e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the category “Comment, Opinion, Politics”

Literary quote – from a great woman

Helen KellerThe late, great Helen Keller knew what it was to be left out and overlooked. Like so many others she seems to have found her comfort in books.

Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.

There is a lot in this quote to mull over, but I particularly like the idea of discourse between friends being sweet and gracious. She really had a gift for description.


Centenary year

I did a quick google on ‘centenary’ to see if any literary people of note came up. First time around almost everything was past its sell-by – mostly to do with last year, but some older than that.

I feel a rant coming on!

Why don’t site owners take down out of date stuff?

Nuff said. I tried again with 2014 in the search box.

This time I got a huge number of hits for the start of the First World War. One of them even had ‘celebrations’ in its title. Ugh! Who celebrates war?

It looks as if any other person or thing with a centenary this year is going to have to work hard to get noticed in all the war stuff. One I know about is Dylan Thomas, but I’ll be blogging about him in a later post when I’ve done enough research to sort of do him justice.

Among all the war hits there were a couple of golf ones: Hockley Golf Club and The British Golf Collectors Society. So I went in search of golf poetry. There’s quite a bit of it but most is definitely unserious.

One Gabe Anderson wrote this little gem which is one of the best summaries I’ve seen of anything:

Golf is a great sport
Driver hybrid wedge putter
From tee box to green

Columns and pages – a different look and feel

cover art

For National Short Story Day, Chuffed Buff Books put a series of short story extracts on their website. They are from their recent anthology, You, Me & a Bit of We, and included an extract from my story, Last Funeral but Two.

Natch I went to the site to read the extracts. When reading mine, for a moment I thought they’d changed it. Then I realised that this feeling came from seeing it in a wide column instead of a whole page.

I’m used to seeing my work in pages on screen and on paper, but I’ve never seen it in column form and I was surprised at what a difference that made. The whole feel of the story changed for me – it felt more abrupt and ‘temporary’ and the short lines meant I read it faster but more superficially than usual.

What sort of difference would it make to have it appear as an illustrated manuscript, on a tiny mobile screen, in multiple columns on a scroll one unwound while reading like the ancient Romans had? Is the kind of literature written partly a response to the kind of layout and materials available? I doubt if I’ll ever know, but it’s interesting to speculate that I could make an undying classic just by writing on papyrus.

Monsters and conspiracies

Today is the 80th anniversary of the taking of the first known photos of the Loch Ness monster. The photographer was one Hugh Gray, who did not set out to track the monster, but who seems to have known of its legend. Since then Nessie has been the subject of a mass of literature, has featured in a number of, not very good, photos and has produced fame for several people.

A lot of the Nessie literature seems to me remarkably similar to the products of the conspiracy theory industry. Books, articles, TV and radio shows circle round the ‘could be true but probably aren’t’ tall tales their writers produce.

Do they add anything to literature or knowledge or general culture? Not being a fan of this kind of writing, I can’t really say. The couple of examples I’ve read have produced my non-fandom and I haven’t read any since.

Will we ever know the truth behind the events so studied? To me it would be a relief if the subjects could be put to bed and the world could move on to something else; but I’m not sure everyone would agree with that.

Nobel time

Nobel medal

Tomorrow the Nobel Prizewinner in Literature will be announced. No doubt this is a nervous time for anyone who may be on the list of potentials.

Reading about it and about previous winners made me wonder why there is a prize for literature and not for the other arts. No doubt somewhere in all the bumf on the prizes there’s an explanation, but I haven’t found it.

One reason I can think of is availability. A written work can be produced in thousands of copies, available the world over, and still be the original work – no one expects or wants to read the author’s manuscript. The twentieth edition is still ‘the orginal’.

But for a painting or a piece of sculpture there can be only one. OK copies can be made – but they’re still copies.

No prize for music is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps its dependence on performance and the fact that a bad performance can affect the final decision, makes music a bad candidate. Or perhaps Mr Nobel just wasn’t into music.

Browsing through the Nobel Prize website I found this rule that I didn’t know before:

The names of the nominees cannot be revealed until 50 years later.

So although we’ll know the winner, only the younger people around today will know the ‘losers’. I think that’s a good thing. But I hope the nominees know they’ve been nominated. Even to get that far in such a prestigious competition must do wonders for someone’s self-belief.

Friday Found Poem: Strange-Beautiful Entries in the Index to James Clerk Maxwell’s Scientific Library

I really love both the idea of found poetry and this particular example.

What is paradise like?

I’m indebted to the lovely lady at The Unlikely Bookworm blog for a fascinating quote. She has a list of quotes on her home page and they are all worth considering. The one I’m particularly taken with is from Jorge Luis Borges.

