Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Remember anything?

Another Ted Hughes book that was lying around our house partly forgotten is the anthology 'By Heart – 101 Poems to remember (edited and with an introduction by Ted Hughes)' (faber and faber, 1997). I can't remember when I bought this or why exactly...or even if it was me who bought it...and, oh dear, none of this is boding well for a post that involves using the memory is it?

The cover above must be a reprint...mine doesn't look quite like this (more black). Still, it's an interesting little book 'By Heart' and it contains lots of Shakespeare as well as poems by Auden, Blake, Dickinson, Frost, Heaney, Kipling, Plath, Yeats...pretty much what you might call classics (in English) or what the newspapers might call the big-hitters of the English speaking poetry world (what a phrase...I just put it in to be contrary I think). The only piece I already know by heart from it is the “To be or not to be...” soliloquy from 'Hamlet' (because I loved and learned that voluntarily at school) but there are plenty of others that I recognise or know bits of (there are tygers and roads less traveled and Miss J. Hunter Dunns...) . As much as anything the introduction from Hughes (entitled 'Memorising Poems') is well worth a look. He starts off:

“There are many reasons for learning poems. But memorising them should be like a game. It should be a pleasure.”

Now I've always been at least a good part hedonist (who isn't...?) so I think we should have ourselves some pleasure. Fanfare, please! I think we should all learn us a poem by heart this week. Come join me!

What's that noise? Can I hear some of you blog-groaning? Can I hear some of you saying “I already know plenty of poems I learned in school” or “I'm really busy this week”? The thing is I'm not talking about poems you already know...I'm talking about learning something new. Now. This week. By Monday. It can be a poem by one of your favourite poets or one by someone you've never read before or even one by someone whose writing you don't really like (it is National Contrariness Week here...have you noticed? In fact I think that last option might be the most challenging...). But whatever, I think we should all have a go...don't you? If you do join in – let me know, please....maybe even record it and get it online somehow? I'd love to hear some more of your voices.

You could, of course, learn one of your own poems as well/instead (if you write poems, obviously). Maybe some of you already know all your own work off by heart...and well done, you, if you do. I tried learning my own poems by heart and reciting in public that way but I just didn't feel it was working (and my Mark said 'you just look like you're trying to remember the words all the time'...and I was). I think the remembering effort spoilt my performance if anything...and performance is probably one of my stronger areas in poetry so it seemed a daft way to go all in all. The problems? I fear my memory suffered a bit from all those years of what the Beastie Boys might call hard partying plus learning poetry by heart was certainly not on the curriculum at any of my schools so it doesn't come naturally or anything (just count those excuses piling up!). As well as that I think I also quite like the prop of a book when I'm out in front of a crowd (huge numbers at the full-house folk club last night for example) so I stick with it for now as it seems to be what works for me. The more relaxed I am the better the reading quite often, I think. Obviously the more I read out and about the more I start to know some of the poems without ever having to make a conscious effort to learn them (and that's great). I also think that having a book makes me less reliant on a set list of any kind. If I just change my mind and want to read such-and-such a poem all I have to do is look it up (as well as a copy of 'More about the song' I always have an old Amnesty International notebook with lots of poems cut and pasted into it with has everything I've read anywhere up to now). One thing I am slightly aware of is that reading from a book may not help with...classification of me as a poet. Some of my poems are certainly what others would call 'performance' and yet 'performance poets' tend to recite by heart don't they (and often in that same sing-song pattern that I certainly don't use)? Still, a little confusion never hurt anybody and who wants to fit into someone else's set idea of what you should do and who you are? Where's the creative endeavour in that? Or is that just another excuse? Hmm...

Speaking of sing-song I have much less trouble learning song lyrics by the way. I know heaps of songs by heart (or more or less) and when Verona and I sing songs in public I don't have much trouble remembering them. The blessing that is a we practise...

The Hughes introduction offers us all a few helpful tips regarding learning poems by heart. He suggests we ditch learning by rote (“for most people the least effective” way of learning) and start with connecting the words to visual images (film or cartoons in the “playful imagination”) and then moving on to “another kind of imagination” - the “musical or audial memory”. He has some lovely examples of how sound patterns attract us (including his own entry for a slogan competition for Heinz beans...he didn't win...). And apparently, in England at least, it's the seventeenth century Puritan/Protestant ascendancy to blame for the foolish god of rote learning. They wanted to “eradicate imagery from all aspects of life”, says Ted...and he has that convincing way about him.

