e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

Poetry and sport

For next year the Welsh Rugby Union will have a poet in residence. He is Owen Sheers, a well-known Welsh writer.

I don’t know if this is the first time a sport has had its own poet, but in Wales, land of bards, where poets are highly regarded, the combination is not surprising.

Rugby arouses strong emotion and encourages its expression; neither players nor spectators hold back from showing their feelings. Poetry articulates all the varieties of emotion and shows us how to think about them. A natural pairing.

Despite having lived in South Wales at one time, I know almost nothing about rugby and can’t imagine what a poet will find to write about. However, Mr Sheers is a fan of the game and is no doubt brimming with ideas to bring it closer to poetry-lovers, and poetry closer to sport fans.

I’m looking forward to reading the results and, who knows, I might learn something about rugby.


A discovery

It’s a week since I blogged. I certainly didn’t mean it to be so long, but the approaching hols have taken up so much time – not to mention putting the house back together after the builders left.

In amongst all this I’ve discovered a new fictional detective. Those who aren’t crime fiction aficionados won’t understand how great this is. A whole new series to seek out, read, compare, anticipate the next one. Marvellous.

The detective in question is Inspector Singh, based in Singapore but often sent by his superiors (who don’t much like having him around) to other countries in the region.

The book I’ve just read is A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul. It reads like a classic mystery but has a dramatic, thriller-like ending. The characters are memorable and I give it an ‘A’ for sense of place – now Bali is on my list of places to visit.

Inspector Singh’s creator is Shamini Flint, who lives in Singapore and is a lawyer by training. She’s already written several Singh books and looks young enough to write many more.

‘Towards the End of the Morning’ by Michael Frayn

This book, published in 1969, takes a humorous but nevertheless realistic view of Fleet Street and the newspaper world. Not the world of paparazzi and telephone hacking, but that of one of the quieter departments (not actually named).

The writing is beautiful but not pushy and the characters are clearly drawn. Here is the real world of muddled ambition, frequent anxiety, occasional joy and confused social relationships.

The characters develop in subtle and varied ways, and each is granted a moment of self-insight that they feel will change their lives. As with most revelationery, life-altering moments, the change doesn’t outlive the next mundane demand on their attention.

Towards the end of the book there is a discussion (in a pub – where else) in which an array of main and marginal characters talk about their ambitions to get out or specialise, preferably by the time they’re thirty or at least before forty.

How these characters get on with their plans is indicated at the very end in an amusing, but also rather sad, scene.

If any journalists who formed the models for this story are still alive, they will be in their 70s and 80s and likely looking back wondering what all the sound and fury was about. Those who didn’t make it to so great an age are probably gazing down from the great newsroom in the sky, laughing themselves silly.

Poetry goes political

Two shortlisted poets have pulled out of the T S Eliot prize because the sponsor is an investment firm and hence rampantly capitalist.

The prize money comes from the Eliot family, but the administration costs don’t. Until now the Poetry Book Society has used money from the Arts Council, but that’s gone with the cuts and they’ve had to seek support elsewhere.

There’s a long history of people in the arts supporting left-wing causes and making relevant protests. Most of the publicity has gone to actors: I can recall Marlon Brando refusing an award, and Jane Fonda making her mark as an activist. There have been many others.

There have also been a few right-wing actors – John Wayne and Charlton Heston spring most readily to my mind. During their careers they often played right-wing roles.

Thinking about this made me wonder about the relationship between an actor’s opinions and the roles played. Did Wayne et al start out on the right and choose parts accordingly, or were their political opinions formed by the films they made?

I know of no research into this relationship. Are actors changed by what they play? Are they aware of it? Does the current script cancel out the effects of the last one? Would a year spent playing Hamlet make one mad?

Clouds and poetry online and off


Clouds over central France. Photo by AlanD.

My current bedside table book is The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

I love the whole book: the text that ranges from technical explanations to poetic outbursts, the woodcut-style illustrations that start each section and the summary pages – so useful for a quick revision when a mass of white fluff floats above, defying me to name and classify its parts.

Visiting the Cloud Appreciation Society website, I found enthusiasm for all things cloud, fascinating information and, of course, a mass of spectacular photos.

And there are cloud-poetry pages. Most are in English but there is also a page for Italian Cloud Poetry. I wonder if Italians have a particular affinity for clouds.

On the English pages I admired Ernesto Vargas Rueda‘s poem about possibilities which ends

a dream
could be
ready to condense.

Sue Shaw in If Clouds were Blue has some interesting speculations and a lot of humour.

These are a couple I picked out from the more recently posted. There pages of others to browse through.

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