e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the category “Out and about”

Apsley Cherry-Garrard and the world’s worst journey

I wish I was in Buxton to hear this talk. Thank you James Burt for reminding me that the ‘official’ history isn’t all there is.

Buxton Festival

The Odditorium: the tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) includes some amazing characters. Some you’ll have heard of, some you probably won’t. All of them have changed the world, although in some cases the wider world hasn’t noticed yet. They include Joshua Norton, first Emperor of America, and Reginald Bray, who carried out strange experiments with the Royal Mail. I was delighted to be asked to write about Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who is by far my favourite explorer. 

When I was at school, we were often told stories about adventurers and explorers as something to aspire to. Captain Robert Falcon Scott was held up as a great example, bravely sacrificing himself in an attempt to reach the South Pole. As Sara Wheeler once described Antarctica, our southernmost continent often seems to be “a testing-ground for men with frozen beards to see how dead…

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The Poetry Periscope

The periscope

If you’re in Birmingham or Durham over the next couple of months, you should look out for this strange beast.

It’s a sound installation called Poetry Periscope and it’s on a UK tour. It started it’s journey in April as part of the European Literature Festival, and it’s still going – unwearied and cheery in its yellowness.

It plays 30 poems from 30 European cultures. Each is played in its own language and in English translation. To stand in a shopping mall or railway station and listen to all that may be a bit much, but perhaps the commute to work or shopping trip can be enhanced by a couple of the recordings.

In addition to the Festival, a number of organisations are involved with the project including European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC), The Poetry Society and Pianos on the Street.

Travels of the imagination

1743363664.01.ZTZZZZZZBrowsing around the web I discovered a site called TripFiction, dedicated to reviewing books about places. The suggestion is that, if you have a trip planned, it’s a good idea to read stories set in that place before or during (or after for that matter) your visit.

I agree that this is a great and unstressful way of learning things about a place that you won’t learn from a guidebook. You’ll also learn about the author’s view of that place – does it matter if this colours your response when you actually arrive and see the real McCoy?

Guidebooks have their own appeal – they usually have the most enticing photographs. Only in children’s stories, like the Mr Chicken books, will you find pictures of your destination. I often browse the travel section in bookshops or libraries, just to imagine the journeys that I’ll quite likely never make – and in some cases wouldn’t want to.

Reading the reviews on TripFiction reminded me of another travel related site, Poetry Atlas which claims

everywhere on earth has a poem written about it

and gives numerous examples – some places, particularly the great cities, have huge numbers of poems about them.

 

Evening song

Bird on roof

 

The blackbird’s song flows
through an evening garden; today
ends musically.

From Mimi Matthews blog – Jane Eyre and the Legendary Gytrash

An excellent demon for your next horror story. And a literary one, with contacts in Jane Eyre and Harry Potter.

Mimi Matthews

Snarling dog from Darwin's Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872.(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)Snarling dog from Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

According to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, a Gytrash is a goblin or spirit which takes the form of a horse, mule, or large dog.  Typically found in the North of England, the Gytrash “haunted solitary ways” and often surprised unwary travelers as they journeyed alone in the dusk.  Jane Eyre herself encounters what she believes to be a Gytrash one bleak, January evening as she is walking from Thornfield Hall to post a letter in the nearby village of Hay.  Alerted to its arrival by a loud, clattering noise, Jane observes:

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Poetry of leap years and days

Thirty days has September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
Which has twenty-eight days clear
And twenty-nine in each leap year.

I was reminded of this old rhyme when I switched on my computer this morning and realised that I’d forgotten the leap year.

We get a whole extra day – to do what? In my case much as I always do; write, cook, gardening – perhaps not today as it’s so cold, read – currently A Killing Frost by R D Wingfield and fiddle about – something I’m good at.

I thought I’d see if anyone has commemorated this calendrical oddity in verse.