Anyway...on with the job...pick a poem and let's get cracking. I opened the 'By Heart' anthology and was going to pick 'The Fall of Rome' by W.H.Auden. It mentioned flu which seemed...interesting and I like bits of Auden. But then I read it a couple of times through and changed my mind and decided to try a poet I've never liked much before. So this week, friends, I will be learning the poem that Hughes uses in his introduction as an example – 'Inversnaid' by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Pick your poem and see you on the other side.


Monday, 27 April 2009

Meet my folks...well, sort of...

Our Ted Hughes discussions last Friday have led me off in all sorts of directions. The first thing they led me to was Hughes' 'Collected Poems for Children' (2005 – posthumous for Hughes, obviously). A copy was up in our daughter's crowded bookcase waiting for her to pay it some attention. As I said recently she is far more into stories (and just now science) than poetry...she is quite story-mad. Also now she is 9 I'm not sure how much longer I can refer to her as Small Girl on this blog. She is quite sick of being petite...

Anyway, the 'Collected Poems for Children' (which Deemikay has been reading too – here) has a section from his book 'Meet my folks' (hence today's comes from Hughes' first volume for children, published in 1961) and for all the Hughes animal poems (and there are many in this book – no big surprise) it's the folks I turn to first...can't help myself! No matter how much people drive me to distraction (and they do...) I can't help but be interested in them, all of them (as I wrote somewhere recently I think I probably write human nature poetry...anyone heard that phrase used anywhere else?). The Hughes poems in the 'Meet my folks' section are very funny and our Girl and I have been enjoying them so far. They are not dissimilar to the Roald Dahl poems she already likes – fairly crazy and inventive and full of octopus grannies, people whose families are oak trees and Dads who inspect holes for a living (that sounds ruder than it is). Some of them have tender little endings too though. Here's the last verse of the oak tree poem ('My own true family'):

“This was my dream beneath the boughs, the dream that altered me.
When I came out of the oakwood, back to human company,
My walk was the walk of a human child, but my heart was a tree.”

These may turn out to be my favourite Hughes poems yet. Some of you might be interested to know that they are far less self-reliant and much less grandiose than some of his other work (see last Friday's comments). These poems are messy and silly and weird...kind of human, I think.

Anyway, speaking of folks...and families...there is someone I'd like you to meet. I've mentioned him now and again (say, here and here) but hey, it's my blog and I'll bang on about stuff if I want to. So here's Daddy...

Or Christopher Fox (1919-1973) to you. Isn't he something? This is one of the few photos of him that I have and I don't know when it was taken - probably before I was born. I suppose I was reminded of it when I was writing about photos of Ted Hughes last week and probably because he has the same thick hair, the same big forehead, the same penchant for tweedy sports jackets (is that what they're and fashion are only loosely acquainted) - except of course (not that it matters) my Dad was much better looking! Also I thought I'd write about this little photo (it's about 6cmx4cm in my hand) because I just love it really. It's a funny thing losing a parent when you're young (or never knowing them at all) because you can't help but spend at least some of the rest of your life looking for them...all over the place...even when you know it's silly or pointless or unhealthy. It's a bit like they're always with you even in such obvious absence (except of course it's not really them...just bits of ideas). I think something similar happens sometimes with people who never find any true love or people who never feel at home or, in some cases, people who never have children. You can't help but look and wonder can you...what might have been, who might have been...stuff like that. You're not necessarily sad about it but it is in your least some of the time. And I'm not being morbid, I'm really not – I'm just thinking (ascreen) about life and humans and how it all works. If nothing else it's a fantastic photo and I wanted to share it (and I don't often put up photos of family, you know...all you've seen so far is the back of our girl's head and me with strange things in my hair). Plus I just can't keep things literary all the's just not my way. For me life and literature/writing are so intertwined that I can't tell you where they separate (if they ever do). We all have our ways of working and this is mine – messy and messed up but with its own kind of motivations and movement. I suppose you might be thinking - this is all just will it ever help the intellectual development of mankind? To this I have no answer but I do know there are some quite interesting thoughts on silliness over at Deemikay's of late too.

Anyway here's a little poem about that little photo. It might grow bigger this poem...or change altogether. Who knows...

