Sunday, 15 November 2009

A few on the go

You know sometimes you're reading just one're completely consumed by it, you can hardly put it down etc.? Then other times you're reading about ten different things - dipping in and out of them all, floating about in a somewhat dazed state? Well, at the moment I'm in the latter.

This is what I'm reading just now (in between family life, household tasks, dog walks, trips out, half planning another poetry event and so on):

John Burnside 'Selected Poems' (Cape Poetry 2006)
I bought Burnside's novel 'The Dumb House' (1997) in a library sale a little while back, read it and found it creepy but interesting enough to finish. I'm aware he's a poet too (I've seen his name on StAnza leaflets) but have never read a single poem by him before so I checked this Selected Poems out of the library last week. Can't say it's doing a lot for me so far but it's early days and I haven't given up just yet. He won a big poetry award in 2000 so I suppose he can live without the Rachel Fox thumbs up anyway but I'll keep reading and maybe get back to you. Anyone else a fan and want to add something?

Rachel Fox – various
I read my own stuff all the time (don't we all?). I'm constantly rereading, rethinking, reevaluating my own work. I even reread my own diary quite a lot...often with a sense of confusion and/or disbelief (did that really happen? How did I end up doing that?). You could say it's ego gone mad but I think it's a lot more to do with confusion.

Liz Gallagher 'The Wrong Miracle' (Salt 2009)
Liz is coming here (virtually speaking) as part of her blog tour at the beginning of December. I have been reading this, her first poetry collection, off and on for a while and I came to Liz's work via her online personality really (got the book via a swap with her). Online she is very appealing... funny, friendly, cool as Kerouac...and though her work is very different to a lot of the poetry that I like and read regularly I find myself coming back to it often and rereading and enjoying it. It does make me want to hear her read some aloud too. Got any audio/video yet, Liz?

Jack Kerouac 'On the Road' (Penguin Modern Classics first publ. 1957)
This is one of the 'classics' that I've somehow never read. I bought it in one of those giant Tescos when we were staying down in York (don't hate me...someone had given me a Tesco voucher as a present...and it was on offer...what did you want me to buy – bubble bath?). I'm about halfway through OTR now and whilst I'm sure it seemed very exciting back in 1957 I can't say it's exactly wowing me as yet (though my favourite line so far is on page 33 "I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was 'Wow!'"). Will it keep the 'classic' tag for much longer though, I wonder? That's another question for the time machine, I suppose.

Hugh McMillan 'Aphrodite's Anorak' (Peterloo Poets 1996)
I'm always reading something by McMillan, the old goat. All his poetry books are great and this one is no exception (there's a poem in it called 'Blethers' that is really, really beautiful). He sent me this as a thank-you for being president of the unofficial Hugh McMillan Appreciation Society.

Helena Nelson 'Starlight on Water' (Rialto 2003)
As we were talking about poet and publisher Nelson the other week I decided I wanted to read more of her poems so I bought this book via the evil Amazon empire (well, the Market Place bit and a very nice person in Suffolk, as it happens). I haven't read it all yet but I am really enjoying it as I go. It's big on beauty and yearning from what I've seen so far. It also speaks to the reader quite a lot (which I like). It's nice to feel involved...

Don Paterson 'Landing Light' (Faber and Faber 2003)The new Paterson poetry collection 'Rain' sounds right up my street (and in fact through my door and well into the house) but I refuse to let myself buy it until I have read this one a bit more (I bought this in Dundee Borders most likely, last year some time). It's quite a mix of poems that (a) a lazy arse like me can read without too much background and (b) some that I might need a reference book or two for. The overriding feel of the book for me is of a man writing like he is about a hundred years old. It's quite spooky and it puts me in mind of all the Tiresias sections in T.S.Eliot's Wasteland (it's like you can hear the winds of doom blowing, the sands of time slipping away). Apart from the fact that I am totally rubbish with any kind of classical and/or mythological references I am enjoying it too. And while we're on the subject why is it that I can hold silly, shallow information much better in my head than proper educational stuff that might one day impress someone (I mean hell, I was writing about Meat Loaf last week...)? Is it possible to be reprogrammed do you think - have all the crap replaced with Greek gods, chemical formulae, history and many, many ancient languages? (Er, no...far too late for that).

Graham Robb 'Rimbaud' (Picador 2000)
I picked this biography up in the town library the other week and it is a really great read so far (and young Rimbaud hasn't even left school yet!). I'm finding it much more exciting than the Kerouac 'classic' and overall poets can make excellent subjects for biographies I think. Any suggestions for the best (and worst) in this category? Any poet biographies you'd like to read and/or write?

