Things That Made Me Happy in March

Holidays!

Yes, I know I complained they were a bit too long and that the children drove me crazy, but we did finally go skiing every day. Always better in retrospect than when you are living through it!

March1 March2

A Cat

A very well-behaved, affectionate and quiet friend.

With her friend Hedgehog.
With her friend Hedgehog.

The first signs of Spring in my garden

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Reading

More varied and fun reading this month, although, surprisingly, not as many translations.

3 non-fiction books:

Ben Hatch: Road to Rouen

A hilarious travel journal from hell, France in a car with two small children in tow: a great fun read, perhaps just a little unfair to the French, but also hugely revealing about the English abroad.

Rachel Cusk: Aftermath. On Marriage and Separation.

Brigid Schulte:  Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time

Although this book does feel culturally specific (US working culture and time-poverty mindset is perhaps the most extreme example in the world), there was much here I could relate to: the confetti of minuscule leisure time slots, the mind pollution of endless to-do-lists that do not allow us to get into the flow, the ideal worker vs. the ideal mother, competitive parenting, gender division of labour. The author backs up her thesis with both research findings and personal anecdotes. This book deserves a review of its own, especially given that it is the ‘theme’ (if there is one) of my blog: not  finding time to write.

2 foreign books:

Fuminori Nakamura: The Thief

Another book that deserves its own review. I found it moving, nuanced, slightly disturbing and surprisingly lyrical, given the subject matter.

Daniel Bardet: Le Boche (first 5 volumes of BD – graphic novel)

Fascinating insight into war-time France, from the perspective of an Alsatian man, hounded everywhere because he is neither German nor French enough.

1 poetry collection:

Michael Symmons Roberts: Drysalter

1 literary novel:

Claire King: The Night Rainbow – beautifully lyrical recreation of a French countryside childhood – with deep shadows.

6 crime fiction novels (all in English in the original – how very unusual!)

Cara Black: Murder in Pigalle

Sarah Caudwell: Thus Was Adonis Murdered

I was looking for a change of pace this month and I got it with this novel: charmingly old-fashioned, with most of the action taking place ‘off-stage’ and being disclosed to Hilary Tamar and his/her team of barristers via letters. It’s a nice set puzzle, and there is plenty of witty dialogue and banter to liven things up, but I can see how this book might be accused of elitism, it does feel like an extended Oxbridge joke.

Liam McIlvanney: Where the Dead Men Go

Sarah Hilary: Someone Else’s Skin

Harry Bingham: Talking to the Dead

WolfMo Hayder: Wolf

I started this latest Mo Hayder on Saturday, not really expecting it to make it into this month’s reading. But I had to finish it overnight, it was so compelling (after a rather slow start, admittedly). A family being held hostage in their holiday home, a psychopathic killer who may or may not have been released from prison and Jack Caffery trying to figure out what a tiny message on a lost dog could possibly mean. Hayder’s trademark creepiness and nearly unbearable suspense, very chilling, completely mesmerising. Not for the faint of heart!

 

 

 

 

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Poetry Review: Drysalter

DrysalterI enjoy reading poetry very much, but seldom read it systematically, an entire volume of poems carefully conceived and published as an architectural creation by one single poet. And it’s even more rare that I actually review such a book when I do read it. So I’ll try to remedy this now.

Michael Symmons Roberts has won the Forward Prize for the best poetry collection of 2013 with ‘Drysalter’, a volume of 150 sonnet-like, rather metaphysical poems. But don’t be put off by its apparent obscurity: there are many beautiful, touching and immediately accessible poems in this volume.

I did not know what a drysalter was (an 18th century dealer in chemicals, salts and dyes, apparently), but there is a poem in this collection called ‘Wetsalter’, which speaks of all the pain and wounds an over-sensitive soul must endure. Perhaps the poet himself.

So here’s the rub: his salt, your skin.

He flays you first, then kneads it in.’

But then self-irony kicks in, there is no time nor patience for weeping and wailing:

but cured you are, prosciutto-man

your self preserved in perma-tan

It is this irreverent mix which makes such a strong initial impression: modern concepts, words with shock-factor writ large, technology creeping in at the seams and jostling alongside old-fashioned cadences, the psalmodic quality of the work, the titles and forms of the poems themselves, each perfectly executed on a single page. A rich tapestry of vocabulary, ranging from mentions of sonnets, cobalt, thou and portents to hymns dedicated to cars, photo-booths or karaoke machines.

There are echoes of John Milton or Donne to many of the verses: ‘essence of turmoil I plead and I pester’ or ‘you start and finish me, you’re my extent’ or ‘slowly, come slowly, o agents of despair/ paint the sky with portents, number my regrets’.  Just as you get caught in the beauty of the rhythm and the language, the poet turns suddenly towards the resolutely modern. ‘Email me the date’, he asks of you or states quietly ‘the resting actor hunts down his demons in the pool’.

There are three recurring themes or landscapes in this volume of poetry, all interconnected yet distinct.

1) A grey winter (English winter, which means relentless November most times), a landscape of storms, abandonment and ruins, with flaked brick walls, lit cars flashing by, but also a hint of hope, in the shape of wind-sorrell and willowherb growing amidst the concrete.

2) The desert, both physical and metaphorical: canyons with snakes and scorpions, the villas backing onto the empty, the crack that lets the desert in, tumbleweed rattling in the wind, the blanked, orphaned, vacant set of Hollywood life.

3) A post-apocalyptic world gouged by invisible fires, where you feel pursued by a guild of salters, both wet and dry, where none of the rules or normal signs make sense. You have to work out ‘what the sea could want from us’, you feel dessicated, as if ‘somebody is after me, gaining miles a day/ and unlike me they never stop to sleep.’

poetryfoundation.org
poetryfoundation.org

But it would be wrong to see just angst and despair in these grim landscapes, although the overall feel of these poems is grim and disquieting. There are some beautiful instances of trust and love, the comfort of personal relationships, such as in ‘The Vows’. Ultimately, it feels like Michael Symmons Roberts has tried to take a world which has broken into fragments ‘a world more fragile than we thought’ and put it back together to the best of his ability, with nothing wasted. There are many references to song, psalms and elegies in this collection, as a way of making sense of a world only partially perceived and understood. “Sing as if singing made sense,/ sing in the caves of your heart.’ He seeks to convey all the variety and richness of emotions, the original fury of words, a diversity of experiences until

…one day the world drops into your hands

like a bruised fruit, a-buzz with what you take

for wasps, but is in truth all human life.’

And, ultimately, is that not what all poetry is about? Trying to capture multitudes, forever seeking and asking questions, trusting to find and save a thin glimmer of truth for all time. A book to savour and return to, in times of plenitude and times of despair, like all good poetry.