“I have always imagined that paradise will be some kind of library”

I’ve not seen this quote before. I have to admit that such ideas as I have of paradise are pretty conventional: green fields, sunshine, babbling brooks, golden sands, palm trees etc.

Thinking a bit deeper I realise that it wouldn’t be paradise without as many books on as many subjects as I want. But an actual library …

I can’t picture paradise as a building, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t have both an outdoors and an indoors. Or perhaps an outdoor library? Would that work? Having been thoroughly rained on at a number of outdoor theatres, I think probably not – after all, there has to be rain in paradise or there won’t be any flowers.

The speculation is fun, but Borges, like all great writers, suggests ideas beyond simple words. In this case perhaps he’s suggesting that books are a little piece of paradise in the here and now.

Faded fame – Samuel Rogers

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth, in London, of Samuel Rogers – banker, art collector, great conversationalist and rich and generous person, among other things.

I stumbled across mention of this man in my wanderings around the web. I’d never heard of him, but in his lifetime he was famous as a poet. He was even offered the post of poet laureate but by then he was very old and his health was failing so he declined.

Reading about him made me think of fame and the tricks history plays with it. He stood at the peak of the poetry world at one time, but he was of the 18th century with its elevated, classical style poetry. The Romantic poets, most of whom he knew as friends, have long since overshadowed him. Sad, but common – there’s nothing like a major change in fashion for pushing aside the once popular.

In my opinion, what is much sadder is for fame to strike the other way around. How many writers and artists now known to everyone, lived their lives in obscurity and, often, poverty?

I like to think of Mr Rogers taking his last breath, at the age of 92, secure and happy in his reputation.

And he has not been forgotten. There are several websites with information on his life and poetry and his records of his wide circle of important artists and writers have been invaluable to historians.

Most of his poems are very long, but the following one gives a good idea of his style.


Grenville, to thee my gratitude is due
For many an hour of studious musing here,
For many a day-dream, such as hovered round
Hafiz or Sadi; thro’ the golden East,
Search where we would, no fairer bowers than these,
Thine own creation; where, called forth by thee,
“Flowers worthy of Paradise, with rich inlay,
Broider the ground,” and every mountain-pine
Elsewhere unseen (his birth-place in the clouds),
His kindred sweeping with majestic march
From cliff to cliff along the snowy ridge
Of Caucasus, or nearer yet the Moon)
Breathes heavenly music. — Yet much more I owe
For what so few, alas! can hope to share,
Thy converse; when among thy books reclined,
Or in thy garden chair that wheels its course
Slowly and silently thro’ sun and shade,
Thou speak’st, as ever thou art wont to do,
In the calm temper of philosophy;
— Still to delight, instruct, whate’er the theme.

Deaths of literary greats

Every now and then I look through the lists on a website called HistoryOrb. It has a section, Today in History, which lists anniversaries of historical events and the births and deaths of famous people.

Today the list of deaths is far longer than for births. Does that mean we don’t know when some famous people are born? Or that being born on 16th July is not auspicious if one wants to become famous?

One name on the death list caught my eye – Carol Shields. I hadn’t realised that she had died, and was sorry to read that bald statement:

2003 – Carol Shields, Canadian author (b. 1935)

Some years ago I read a couple of her books and found them strange but appealing. I have always had the vague intention of reading more. Now I know that her life’s work is complete.

But it is still available. I can go down the road to the local bookshop or library and savour again the products of a brilliant mind.

It makes me wonder how many other literary greats have slipped out of the world leaving nothing – because they were illiterate, suppressed by culture or politics, or lived so long ago that their books have vanished in fires and floods.

Poetry in dark archives

Browsing through the British Library website, as I do from time to time, I came across an entry entitled A Page but not as We Know It and in it was the following wonderful phrase:

Analytical Access to the Domain Dark Archive

To me it sounded like a cross between the title of a fantasy novel and a line of Anglo-Saxon alliterative poetry. It also seems mysterious and enticing – I’d never heard of dark archives and I imagined  librarians creeping between long shelves of ancient books lit only by a guttering candles (too much Harry Potter here, perhaps).

Actually dark archives are, according to Webopedia, data stores not generally accessible. Access is either restricted to a few people or completely denied. Their main purpose is to act as a back up during disaster recovery. A sensible precaution for any organisation. The Analytical Access is a project of the British Library and several other academic organisations.

This common sense description doesn’t reduce their mysteries. I’d love to know how many there are, what’s in them, who has access to them, who created them.

I bet the CIA has a huge one. Ditto other security services. Then there are the digitisation programmes of major libraries. And don’t companies have them?

What will become of them in the long term if only a few people can care for them? Will they float forever in the electronic ether, lit only occasionally by the computer of a visiting historian? Or will they fade slowly into nothing? If their creators die without telling anyone the passwords, will armies of hackers have to work them out?

Or will they just be deleted?

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