Various 'The Nation's Favourite Comic Poems' (ed. Griff Rhys Jones BBC Books 1998)
I bought a collection of these Nation's Favourite books cheap as stocking filler type items for the Xmas present cupboard (remember – poetry is for life, not just for Xmas) and I was flicking through them to see who might like what. I stumbled across the poem below and enjoyed it very much so it can be this week's Monday poem. I don't think I'd never read anything by Gavin Ewart (1916-95) before (at least nothing comes to mind) but I loved this (and no knowledge of anything complicated is required for total and speedy understanding).

The Black Box

As well as these poor poems
I am writing some wonderful ones
They are all being filed separately,
nobody sees them.

When I die they will be buried
in a big black tin box.
In fifty years' time
they must be dug up,

for so my will provides.
This is to confound the critics
and teach everybody
a valuable lesson.

By Gavin Ewart

So what are you reading?

p.s. Forgot to mention...I still read to our Girl every night and we just finished 'The Little White Horse' by Elizabeth Goudge (orig. publ. 1946 and recently filmed as 'The Secret of Moonacre'). I never read it as a child and it's possibly the book we've read together that I've liked least (and not just for all the God content). Girl thought it was OK but then she pretty much likes all books (so far). Plus it has dogs.



Titus said...

I'll be commenting for a week on this, but I'll keep it brief intially! Yes, do post on the Burnside book. I read "The Dumb House" and I really didn't like it, to the point it almost offended me (not the subject matter, but the weird plot devices and obviousness and ... oh, mock-shock bits).
Secondly, I almost had to lie down. Not like "The Little White Horse"?!! Close to being my seminal childhood book. I adore it, so much so I bought it for the daughter of a local poet.
Maybe I am a genetic Christian ...

No doubt I'll be back for more later - so much here to discuss!

Rachel Fox said...

Titus - I didn't take to 'the Dumb House' at first and in fact almost stopped reading it about a third of the way in (all that crappy sex in the first part). But then the bits about language and just a I-wonder-what-he's-going-to-do-with-this feeling kept me going. I still wouldn't go so far as to say I thought it was a great book or anything but it wasn't dull. Sure, it was a bit Psycho (and other psycho-dramas) but did keep me reading in the end. Not sure I'd want to pay full price for it or anything though.

As for 'the Little White Horse' - too many really long descriptive passages for me, plus a really forced story, really annoying landed gentry nonsense, too much God (for me), useless baddies, boring badly-drawn, I really didn't like it. We've read a lot of 'classic' children's fiction but to me this was (sorry) like a piss-take of a kid's book. Oh yes, and she threw in a unicorn for good measure. For me there's rarely a good excuse for a unicorn.


Titus said...

I can remember it with nothing other than absolute love, and the fact that I was staying at my Aunt's when I first read it and could not put it down. And I so wanted a dog/lion.
Yikes, I am now scared to re-read it, which I had planned to do with the boys in about 6 months time. Doesn't "Elidor" have unicorns too? I think I loved that at the time as well. Maybe I'm also a genetic medievalist.

Rachel Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Fox said...

Sorry had to delete. Apostrophe emergency.

Didn't read 'Elidor' either. I've only ever liked a few books that could possibly fit in that genre they call fantasy (and they're usually the ones that are the most non-fantastical).

I'll be interested to hear if you like the Horse so much on a reread. And if your boys can bear all the descriptions of the heroine's outfits they are stronger souls than me (and possibly cut out for careers in fashion...or something...only joking).


Titus said...

Oh, J can be a bit of a dandy already! And has that cast-iron conviction that he is a gift to world that Karl Lagerfield et al possess.

Before I was 11 I had read all of Ron E. Howard's Conan and King Kull books. Addictively. Had quite a long fantasy phase, actually, and even dipped into (whisper it) science fiction.

Rachel Fox said...

No, see, I'd take the sci-fi every time. I've never been big on wizards or anything like that (though I loved the band Wizzard - obviously!).

And I've never heard of your Ron bloke. Could easily get confused with the scientology Ron, couldn't he? Well in my head anyway.

Going to bed now. With Rimbaud.


Titus said...

Oops, that because I've confused him! It's Robert E. Howard.
Must be bath time for me.

Back to the main post, I was terribly disappointed by "On The Road" too.

Dominic Rivron said...

I know what you mean about On the Road. I pick it up from time to time -I want to enjoy it- only to put it down again. I find it quite unpickupable.

