s less effort, and less expense, to read web pages and admire photos than to care for a mass of unusual plants. But I’m really glad that someone takes the trouble.

 

 

Weird words

Browsing around today I came across this BuzzFeed quiz. It is twenty multiple choice questions on the meanings of rare English words. As a lover of odd words, I did it and didn’t do too badly – but I have to admit that some of the ones I got right were more lucky guesses than knowledge.

I was thrilled to discover that there’s a special word for a fear of buttons. On the medical side I’ve also learned that some people fear buttons, which must make shopping for clothes really difficult. I sometimes wonder if the source of such fears could be a forgotten (by your conscious mind) nightmare, which nevertheless lurks in the subconscious waiting to make trouble.

I recently bought a cardigan with a long row of tiny buttons and even smaller holes; now what I need is a word for losing my temper with buttons.

I’m always on the lookout for words I can use poetically, but I don’t see myself writing about borborygmus or pilgarlic.

The edges of the poetic – wine writing

Bring me wine, but wine which never grew
In the belly of the grape;
Or grew on vine whose tap-roots reaching through
Under the Andes to the Cape
Suffer’d no savour of the earth to ‘scape.

From Bacchus by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Recently in a restaurant I read the wine list while waiting for my meal. The descriptions were evocative and almost poetic.

Like poets, wine writers invent words where the dictionary fails them. Wine can be cedary (tastes like cedar smells), ageworthy (should be kept longer) or Madeirized (oxidised). They can alliterate beautifully. Is your tipple heavy, herbal or honeyed? or is it focused, flabby or fruity? I suppose it might even be floral. My wine, of course, has finesse.

A browse around the web suggests that, although wine descriptions use many terms, the writer can’t say just anything – there is a recognised terminology. It’s a very descriptive terminology and I think that’s why it sound poetic: it raises a realistic image in the mind of the reader.

There are a lot of poems about wine, but so far I’ve found none that actually use the wine writers’ way of saying things. To write such a poem without it sounding snide or silly would be quite a challenge.

Eve in Glasgow

statue of Eve in Botanic Gdn

Last weekend I was in Glasgow. I’ve never been there before and really enjoyed it. The city has so many interesting things to see and the people are very friendly.

One of the places I went was the Kibble Palace, a glasshouse at the Botanic Garden, and that is where I took this picture. She is Eve and lounges among part of the national collection of tree ferns.

The Kibble Palace is named for John Kibble, a Victorian businessman and amateur scientist. The statue is by Scipione Tadolini, a well known 19th century sculptor.

I did a couple of googles to find poetry of Eve. There’s certainly a lot of it and the interpretation of her characters varies from writer to writer. The Boston Review had a piece on a statue of Eve minus Adam, which I thought particularly appropriate.

 

Is there anyone who doesn’t love roses?

Roses

No two roses
are the same, but all are born
twinned with beauty.

Buddha’s Word

E A M Harris:

I love museum exhibitions and this one sounds fantastic. Fortunately, we’ll be in that part of the country later this summer so I’ll definitely get to see it.

Many people have devoted their lives to making beautiful books of the sayings of the great religious teachers. At one time viewing them would have meant a lot of arduous travel, but now thanks to modern transport and the organisation of modern museums, we don’t have to go so far.

Originally posted on University of Cambridge Museums:

Buddha’s Word: The Life of Books in Tibet and Beyond  is the first exhibition of Tibetan material in Cambridge taking place at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology . It will display some of the world’s oldest Sanskrit and Buddhist manuscripts – and a gift from the 13 th Dalai Lama – in a special exhibition on Buddhist books from 28 May.

The exhibition displays for the first time the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s astonishing Buddhist artefacts and brings together collections and research from three of the University of Cambridge Museums; the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and the Fitzwilliam Museum – as well as the University Library, the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and Emmanuel and Pembroke Colleges.

Historians, anthropologists, linguists, art historians, chemists and material scientists have all contributed to this…

View original 538 more words

From festival to festival

search-logoBrowsing around the web, as I do from time to time, I stumbled on the site of a magazine called Stylist. I’ve never heard of them before and style type things are not really my style, but one of their articles caught my eye.

It gives a list of what they consider the seven best literary festivals. The events they list are spread all over the country and through the summer. A quick google indicated there are many more festivals. If one had the time, the money and the stamina one could spend weeks on end festivalling – maybe with the odd music event in between.

Back to the seven best. How did they decide?

I imagine some exhausted junior reporter rushing, by bus, between events, staying in horrible b&bs, listening for hours to authors they don’t read, and then scribbling a brief report at 3:00 am to catch a deadline.

Or maybe a senior reporter samples the most interesting talks by authors s/he has read while sipping cocktails in the best hotels. The quality of the cocktails affects the report s/he dictates to the secretary.

Or maybe the editor calls the staff together in their coffee break and demands they each name a festival they’ve enjoyed in the past.

The method of info gathering affects the final list, which affects who attends which events and buys whose books, which affects the authors’ income and popularity with their publisher, which affects whose work gets published, promoted and read at next year’s festivals, and so on into the foreseeable future.

Tips For Creating A Bee-Friendly Garden

E A M Harris:

As we get going on seasonal planting etc, now is the time to consider our fellow creatures.

Originally posted on Romancing the Bee:

Alys Fowler Alys Fowler

Top tips for creating a bee-friendly garden this spring by TV presenter Alys Fowler

Gardening writer and TV presenter Alys Fowler is offering British gardeners top tips to help our bees, as part of Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause campaign to save vital bees that pollinate our food and make our countryside, parks and gardens thrive.

Gardeners are also being asked to help urge the Government to strengthen its plans to protect Briatain’s bee populations.

More than 20 UK bee species are already extinct and a quarter of those remaining are at risk – due mainly to their food and nesting sites disappearing, with 97% of wildflower meadows gone in the last 60 years.

Alys Fowler said:

Gardens are becoming one of the most important refuges for Britain’s wild and honey bees, providing chemical-free food, clean water and a place to nest.

The Government…

View original 395 more words

Writ on water

Poets' graves in RomeThe BBC website today has an article about the Protestant cemetery in Rome. Among the numerous rich and/or famous people buried there is John Keats, who died at twenty-five.

It is so sad that he didn’t live long enough to know how popular his work would become and how his genius would be appreciated. He felt he was leaving no mark on the world.

Never one to deny what he saw as truth, he asked for this epitaph on his gravestone:

Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

Reading that made me wonder how we could describe those of us who write electronically. ‘On water’ doesn’t quite cover it; ‘on ether’ is a bit fanciful.

I do sometimes wonder what will happen to the billions of words written daily in websites, blogs, social media and others. Will they withstand any test of time? Does material stored on a hard disk slowly fade, first to a stuttery whisper and finally to a white hiss? Will the future be saddled with inaccessible diaries and letters on unreadable DVDs? If so how will future biographers manage?

Now that some of the material has taken to radio waves I picture it floating around the world and out into space to eventually saturate the galaxy with the thoughts of people who will be millenia dead by that time. Will future historians leap into faster-than-light spaceships and pursue the words of the famous across interstellar emptiness?

Keats’ works have proved durable, but part of that is that they were committed to paper.

Public domain picture from Wikicommons.

 

 

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