Hardly knowing

To me you're black and white forever
Handsome, sepia smart and clever
Hair so thick and smile so wry
Shades of grey I know you by

RF 2009

Here's some other stuff about dads you might want to look at this week:

This interview with writer Martin Amis where he says “the special status of the dad has to go”. I don't think he's right necessarily (every family is different) and I'm not a big MA fan (at all!) but it's still an interesting article.

I've linked to this before but my favourite poem by Colin Will is called 'Tick' (last poem on the post). Sometimes writing about our fathers can make the whole business worthwhile. Can't it?

Talking of Ted Hughes poems (as we were) - at least a couple of you chose one of Hughes' poems about his daughter Frieda (and the moon) as one of your favourites. Here it is (although every version online seems to use a different layout – none of them the same as in my copy of the Bloodaxe 'Staying Alive' anthology). It's interesting that this (a father poem really...a very gentle one) is possibly one of his best/most popular. It's a nature and human nature poem...isn't it? Or are we just all a bunch of big softies..?

That's it for now. More Hughes-related wanderings here later in the week...


Sunday, 26 April 2009

Sunday sounds

I'll be back with more Ted-related posts next week but in the meantime here are some sounds for your Sundays (and beyond).

First let's see what you make of English folk singer/songwriter Steve Tilston. Tilston is based up in the area of Yorkshire I was writing about in the last post (Hebden Bridge I think) and he really is very talented. He's been performing on the folk scene for years and some of his songs are performed by loads of other musicians (perhaps the song 'Slip jigs and reels' most of all). He's not famous outside the folk scene which I imagine is largely out of choice. Here's his website and here's his myspace page. Also here is a clip of him singing about the King of the Coiners (David Hartley of the 18th century Cragg Vale or Yorkshire Coiners...or counterfeiters...for the history start here):

There are lots of Tilston songs I like more than this one but this was the best clip I could find online. We have the cd 'The Greening Wind' and it is stunning so you could start off with that one if you think you might like him.

Over the Atlantic now and here's a song from Joan Osborne. We've always loved her 1995 album 'Relish' in this family and we were listening to it in the car yesterday. There are loads of great songs on it (my least favourite is probably the huge hit 'One of us'...I like it...just not as much as some of the others) but yesterday this one caught my ear the most. I didn't really want a live version but this is all I could find:

That's it for now. Hope you've enjoyed these and see you for more poetry in the week.


Friday, 24 April 2009

At home with Ted

When we were away in Yorkshire in the Easter holidays we stayed just outside a little place called Mytholmroyd (a few miles west of Halifax in West Yorkshire). Some of you will think of a poet straightaway when you hear that place name (whilst some of you may just think 'how the heck do you pronounce that..?') because Mytholmroyd is the birthplace and childhood home (until he was 7) of one Ted Hughes (1930-1998). If you don't believe me here's the photographic evidence (hope you can read it - it says 'Mytholmroyd - Birth place of Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate, sponsored by someone or other...):

We didn't stay in this part of Yorkshire because of the Hughes connection - I've never been what you might call a huge Hughes fan and anyway it was my beloved not-particularly-fussed-about-poetry Mark who found the cottage online (highly recommended - find it here). We just wanted a place near enough to Leeds (and all our friends and family there) but at the same time somewhere different (and quiet) for some exploring (and relaxing...). What's more we managed both of those activities, I'm pleased to report.

It's a long time since I lived in Yorkshire (we moved north in 2002) so I had forgotten that the area around Mytholmroyd (the Calder valley) couldn't be more different to where we live just now in Angus, Scotland. Angus is coastal, quite sparsely populated, relatively flat and open and known for its fishing (the Arbroath Smokie...) and its soft fruit and potato farming. Calderdale, on the other hand, is very hilly, intersected by various rivers and canals and known for its (now converted) mills and rows of tightly-packed and precariously-balanced terraced houses. I remember the area as quiet and sleepy but these days a lot of it is being developed and there is loads of flashy house building going on (“it's all commuter belt now” I heard someone say and I presume they mean for Leeds and Manchester mainly, though Halifax and Bradford will have their commuters too). Hebden Bridge, for example, is just along the road from Mytholmroyd and I remembered it as a bit scruffy and hidden away but now it is filled with traffic and smart new shops and cafés (some very nice ones too, it must be said, even if it did all look a bit too much like York or Harrogate or a million other places). I didn't go up to visit Sylvia Plath's grave at nearby Heptonstall this time (I've been there twice already) but it is one of the main tourist stops in this part of the county. Funny how we love as much as anyone...I've written heaps of poems about graveyards...nearly did a book of them with a photographer friend at one point!