What am I reading at the moment? I'm in a similar state to yourself.
Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome (great bedtime reading for kids, I think, those books),
The Algebraist by Iain M Banks (can I get into it? It's a bit grisly - even more so than usual for IMB).
Just finished The Dalkey Archive by Flan O'Brien. OK.
Notes to the Hurrying Man by Brian Patten. Some fantastic poems but the less good bits have dated badly, I thought.
The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose. I'm giving up on this. It's a doorstop of a book and I just can't get my head round most of it. Clever explanation of how a computer can make sense of a series of "ones" and zeros" - it was worth dibbing into for that. Some pretty pictures too.

Sorlil said...

Never read 'On the Road', must get around to that some time.
When I get a moment I'm working my way through Hilary Clinton's Memoirs, I'm really surprised how much I'm enjoying it. I wasn't expecting too much but actually she comes across as so down-to-earth, able to laugh at herself, and she writes very well.
Also trying to get through Gerry McGrath's poetry collection 'A to B' but too early to pass comment on it.

Anonymous said...

I'm still on a self-imposed book-buying ban, but I made an exception for Vanessa Gebbie's Short Circuit; a guide to the art of the short story (available from those lovely people at Salt, without resorting to Amazonian trading). It's in 20-odd chapters by good short story writers, so I'm looking forward to it. I agree with Dominic about 'The Algebraist' - couldn't get into it. And I read 'On the Road' as a teenager in 1959, and loved it. Not now I don't, but 'Desolation Angels' and 'Big Sur' are better Kerouac books.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Woah! That is a mucho lotto books! Love Liz 'Miracle' Gallagher and 'On The Road' was probably my fave book when I read it (only about 2 years ago) Horses for courses and ting.Reading Nuala Ní Chonchúirs 'Nude' shorties at the moment and just finished 'The Missing' a poetry book by Sían Hughes which is raw and real and erally very, very good. Pip Pip!

Crafty Green Poet said...

I've enjoyed John Burnside's poetry (though not his prose, the Dumb House was way too disturbing). At his best he is one of the best 'nature poets' around.

I loved Kerouac's 'On the Road', though I think you've got to be in the right mood to totally get into it. It slightly annoyed me that it wasn't going anywhere but I loved the writing....

Rachel Fenton said...

I'm almost through "Short Circuit", and I'm reading lots of top secret stuff for the book I'm writing...My daughter's reading another (groan) "saddle club" book - surely there can't be many more to go - and "the curious incident of the dog in the night time" but I doubt she'll pick this up again for a few weeks seeing as she's just come back from a book sale with a carrier full of "sweet valley high" books! Urgh. When she wants me to read to her I am two thirds through "Gt Expectations"...goodness knows when we'll finish that.

Rachel Fox said...

By heck - so much to think about!

Dominic and Iain Banks (with or without M). I have read a couple of his books but can never get excited about any of them. Still he seems to be doing alright without me. And I've enjoyed reading interviews with him so it's not personal.

Plus Dominic you are the Arthur Ransome Appreciation Society President I think!

Sorlil - there was an interesting bit about Hillary Clinton in the Guardian interview with Maya Angelou this Saturday. Worth a look.

Sunny Colin...not sure I'll get further into Kerouac than this. He sure is handsome on the book cover though...can't help wondering how much that helped him...

'The Missing' eh, TFE? Might have to look into that then.

Thanks CGP, I'll go back and look for nature poems. See if they help me get into his book.

Rachel - I loved 'the curious incident' when I read it a couple of years ago. He's a poet too you know. Worth a look. There are a couple of classic books that I've had to push on with for me and the Girl (e.g. Tom Sawyer) but on the whole we were glad we had read them in the end. The Little White Horse I could have easily left in the stable.


shug said...

I'm always reading something by Hugh McMillan, THE OLD GOAT?

I will use this as a blurb at the back of every book from now on. Like your list. Have always been completely obsesessed with the beat poets and their lives. I think On the Road is a novel of pure poetry, though I like his other works for other reasons- Big Sur is one of the great tales of alcoholism, Dharma Bums is fun. Am currently reading a beat mamoir by Joyce Johnson one of kerouac's girlfriends. It's a sad and tender memoir of the whole period and it's a brilliantly written book. 'Minor Characters' it's called.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I don't really know where the goat came from. I even thought about taking it out last night. But I didn't.

The Joyce Johnson book sounds interesting. I wouldn't mind hearing what one of the 'chicks' has to say.


Liz said...

