e a m harris

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Archive for the category “Books”

Poetry Book Society choice

Kingdomland cover artA few days ago I received the Poetry Book Society Spring choice – Rachael Allen‘s Kingdomland.

I haven’t had time to fully read, let alone digest, all the poems, but the ones I’ve looked at so far are very impressive.

The language is robust with strong stresses and wild, sometimes uncomfortable, images: would you

… just lie down
my ribs opened up in the old town square
and let the pigs root through my chest.

However, I do like the idea of having a

… purple name.

I’m looking forward to the poems I haven’t reached yet.

 

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Memoir and mystery

Secret Orchard coverWho is Muriel and what happened to her to turn her life into a dysfunctional calamity and threaten to do the same to her children? Even at the end of this memoir, set in London in the early to mid 20th century, we have no certainties, only likelihoods.

Muriel’s character was full of discords: in peacetime she was a needy drunk, but in two world wars she was efficient, hardworking and willing to take her work to the front line.

Diana Petre was her daughter and struggled with a confused and chaotic upbringing. But her book is anything but chaotic; in a plain but very clear style she analyses events and feelings, keeps track of several lives and gives us a clear vision of her mother and of Roger Ackerley, her father.

This book is part memoir and part ‘true story’ mystery, and even though the mystery is only partly solved, it is a satisfying read.

The Forgotten Kingdom by Peter Goullart

I’ve just finished reading this book and can recommend it to anyone interested in a different, beautiful world.

Fleeing the Russian revolution, the author ended up in China and finally in Lijiang in Yunnan province in the late 30s and 40s, where he worked for the government in the Co-operative Movement. He was there for nine years before fleeing again, this time from the Communists.

photo of Nakhi dancerIn the forgotten kingdom of the Nakhi people he seems to have found his true home: the people were friendly and cheerful, the area was beautiful, wildlife plentiful, he made many friends and had enough work to feel fruitfully occupied.

This is not a travel book, he was not passing through but lived the life of a local person. It is more a memoir of a time and a world that no longer exist. Goullart describes the area as a paradise on Earth, despite the bandits and diseases. Whether the people he knew there felt the same will now never be known.

 

Picture: Amazon

Poetry Book Society Choice: Venus as a Bear

My Poetry Book Society choice for this summer has arrived. Its title is a challenge to start with – do bears and Venus have any relationship?cover art

The book has been widely reviewed and with good reason. I haven’t had time to read it thoroughly yet, but, as one expects from Vahni Capildeo, the poems I have read make me think.

For instance, very few poets deal with the subject of pets. Capildeo doesn’t cover the cuteness or amusingness of domestic creatures, but what it means to be a pet and the deep relationship between two species. Many other poems deal with animals and plants in their natural or semi-natural state. Then there are the places: the roads, the seas, the foreign, the homes.

This is a wide-ranging collection and I’ll be reading it for some time.

June reading

Thanks to The Little Red Reviewer for interesting and insightful reviews. I haven’t read any of these books, but might be tempted – if I ever get the time.

the Little Red Reviewer

June, where did you go? Last I checked it was June 2nd, how is it already July??   I didn’t post many reviews in June, but I did get a lot of reading done.  Some of these I’ll write reviews for, some of them will get a capsule review in this post.  Here’s what I was up to this month:

I finished this fun little gem:

Spock Must Die is the famous novel where thanks to a transporter malfunction, the Enterprise now has two Spocks. Which one is the “real” one? What will they do with the other one? When war breaks out at the Klingon border, the importance of solving the mystery ratchets up. Even when Kirk is sure which Spock is the true, original Spock, he insists on calling his friend “Spock Two”. When questioned why, Kirk responds that by saying “two” every time he says his friend’s name…

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Found poem – Party On

Pleasure pavilion

My motto is

Keep calm and party on

so, when I found in The Art of the Chinese Gardens (published by China Travel & Tourism) a lot of place names associated with inviting guests, drinking wine and generally being sociable, I knew I must make a poem out of them.

The result is below. It may actually be more a semi-found poem as the short connecting lines are my invention.

Party On

Once, in the
Twilight of the Setting Sun
Near
The Sunlight Welcoming Pavilion
In our
Garden of Harmonious Delight,
Guests arrived,

Through
The Gate for Inviting the Moon,
Into
The Pavilion for Bestowing Wine –
Pearl of Shichahai.

They chattered in
The Pavilion for Enjoying the Scenery
Danced in
The Hall of Cheerful Melodies:
Our
Places of Mutual Affinity.

Later we left
The Moon Inviting Terrace
For
The Tower of Clear Voice
In
The Musical Gully.

