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A day of reading –reading does make you happier

When was the last time you spent all of most of your day immersed in a book? Last week, last month or back when you were a teenager? I expe...

Saturday, 29 July 2017

It's all Greek - reading Greek poetry

Having recently discovered the work of Yannis Ritsos, through his Diaries of Exile I've been reading a couple of anthologies of work by twentieth century poets from Greece. This is thanks to the Poetry Library on the South Bank in London.

I began with Six Modern Greek Poets, edited and translated by John Stathatos and published in the UK by Oasis books. The names of the poets were familiar; George Seferis, Takis Sinopoulos, Yannis Ritsos and some less familiar Aris Alexandrou and as I was pleased to see one female poet, Eleni Vakalo. Ritsos remained one of my favourites with his short poems that contain the whole of a life, like 'Return of  Deserter

He'd felt uneasy these last days, as though he were a sentry who'd deserted
leaving the town unguarded.

I was moved by the poetry of Takis Sinopoulos. These are war poems and Sinopoulos was a doctor who served during the occupation of Greece in the 1940s and the civil war which followed. The impact of the horrors in evident in poems like The Beheading and Deathfeast through which the dead move like ghosts. He discusses his work in an interview in 1980, the year before he died.


... Gradually as they had come, they disappeared,
took to the valley, scattering in the wind.
For the last time I watched them, called to them.
The fire sank to the ground and from the windows came - 
How just a single star can make the night navigable.
How in the empty church is the unknown dead anointed
his body laid to rest among the flowers. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Poets let loose in the Natural History Museum

Thanks to the Poetry School and John McCullough I spent a Saturday at the end of May ransacking the Natural History Museum for poems.

My day began early and I was even offered Prosecco on the train into London after I’d unwittingly joined a hen party as they had a spare seat in their midst. They were happy and giggly and two of them were going to London for the first time. It was a lovely start to the day although I did decline the alcohol.

I paid a brief visit to the Imperial War Museum and then sat in a nearby café with a hot chocolate and a poem to be edited. This one was inspired by the exhibitions featuring the work of Claude Cahun at Oxford Brooks University and the National Portrait Gallery

Then it was off to Lambeth Walk to begin the process of immersion. We considered the work of poets who had been there before; including Kate Clanchy's The Natural History Museum from Samarkand (1999)
“They are glassed and boxed like childhood.”

Rita Dove’s The Fish in the Stone and Anne Carson’s Audubon. The first exercise was to plunder our memories to find the most memorable museums and exhibits. Mine were all recent as nothing seemed to have stuck from childhood until I remembered the mummified corpse in the Norfolk and Norwich Museum.

The second group of poems were Relic of Memory by Seamus Heaney from Door into the Dark, Museum of the Forest by Matthew Francis and Claire Trevien’s The Museum of Water. 

I found Museum of the Forest surreal and wonderful and it led beautifully into the second exercise.... 

The Natural History Museum was busy, as it was Saturday afternoon but I kept to the brief of focusing on the particular and before long I had left the crowds behind and found parts of the Museum I didn't know about. As well as taking lots of notes I took photographs as prompts

 Here are just a few examples and now I have until the start of July to turn my notes into poems.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Out and About and Weekend Reading

This blog post was going to begin with welcoming the warmer more summery weather and the chance to get out and about but we've had heavy rain for the last couple of days and the temperature has dropped.

Nonetheless I have been on various writing and poetry excursions recently with more planned for June and July.

First I'd like to mention the wonderful Westbury Arts Centre in Milton Keynes and the 'Time to Write' sessions hosted by writer in residence, Karen Littleton. In return for a modest fee you can spend the whole of a Sunday afternoon writing in the drawing room with plentiful supplies of tea and cake. There is something magical about giving yourself permission to write and by the end of the last session I had five poems, a new poem and revisions of four others. 
I was back at Westbury last Thursday for the May soiree, listening to Heart Strings and being won oer by their playing, particularly Karl Jenkins Palladio. Four of us including Karen shared our poems with an attentive audience and the evening ended with The Sofa Ensemble, who brought the house down. 

I have another reading coming up on 15th June at the City Pride pub near Farringdon with Katy Evans-Bush and members of her Thursday Advanced Poetry workshop. 

Meanwhile I've been reading Poems of the Great War a handy pocket sized book for the War and Literature readalong. 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Friday Poetry and Happy Weekend - Ritsos, Gebbie, Jenkins and Kinsella

I've been reading novels recently and it has been a while since I wrote about poetry reads so I'm glad to get back to it.

I have three poetry books on the go at present; Diaries of Exile by Yannis Ritsos, Memorandum poems for the fallen by Vanessa Gebbie and Marine by Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella.

It's thanks to the work of translators Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley that I've discovered the work of Yannis Ritsos. He wrote the poems in Diaries of Exile between 1948 and 1950 which he was a political prisoner. They illuminate the life around in the prison camp and the hopes and fears of the prisoners. The poems become shorter and shorter as his exile continues. I wonder if he was running out of energy, or perhaps there was less paper or conditions had become harsher or all of these things. I admire anyone for writing under these conditions.

During May I've been re-reading Memorandum, by my friend and fellow poet, Vanessa. As has been told before we wrote poems inspired by the Frist World War alongside each other but though the poems in the book are familiar I find like all the finest work you gain a new perspective by going back and re-reading them. Vanessa's book is one of the choices for May's War and Literature Readalong.