Hi Rachel,

Thanks for the's true about us both having different poetry styles...and tastes, most likely...enjoyed your list and observations, you are a busy beaver...I thoroughly recommend Sian Huges' as well, have a listen to her on youtube

And Rachel, will try to do some audio over Christmas...Vladi video-recorded me when reading during the Summer at Flatlake Festival and I still have not watched it! ; )
(P.S. I am answering your questions just now and ending up liking Ms. Alien a lot, she is bringing out the cheeky-side of me though, hope I can rein her/me in...oh and being a reader of my own book has also brought out a side of me that I wasn't on first name terms with before...; ) ...ahem!)

Rachel Fox said...

Liz is referring to the 3 questions that she will be answering on here early in December. Sounds like they're going to be fascinating...


Jim Murdoch said...

No, no I don't. The only time I reread anything I've written is when I'm either selecting poems to send away or recently when I've been editing my novels. I haven't read the last two novels since I wrote them. I've never kept a diary - my poems are the closest thing to a diary. I don't reread my blogs either. I sometimes have to scan them when I post them because it's been so long since they were written I've forgotten what I've said. I think I wrote the review of Liz's collection about two months ago.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, then we're very different, Jim! I reread what I've written to the point of crazed obsession...constantly asking myself 'what did I mean by that?' 'is that the right word?' 'could I make that better?'

I went and watched the S Hughes youtube Liz but that background music is really offputting (and an odd doesn't seem right for her at all). I like her relaxed intros but I couldn't really concentrate on the poems for the music. Will look into later.


hope said...

I missed this yesterday...sorry!

I almost feel anti-American to admit I've never read "On the Road". And yet, I think it's because of the very point you made: it would seem dated to the point of "Huh? What's all the fuss about?" But you never know. I may decide to tackle it when all the other reading material is gone.

I'm reading an autobiography of John Kennedy Jr. written by supposedly his best friend. It's been interesting. And in the car I'm listening to "The Lucky One", as I am the only female on the planet who has never read Nicholas Sparks.

If your President of the Hugh McMillan Appreciation Society, may I be President of his fan club? I am breathlessly awaiting the very volume you spoke of.

apprentice said...

A great list there Rachel -like you I have a big pile by the bed just now, Niedecker, who I mentioned on my blog, on loan from the amazing SPL, and Miroslav Holub, James Tate and Fleur Adcock collections thanks to Colin Will's clear out.

My wants list includes the new book on Raymond Carver, by tessa Gallagher and the new set of alice Munro stories.

The Solitary Walker said...

I read 'On The Road' - and lots of other Kerouac - in the early 70s when I was in my late teens/early 20s. The book, though encapsulating the jazz-bop/zen/druggy 1950s, was equally as representative of the folk-rock/zen/druggy 1960s and early 70s. I suppose you could say, portentously, that this stream-of-consciousness novel (much more crafted and 'better written' than many think) was an iconic book for me and many others at that time. When I hitchhiked across Europe, that was the book I carried in my rucksack (along with 'The Hitchhiker's Guide To Europe' by Ken Welsh, and perhaps some Ken Kesey, or Gary Snyder's poetry...)

I haven't picked up Kerouac since. Mainly, I suppose, because there are so many other writers to read I haven't read. But I suspect I would still love him.

Titus said...

Looking forward to Liz Gallagher.

Just finished "Lord Lucan My Story" by William Coles, because I met the author and heard him talk about the case (not the book, it should be said!) and I have very mixed emotions about it. You don't feel you ought to engage with the central character, for this is no ficitonal murderer, yet at some points you do. Is it exploitative? - yes. Is it badly done - no, not really, but it's not earth-shatteringly good either. Still haven't decided, but I suspect the taste in my mouth is not a good one.

Stephen Mitchell's translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, again. A big 5 stars.

Imtiaz Dharker "Postcards from god", because she read with shug a while back and I did not know her work. Good.

"Occasions of Sin - Sex and Society in Modern Ireland" by Diarmid Ferriter. Really enjoying this - carefully researched and detailed history with a narrative thrust.

And of course, assorted Roald Dahl's, C.S. Lewis's, Dick King-Smith's (I like him - not about when I was a lass) with a Morpurgo between friends.

Books. You gotta love 'em.
P.S. I like "...,the old goat".

McGuire said...

Will Self said: 'Literary Biography is writers porn' and perhaps there is some truth in that, but hopefully that pages don't end up sticking together.

The only poet I have an urge to read about in terms of private lifes (most poets reveal their private life in the poems anyway) is e.e. cummings. He was such a maverick and a technician of poetry, and he had such a strange world view, I really want to pry open his private life a bit more.

