Book Haul April 2017: Making Up for Lost Time

For the first three months of the year, I was on a book-buying ban, loosely participating in the TBR Double Dog Dare challenge on James Reads Books blog. I didn’t quite get to read that many from my TBR pile because a lot of ARCs came in for review, but by and large I managed to resist book buying temptations, with the exception of Lyon. However, since that was right on the last day of March, I consider that a success!

From griffith.edu.au

Since then, I may have succumbed *a little* to book splurges. I blame FictionFan for not bestowing her Queen of Willpower Medal on me! I blame Tony for sharing a picture on Twitter of his lovely Japanese novellas from Strangers Press, based at Norwich University. You too can get them here: Keshiki – New Voices from Japan. I also blame the other Tony for his rant about the Best Translated Book Award shortlist for ordering Chronicle of the Murdered House by LĂşcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books). Neither of these two orders have arrived yet, so I can fool myself that there will still be room on the shelves for them.

However, when I tell you that the 25 vintage Penguin classics which I ordered from World of Rare Books are still patiently lined up by the desk, awaiting shelving, you will realise that I may have overdosed on books recently.

But how could I resist a special offer on the Penguins – a surprise bundle of 25 titles? It was mostly the orange fiction series (John Wyndham, Somerset Maugham, Nancy Mitford, Charlotte Bronte), but there were also a few greens (crime fiction by Christianna Brand, Holly Roth and Erle Stanley Gardner) and some unusual finds, such as Passages from Arabia Deserta, a sort of travelogue/anthropological study by Victorian travelling gentleman Charles M. Doughty; a biography of G. K. Chesterton by Maisie Ward;a strange little genre-straddling memoir by Richard Jefferies The Story of My Heart, which looks like a prose poem with wood engravings by Gertrude Hermes; two novels about the British Empire in India by now-forgotten novelist (and former colonel) John Masters; and a book by Peter Wildeblood Against the Law, ‘a first-hand account of what it means to be a homosexual and to be tried in a controversial case and imprisoned’, published in 1955.

The final two books I felt obliged to buy attracted me for different reasons. The first, Rumba Under Fire, edited by Irina Dumitrescu (Punctum Books), was because of its content. It is a collection of essays, poems, prose, interviews about what it means to do ‘art’ in times of crisis. Can art and intellectual work really function as a resistance to power? How do works created during times of extremes of human endurance fit into our theories of knowledge and creativity – can we even attempt to understand them from our privileged and comfy positions? There is quite broad geographical representations here: Bosnia, Romania, Congo, Turkey, Afghanistan, World War 2 concentration camps, India and Pakistan.

The collaboration between poet Derek Walcott and painter Peter Doig Morning, Paramin (Faber & Faber) is pure indulgence. Each double page spread features a poem and a painting, calling out to each other, answering and completing each other. The one to blame here is Melissa Beck, who reviewed this so magnificently on her blog.

While commenting on the review, we connected with Anthony Anaxagorou on Twitter, who asked if we would be interested in reviewing two books of poetry from Outspoken Press, which he promptly sent along. The first is To Sweeten Bitter by Raymond Antrobus, the second Dogtooth by Fran Lock. You can expect to read reviews of both of these very soon.

New Take on Unforgettable (Poetry)

Like honey melting on your tongue… the delicious sounds of Nat King Cole singing Unforgettable.

With apologies for subverting those lovely words and heavenly voice, here is a poem which I wrote with that music (and that landscape) in the background. I’m linking it up to dVerse Poets for the Open Link Night.

Fallen trees, from creeklife.com

Incompatible…

… that’s what we are…

We never danced in rhythm, it’s true,
no ballroom twirls or tango glottal stops for you
suffering in brief acquiescence
for the rewards at the end.

You were fast and harsh, I fell for you
out of nostalgia for my previous dance partner
the tall, dark, unattainable one.
So we came together
went out together
grew apart together.