Today
The Solitary Hill
And
Snow on the Broken Bridge.

The original of the  picture is in the Walters Art Museum. The picture is creative commons from Flickr.

‘Cold Comfort Farm’ by Stella Gibbons – very inventive

92780I’ve just finished reading Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and I’m wondering how I didn’t read it before. No one told me it had beautifully written descriptions (and I’m not a lover of description usually). Nor had I known that it’s full of lovely neologisms and dialect; who could resist cowdling a mommet or inhaling the perfume of the sukebind. You could even teazle a scranlet, though it might be uncomfortable.

The book, written in the 1930s, is a satire on the rural misery novels popular at the time. But like any good satire it stands on its own and doesn’t require familiarity with the likes of Mary Webb.

The heroine, Flora, orphaned at twenty and with very little money, accepts an invitation to live with her relatives at Cold Comfort Farm. She arrives to find the farm in chaos and its numerous inhabitants filled with angst, misery, regret and a good many other horrible emotions. Instead of joining the doom, gloom and victimhood, Flora sets to work to overturn the current malaise and sort out her relatives lives.

One of the things I particularly liked about this book is that it’s a tale of success. Through hard work and cunning Flora succeeds in setting up her various aunts, uncles and cousins with the kinds of life they really want. She then falls into the arms of a handsome, rich man – but don’t expect traditional romance, this is satire.

The book was filmed in the 1990s and one day I hope to see this version.

Cover art from Goodreads.

On re-reading ‘The Rattle Bag’

7fb35406cc300cf593138475541434f414f4141For my late night reading lately I’ve been re-reading The Rattle Bag, a poetry anthology edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. Apparently the original intention was a collection aimed at the young or new poetry reader, but it doesn’t shirk serious subjects like death, love or loneliness. I love it and, to judge by the reviews around the web, so do many other not-so-young people.

Here is a collection of poems to which the term ‘quirky’ seriously applies, though there are plenty of ‘normal’ poems for readers who like their quirky in moderate doses.

On a more serious level the book goes to the edge of what poetry is, both in subject and form: midnight mice, no punctuation and horses eating violins crowd together with the more traditional.

One of the innovations is to arrange the poems alphabetically by title. This means that the usual pattern of date or subject is broken up. Sylvia Plath is on the same page as Shakespeare, while a pet cat precedes a pilgrim.

I’ve had this book for some years (it was published in 2005) and have read most of the poems already, some several times. However, this time I’ve had a serious look at the glossary at the back.

Many of the entries are dialect or archaic terms I already knew, and some I don’t really want to know: should I care that a danegun is an “old firearm, fairly primitive”?

But there are plenty of new-to-me words to enjoy. I’ve seen many solons (gannets) in my time, but have never met a goney (albatross). As I write the gullies (seagulls) are squawking outside. I didn’t know a rack was a cloud in the upper air and I wonder if, like other clouds, it can be scrowed (streaked).

One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun tr.Jung Yewon

Korean literature is new to me. I’ve just bought this book and look forward to reading it. I don’t generally go for romance, but this sounds intriguing.

My thanks to the author of blog Word by Word for drawing my attention to it.

Word by Word

oe-hundred-shadowsEthereal, dream-like, accepting of their fate. South Korean working class literature.

Two young people work in an electronics market and slowly develop a friendship.

We meet Eungyo as she is following her shadow, causing her to become separated from the group she is with. Mujae follows her and stops her. Shadows rise and seem to lure one to follow it, something that others try to prevent, for it feels death-like.

Although it is never explained the constant mention of human shadows and their various behaviours provoke the reader’s imagination to ascribe meaning. Ill health and approaching death cause it to rise, and perhaps thoughts, reaching the limit of what one is able to endure. One shouldn’t follow it.

Their bond is formed as the environment within which they work is threatened with demolition. There is a subtle interdependency between the market traders, repairing and selling electronics, so when people who…

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Bird words

51umy7zgnll-_sx328_bo1204203200_I’ve just bought a lovely little book: A Conspiracy of Ravens compiled by Samuel Fanous.

It’s a list of collective nouns for birds. Apparently, creating these words was a pastime of hunters in times past. Now, thankfully, they are the province of word-hunters looking for novel ways of describing the world.

I’ve known a gaggle of geese and a murmuration of starlings since childhood, but most of the collectives in this book are new to me: a fling of dunlins; a pitch of orioles; a raft of auks! I wish I could think of a literary use for them.

Some of the names are so fitting. How about a paddling of ducks or an ostentation of peacocks? And some, like a bellowing of bullfinches, make me laugh.

With an interesting forward by Bill Oddie and woodcut illustrations by Thomas Bewick, this book is a real gem.

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