Hello Poetry has a section on leap year poetry. Some of the poems don’t seem to have much to do with the date, but perhaps something that only occurs occasionally stimulates the imagination to look at other rare happenings.

Let’s be like leap year.
Let’s leap through time

A nice idea from Monkey Zazu.

Reading Juice is well into the spirit of things with all kinds of leaping, not just the day. Kangaroos, frogs, crickets and others get in on the leaping, hopping, jumping act.

The only serious poem on the subject I’ve come across so far is Jane Hirshfield‘s Ode to the Leap Day on Brainpickings site.

Light on the subject – but what kind?

Today I logged into Wordnik for the first time in many months. As you can guess, if you don’t already know it, Wordnik is about words – finding, gathering, listing, sharing, commenting.

Browsing through my collection I was reminded of the words I’d garnered in the past, including one of my favourites: lucubratory. This word has two meanings that may of may not be related. One is laborious or painstaking. The other is much more poetic; composed by candlelight or by night or pertaining to night studies.

A special word for composed by candlelight!candle-197248__180

I imagine an old-time sage painstakingly writing out poems or music (or both – maybe he’s a singer/songwriter) by the light of a guttering and smelly candle; which is all he can afford until people recognise his genius and reward him accordingly. Preferably while he’s still around to enjoy it.

Are there words for composed by torchlight or electric-light? Do we need them?

Composed by moonlight is a beautiful thought: shall we call it lunabratory?  I suspect even a determined sage would find it difficult to see well enough by the moon alone.

Perhaps fairies compose by firefly light, and mermaids by deep-sea squid light.

On a more serious note, is writing or composing affected by the kind of light used? Do candles encourage the romantic and halogen the aggressive? I think it likely to have an effect, but I also think it would be both individual and very subtle.

National Libraries Day

Today is National Libraries Day and all over the country libraries are holding special events.

nld-logoIn my opinion a nation’s libraries are a major national treasure. Among other actions, they spread culture, provide a quiet place for the hassled to sit and recover their calm, and store the thinking and creativity of the past.

The also provide pleasant and worthwhile employment – or used to before austerity started harassing everyone.

While it’s the public libraries that are most active today, I like to imagine all the others joining in, in spirit at least. Universities spring to mind of course, but companies, hospitals, government departments, charities, all have their libraries and people to look after them – often volunteers or employees librarianing (I’m a writer – I’m allowed to invent new words!) in addition to their main job.

I’ll be off to my local library this afternoon, and this evening I’ll raise a glass of gin and tonic to all those people who care for our books, journals, CDs, and old papers.

Haiku in Spain

I’ve been away on and off for over a month, which is why there’s been no action on this blog. I plan to get back into posting and sharing from now on.

First, a belated Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope you’ve had a great winter so far.

Orange tree

While roaming around the sunny streets in southern Spain and looking for subjects for haiku, it occurred to me that the haiku I’m familiar with all come from further north; from autumn harvests and snowy winters. This isn’t a necessary feature of any poetry, so I looked again at where I was and what was around.

The year’s shortest day;
oranges ripen under
blue and cloudless skies.

 

Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts

I never knew there are special literary archives. What a treasury!
I’m also amazed at the quantity of material some archives hold. I hope anyone in the Manchester area gets a chance to visit the exhibition described here.

University of Cambridge Museums

GLAM – the Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts – celebrated its tenth anniversary in October with a meeting at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. The Fitzwilliam Museum is a member of GLAM due to its fine holdings of literary manuscripts, including autograph manuscripts of Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. GLAM’S aim is to support all forms of literary archives and it unites professionals working in a variety of institutions: national bodies (The National Archives), universities, museums, local authorities, and special repositories.  With such a wide base of members, it is ideally placed to provide a support network for professionals working in the field of literary archives and one of its most significant achievements has been to produce cataloguing guidelines and a thesaurus.

Meetings of GLAM are usually held biannually and include presentations on…

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