All the art you didn’t see, all the music you made me switch off.
All the books you didn’t read, all the video games I had to watch.

No one ever changes, they say,
but I know I sprout daily
in all directions.
It would only be a matter of time
before we entwined once more into fresh landscapes
I whispered to myself, oh wistful, oh longing.

But now…

all the forks in forest paths we didn’t take,
all the branches we didn’t climb
all the logs we hid behind
until we jumped over them and stopped caring.

You squeezed the music out of heavenly spheres,
you sapped neutrinos of their poetry.
robbed dark matter of its mystery,
tested me on the law of gravity.

Twenty years I’ve listened to you drone
like the exhaust of those Bugattis you admire so much.

And now I sit and ogle at men twenty years younger.

As if life ever gave one second chances.

Having Fun with Poetry

I’m not participating in NaPoWriMo, as it’s too busy with work and children’s holidays accumulating this month. But I continue to write poetry as often as I can, even if I don’t always feel inspired. One good way to get into the groove is to play around with words, as if I were doing Scrabble or crosswords. The result is no masterpiece, but a great way to loosen up and perhaps produce better work in the following hour. Here is an example, where each verse starts with a letter of the alphabet, and I allowed some of the recent news to take over my subconscious.

Alphanumerical Fancies 

Aardvark primogeniture, he exudes all the confidence.

Barely born, he knows best,

Campaigns for privilege to remain untouched,

Dares others to get a word in edgeways.

Events all too graphic are kept from his gaze,

For ignorance is blissful,

Grovelling amiss, unless it is done well.

Hate-filled discourse seeps through filters

Into public space.

Jealous of those audience figures?

Know that it is not in vain, how easily

Like buttons are pressed

More substance and depth not required

No foodie picture is wasted

Old friends swoon in envy as we unleash

Perfect pouts

Quirky triumphs

Roiling we may be but

Surface is all, consumption

Trafficked widely, flung in our teeth,

Until one day, if ever,

Vaulting truths life’s misadventure

Wears out our curiosity about the world of others

X-rated, celebrated, maligned

Your small sequestered corner becomes precious

Zealot-free place.

 

The Search

I looked around for beauty but I got distracted

by the grey rain streaks echoed on my kitten’s fur

as she sits all pensive on the window sill.

All I notice are water-stained window panes.

 

My brain fries synapses and skips seven beats.

She darts forth on sure-footed pads through the snow

like a lynx in the mountains I no longer have before me

to make up for the fault in my wiring.

 

I missed the deadline on dVerse Poets for the poetic prompt on anthropomorphism of beloved pets, but I am not sure that this poem would have been quite suitable for it anyway. So I am linking it instead to Open Link Night. Join me there for some poetic fun during this month of poetry celebration!

 

The Candidate

On the next page the ink turns green

Fresh shoots, new hope, all that palaver

You examine the manuscript under a loop of magnified manifold

You process pleasure in Powerpoint bullets

Tarnish templates with monotype ghosting

It’s all done with robots now but you like to muck in

No parchment too precious for fingers to wander

You meter their words, box in statements of intent.

There is such a thing as perfect length or outstaying welcomes

There is no such thing as the perfect applicant.

 

World Poetry Day – a few spring offerings

A day late is par for the course for me at present. Here are some poetry exercises – 1, 2, 3 and 4 line poems, mainly about Spring as I was driving two years ago to Provence.

1 line poems:

There’s too much beauty in the air.

 

Spring: the waiting is long, but the season is short.

2 line poems:

I cannot name a single bird.

Does that make my spring rush any less real?

 

How can you not let the landscape fill you?

Breathe in, let it tingle your ribs.

 

3 line poems:

Mountains shed their last

snow mantle. I sigh in bliss.

Car behind honks loud.

 

First full day of spring.

Saint Paul les Monestier:

very name a charm.

4 line poems:

Crooked stones with gaps for windows,

sun-baked lizard on ochre tiles,

birds call out their evening greetings

mending headaches, silent sighs.