But no graves this time and if I thought about any poet, it was not Plath but her one-time main man and husband, Ted Hughes, instead. As I say I've never been a big fan of Hughes poetry particularly but I can feel that changing a little and I have to say I quite like it when I feel a poet (living or dead) creeping into my step by baby step. My interest in Hughes was first stirred when I had to teach one of his poems to GCSE (Standard Grade) students back in the mid '90s (I was doing some freelance tutoring...I've never been... constant enough to be a full-time teacher). I liked the poem and found it quite exciting to teach (it was 'Wind' which you can read here) but then I didn't really think about Hughes again until I kept hearing other people singing his praises so very loudly and insistently. First I heard the simply wonderful children's writer Michael Morpurgo enthusing about Hughes at StAnza a couple of years ago (Morpurgo and Hughes were friends, more or less neighbours too I think in Devon). Then there was that other Northern English poet Simon Armitage - he's often to be heard talking about the Hughes influence - and then recently didn't one of you (Deemikay) say he was your favourite poet ever or something (not quite - see comments)? All this means that bit by bit I have found myself lingering a little longer on Hughes poems in anthologies, thinking things like 'hmm, well, maybe...'. I haven't got a lot further than that I will admit but I have at least been thinking about getting further... and I have also been doing my best to put away all the rest of Hughes (the very loud image of him as Mr.Totally Manly McMan, the moody photos that are all eyebrows, jaw, floppy fringe and ridiculously OTT stare, the famous well-for-heavens-sake-if-you-wed-after-four-months-what-do-you-expect marriage....) and just think about the words of the poems. Then last week – there I was in his own home land (as it were), sitting in the lovely garden of our rented cottage and looking at the steep hills, sharp valleys and wild moor-tops and at the many wandering paths that make their way around all this and thinking something fairly vague and murky about Hughes and the place and... well...intensity, I suppose. There's something quite magical about the whole area ('Wuthering Heights' country very close by too of course) and then there are the Yorkshire accents round there which are just tremendous (never have so many vowels been so thoroughly whacked about the head...I love it!).

Hughes' voice on recordings, on t'other hand, is not as Northern as you might expect. I suppose he was of the generation that was taught less regional accent was better than more...maybe it's something to do with that. Here are some excerpts of him reading from 'Crow' (published 1970) to give you a taste of his sound.

And, without wishing to end too abruptly, that's all I've got for now...some rambling thoughts on the old Iron Man. I can't even say I have any favourite Ted Hughes poems yet or anything. Indeed this may be just a passing phase of interest – a little dalliance - and soon I'll be back where I feel more comfortable... with Larkin and his jazz records, grimy windows and mundane misery. Or maybe not. Change can be good, after all, can't it? Who wants to like the same stuff forever?


Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Listening with Lemn

John Baker's bloggin' book tour continues over at Dick Jones' place tomorrow but here (chez Rachel) I'm moving on to these two hugely talented men - Lemn Sissay (top) and Gil Scott Heron.

I have mentioned poet Lemn Sissay...oh, once or twice on here before but today I will mention him again because this week he has a radio programme called 'Pieces of a Man' about one of my very favourite writers/singers/musicians/people Gil Scott Heron on BBC Radio 4 (available for the next 7 days on 'listen again' here).

It could have been a longer programme (an hour please BBC!) but it's really worth a much as anything for GSH's voice which is always just about the most amazing voice you'll ever hear (speaking or singing). But speaking also of Sissay (as I am)...when I was in St Andrews for StAnza in March I bought his latest book of poems in the Waterstones there (cover image above). Sissay wasn't on at StAnza – I just came across the book whilst browsing in the regular poetry section of the bookstore (not the special StAnza featured poets bit at the front) and now I think of it - has he ever been at StAnza? Not that I can see on the festival's website...but he must have been on everywhere else – judging from his blog he rarely seems to stand still! Anyway, I do know that his latest book is called 'Listener' and was published by the very fine Scottish publisher Canongate in 2008. I haven't read it all yet (I read poetry books either VERY quickly or VERY slowly...) but I have read enough to know that it has, at the very least, some quite brilliant poetry moments sparkling from its pages. Sissay doesn't write for purists or academics or critics (I don't think!) so I'm sure there is plenty in 'Listener' that would have some hardcore poetry folk tutting like crazy (oh, they just like tutting...). I haven't seen the book reviewed anywhere as yet either but luckily there are heaps of people/listeners/readers who have always responded well to Sissay's work and who will, no doubt, get a lot out of this latest book of his too.