My other book is Marine, published by Enitharmon Press in 2015. It resulted from an unplanned collaboration between Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella who discovered they were both writing poems inspired by the sea. My favourite poem so far after a rapid first read is Albatross (after Baudelaire)

Monday, 27 March 2017

A Midshipman’s Tale – Operation Pedestal Malta Convoy 1942 by M K MccGwire

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Lucinda Neall to the blog today. Lucinda is the daughter of Michael MccGwire who was a midshipman in 1942 and served on the H.M.S Rodney during Operation Pedestal. He later went on to have a distinguished  career as an academic after serving in the Royal Navy. Lucinda is a writer, coach, communications guru and mostly recently a publisher with her own press, Leaping Boy Press. Their latest book is A Midshipman’s Tale so I asked Lucinda if she could tell me about the process of transforming her father’s Journal into a book.

At what point and why did you consider making this available as a book?

In 2004 when he was eighty-four Dad was reminiscing about his life at sea and he found his journal and typed up the parts which were about Operation Pedestal, the four days which he spent with the convoy en route to Malta. He typed it up properly with annotations and footnotes  (he was an academic after his naval career) and sent it to me and my brothers and sisters. As far as he was concerned the job was done once he’d completed the typescript.

Some years later and during a regular visit to see her parents Lucinda and her husband Peter spotted the original Midshipman’s Journal on a table. They both read it from cover to cover. It provides a moment by moment account of the convoy, as seen through the eyes of a seventeen year-old midshipman, and is illustrated with hand-drawn maps.

Lucinda says ‘in the meantime I’d become a publisher, with my books about bringing up boys and I’d published the books which my Mum wrote for us as children, so I was in a position to do something for Dad. I wanted to do it properly and originally intended to do this while he was still alive but with his health failing that was not to be.

So what gave you the final impetus to publish the book?

Lucinda says ‘Dad died in March 2016 and I had so many emails and messages from people about how much they had respected and looked up to Dad. Many were from people who were much younger than him which made me understand how many people he’d mentored and supported. Publishing his book felt like giving them a gift.'

H.M.S. Eagle 11th August 1942

Caroline adds
I was grateful to Lucinda and her Dad for letting me read his journal shortly after my book, Convoy, was published and while he was still fit and well. We had a telephone conversation about the Operation Pedestal convoy during which he explained to me how paravanes worked. He was self deprecating about his journal which he said were 'two a penny' as every midshipman had to write one. I had no doubt that he put far more work into his and was a better writer than many of his fellow seamen.
One of my favourite parts of the journal was from the afternoon of August 11th when they'd just settled down to enjoy the lovely weather. He writes

" Glancing idly round the convoy, I noticed that the Eagle was making rather a lot of smoke and was about to add a caustic comment when it seemed to me that she was taking a list to port. And so she was. While we watched she gradually heeled over until her flight deck was awash and then she paused before finally subsiding beneath the sea 4 mins 17 secs after she was hit. ....
This event sobered up the ship [Rodney] most noticeably."

Was the process of getting the journal into print straight-foward?

Lucinda - Well I wasn’t actually sure if I was allowed to publish the contents of the journal as technically it belonged to the Ministry of Defence. It should have been handed in at the end of his training but, for reasons which are in the book. it wasn't. I asked the advice of  Sir Derek Thomas who knew Dad from when they worked at the British Embassy in Moscow, who put me in touch with the Archives Collections Officer at the National Royal Navy Museum.I sent some scanned pages from the journal and eventually received the message

This is just to confirm I have heard from the records review team. There is absolutely no issue with publishing any of this material.

I  also wanted to include Dad's drawings and had invaluable help from Deborah Hawkins and Rebecca Chapman who assisted me with the graphics and helped make it stunning. And Professor Eric Grove, naval historian, agreed to write a historical context for the journal.

Editor’s note – it is as close as you can get to holding the original journal and the cover has the hand-drawn map of the route of the convoy, together with little drawings of whales and winds.

Who is the audience for the book?

Anyone with an interest in the Second World War and its naval history. It also gives you a picture of what it was like to be a seventeen year old in 1942 and it is about real people and their experiences, emotions and thoughts.

Where can people buy it?

Via the links on the book’s page, to Hive, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Waterstones.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

A rare public screening of the 1916 Battle of the Somme film

The Poetry School has been given permission by the Imperial War Museum for a public screening of the Battle of the Somme film at the Cinema Museum, London on Saturday 4th February 2017.   
A group of ten poets, including myself, guided by Simon Barraclough and Julia Bird, have been working on poems written in response to the film.  The poems have been woven together into a script for us to perform on Saturday before the film is shown.

I’m currently learning my lines. My poems feature a dog which you glimpse for a couple of moments in the film running alongside the columns of marching men, and Lt Geoffrey Malins who was one of the two cinematographers who made the film ready for its first screening on 10th August 1916. The Battle continued until November of that year and the silent black and white film was seen by twenty million people.

My fellow poets are Anna Kisby, Chrissy Williams, Eleanor Penny, Jo Young, John Haney, Patricia Ace, Roy McFarlane, Steve Kendall and Sue Burge. As I work through the script I've been marvelling at how much has been included and the different approaches that people have taken. . It feels like an honour and a privilege to be taking part.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Friday Poetry from Choman Hardi - Considering the Women

Today I've gone back to Choman Hardi's Considering the Women.
An important book with a central sequence of poems about the Anfal genocide of the Kurds in 1988 in which over a hundred thousand people were killed. I have heard her read twice at Aldebugh and in London at the Poet's quest for peace. There are two sequences on youtube of her reading from Considering the Women
and an earlier interview about the importance of poetry.