 

Napoleon may have passed here on his way

to short-lived northern resurrection.

A stream’s the only one bustling today

in domaines of sea-pine covered indolence.

I am also linking this to dVerse Poets Pub for the Open Link Night. Any form or subject goes, so it’s a poetic delight!

#LBF17: Fortunately… Unfortunately…

I don’t often post twice in a day, but am afraid by next week all this will feel sadly out of date. Do you know the children’s storytelling game of ‘Fortunately Unfortunately’ (or at least that’s the name we used in our house)? The first person starts off with a story and after a few sentences ends on a cliffhanger ‘but unfortunately then…’. The next person picks up the baton and carries on for a few more sentences, ending with ‘but fortunately then…’. And so on. One positive for every negative development in the storyline. That’s very much how it felt to me yesterday at the London Book Fair.

Fortunately, I was wearing sensible walking shoes, so I could face the acres of books, stands, events with standing room only, frantic searches for toilets and venues. I’d been advised by the brilliantly-organised Twitter friend Estelle to bring a back-pack and a tote, as well as my own snacks and drinks, so I was able to carry the heavy burden of cultural enlightenment. Unfortunately, I kept losing my map and so missed out on dozens of publishers I was interested in meeting.

What I came away with…

Unfortunately, being a Book Fair novice, I did not make any formal appointments or arrangements beforehand to meet people, especially since I felt I did not want to waste anyone’s time. Fortunately, I got to informally see and hug people I knew from beforehand: Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books and Susan from the wonderful website and blog The Book Trail , literary agent Jo Unwin, author and translator Michelle Bailat Jones , Polish language translator Antonia Lloyd Jones.

Fortunately, as I found out at the conference on Translated Children’s Books, there are some great initiatives in place to make it easier for publishers to take the risk on translated fiction, of which Booktrust’s In Other Words, Reading the Way  and Riveting Reads recommendations for school libraries, and the Hay Festival/Aarhus joint initiative of selecting 39 best European children and YA authors under the age of 40. Unfortunately, when I briefly spoke to writer, translator and cultural agitator Daniel Hahn, who has been involved in most of these initiatives, I realised that it was too late to champion the cause for Romanian literature, as the selections have already been made. Let’s hope that this is not just a one-off project, and there will be updates and potential to develop it further in the future. Although I would agree with Hahn that it would be nice to think that such initiatives will no longer be required in the future, because translation will have become mainstream.

Translated Children’s Literature Panel (from l.): Nicky Harman from Society of Authors, Laura Davies from OutsideIn World,Emma Lidbury from Walker Books, Daniel Hahn.

Fortunately, I got a lot of information and reading suggestions for Malta, Latvia and Lithuania, which were missing on my #EU27Project list. I also found out about possible funding for translation projects from Romanian into English. Unfortunately, I managed to gather so many materials (see above), that the handle on my sturdy tote bag broke.

Unfortunately, the Careers Fair for jobs in publishing was extremely crowded and I felt like I was the donkey among sheep (good old Romanian saying, meaning I was the ‘biggest’, i.e. oldest, one there). Fortunately, the recruitment agencies did not seem to think I was a complete waste of space if I fancied a career change (possibly in academic publishing rather than mainstream fiction).

Fortunately, my day did not end there. I met a friend at the Wellcome Collection and then attended a poetry reading at the Bookmarks bookshop in Bloomsbury. The poets reading from their new collections were American poet Michael Waters , Roy Marshall (whom I knew from his wonderful blog) and Mihaela Moscaliuc, whose debut collection Father Dirt I had absolutely loved. Three very different kinds of poets, with a bouquet of poems at once sad and touching, funny and wry, thoughtful and provocative. I got all three books and look forward to reading them at leisure.

Unfortunately, the poetic evening had to come to an end with a mad dash for the train, crying children all the way home and some forgotten school uniforms to sort out for my sons. Fortunately, I have the memories…