At zee moment, I'm re-reading, Italo Calvino, Numbers in the dark, it's aboslutely amazing book of short stories. Really. You muts read it. Also reasing, Iain Banks, 'The Bridge' I like it, lots of chopping between dream like states and surreal society that lives on a HUGE bridge...the thing is, this is all because the narrator is actually in a coma after a car far. Reading collection of Pablo Neruda: he's a good poet, surreal and stark raving lumpss in the throat, when I read him.

Life is good as I am not yet dead.

Rachel Fox said...

Hope - Nicholas Sparks? Never heard of him.

Interesting list, Apprentice. I enjoy and Adcock now and again too.

SW - I am only halfway through the Kerouac so I can't dismiss it yet. I have generally preferred living the wild life to reading about it though. What did Shug call one of his 'one of the great tales of alcoholism'? Drinking is one thing...reading about drinking? Not for me really.

Titus...I may live to regret the old goat perhaps...

McGuire - Self may have said that about lit bios but he is the great man quoted on the front of the Rimbaud (saying how good it is!). Interesting stuff you're reading too.


hope said...

Remember the movie, "The Notebook"?

Evidently Sparks is a Romance writer of sorts but since I don't usually read that sort of stuff, my seniors [and the Librarian, who qualifies as a senior] decided I needed to at least try him. ;)

Speaking of movies, "Pirate Radio" opened this week. It's about those English lads who took their music to sea and broadcast it, much to the dismay of the establishment. :) Stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Rachel Fox said...

No. Don't know 'the Notebook' at all (unless it was called something else here). The pirate radio film was called 'The Boat that Rocked' here and I haven't seen that either. I know I should want to (pirate radio and all) but it's from a school of British cinema that doesn't do much for me unfortunately. I might catch it when it's on TV, I suppose (and funnily enough they were showing it on the ferry when we came back from Belgium in the summer...didn't watch it then though).

Poetikat said...

I've been struggling to get into a book these last couple of weeks. Prior to that I was on such a roll. I read 12 books in a 2 month period! Unheard of for me these last few years.
I am currently reading, "Opium Dreams" by Margaret Gibson. It explores Alzheimer's from the mind of the patient, but is the story of the patient's daughter and her learning about her father.

Also, started, Ishiguro's, "When We Were Orphans", but haven't been bitten by the absolute desire to continue.

Reading Barbara Ueland's book, "If You Want To Write" which is really magical. It gives me hope.

Then there's Jean Vanier's small volume called, "Finding Peace" which is inspirational.

I'm also grappling (at a snail's pace) with Thomas a Kempis.

On the poetry front, I'm really enjoying Canadian poet, Sally Ito's first book, "Frogs in the Rain Barrel". It's helping my haiku immensely.

Rachel Fox said...

I haven't heard of any of those (bar the second). Bloody hell, there are lot of books in the world. And time is running out...

deemikay said...

I'm reading:
Ted Hughes' letters;
David Crystal's The Stories of English;
some of the Poetic Edda every now and then;
lots of poems that I pick at random off the shelf.

(As for mythology... I've still got my Ladybird Greek Myths 1 and Greek Myths 2 somewhere. Got them when I was about 6 or 7. But for reference I go to Robert Graves' Greek Myths - loopy as hell in the commentaries, but he gives the stories.)

deemikay said...

Oh, and On The Road. I've never wanted to read it. And never will... I've got a hard time with people telling my I *MUST* read certain books. Ditto Catcher in the Rye.

Rachel Fox said...

You're back!

Ted Hughes...he's your best friend, he is. Stil I can think of much worse people to be friends with.

As for's more I just get curious in the end...what is it like this book that so many have read and written about? It's sitting half read by the bed just now though because the Rimbaud bio is brilliant and pushing Jack right to the back of the queue.

I read 'Catcher' at school. Enjoyed it then. Can't remember much about it now. Can remember lots of other less literary matters though...

deemikay said...

Yes, "back" or thereabouts... it's been odd in my head recently.

And I'll make no apologies for liking loopy ol' Ted and his stubborn, I'll-do-what-I-want ways. Maybe I relate somewhat. ;)

I get curious about lots of things... but less so with novels. (I really am a broken record, no?)

(Word verification: "funwa" - is that like a fatwa but with party hats and Timmy Mallet on DJ duties?)

Rachel Fox said...

Now I could hardly be criticising for 'do what I want ways'! Could I! Me with the funny line habits and everything.

deemikay said...

Well, your lines aren't that unusual.