I count myself (loudly) in that latter group because Sissay is just my kind of poet (and person) - he's a natural writer/poet/performer, an instinctive artist and a thinking man who follows his heart, his mind and his completely individual path. I suppose part of that is down to his well-documented start in life (foster families, children's homes, his later search for his natural family) but it is not all about that – some of it is just that insane driving force that comes from some artists...those people who really must create or die. I love those kind of people...always have, always will, sometimes even feel a tiny bit like one...but of course we need the full spectrum (and a few calmer, quieter individuals) to have any kind of functioning society, trains that run on time etc. Anyway, I'm rambling...back to the book! My favourite section so far is this from the title poem 'Listener':

“Standing, I hear the sun rise,
Not the birds of morning nor the cock crowing.
The cars coughing the footsteps of early workers
Muffled in the red dust trudging through sleepless mystery
But I hear the actual sun rising.”

I just find that riveting. Don't you? Listen carefully to the sun today...can you hear it? And if not then why not..? Listen harder! And then a bit harder still!

And speaking of's some GSH because nobody (and I mean nobody!) does it better. First here he is with 'Lady Day and John Coltrane' from the 1971 album 'Pieces of a Man':

and then here's a much older GSH (in a quite bizarre cardigan) – doing a live show in the UK in 1990 (I saw him in Leeds as part of the same tour, I think). He is, to use a much overused word, simply awesome.

See! Who needs bloody Leonard Cohen anyway...


Sunday, 19 April 2009

A book to die for?

So here I am – back home in the messy muddle that is the closest I ever get to one piece - and those of you who pay attention will remember that back here I told you I would be part of a blog tour for John Baker's book 'Winged with Death' this week. Despite the internal muddle I can be surprisingly here it is – my contribution to said tour (a few hours early...schools go back here on 20th...Monday morning could be messy this week).

Although we must have lived in the same county (Yorkshire, England) for some years, I first came across writer John Baker a year or so ago via Scottish writer Jim Murdoch's blog The Truth about Lies. I don't know how Jim came across John or vice versa...maybe they'll tell us in the comments...but I saw John's name and noted he wrote mainly crime fiction. I never got into reading his blog regularly (not sure's a bit...clinical and impersonal for me, I suppose) but then, after a little while, every now and then he would turn up in one of my archive posts making lovely, friendly comments. He was a mystery, I thought, a man of mystery...fairly apt for a crime writer, I supposed.

Then last summer when I put my own book out I asked John to do a book swap (he had 8 books up to that point – I figured he must have something lying around the house going begging) and he did and I swapped him one 'More about the song' for one of his Sam Turner crime novels called 'Shooting in the Dark'. He wrote a good review of my 'Banging on about the song all the time' here but I didn't write about his 'Shooting in the Dark' (at least not more than a few lines somewhere...and I can't find them online now...more mystery...). It is a crime novel,'Shooting in the Dark', but I will give most books a go so I read it, didn't not like it, enjoyed some of it...but I couldn't think of anything particular to say about I kept schtum (out of character, I know).

Then recently John sent me his new book, 'Winged with Death', and asked me to join the blog tour business. I am so glad I did because this book is something altogether different (I am not anti-genre fiction or anti-crime fiction but genres can so often deal in clichés...and crime fiction, particularly, can feature some of my least favourite clichés...piles of dead women, yet more mutilated women etc.). 'Winged for Death' is (almost) completely genre-free (hurray!) and, even better, it is an absolutely fantastic book. Elsewhere it has been called a literary crime novel but I would say it is only that in the sense that 'Crime and Punishment' is a literary crime novel. It is just a novel...a very, very good novel...and some bad things happen in it.

To read about how John ended up writing this particular book you should go and read the interview at This Writing Life (well worth a look – hurry there quickly...then come back and finish up here) and I might just add that 'Winged with Death' is about 1970s Uruguay, military terror, resistance, dancing (specifically the tango), love, sex, life, modern day England, policing, family, different viewpoints, movement and time. Did I say time? There is an awful lot about time in this book...enough for several PhDs...and though it is 291 pages it is a HUGE book in many ambitious ways that you will only understand if you read I advise reading it, when you get a chance. It does touch on one of my old hobby horses (anything to do with Latin America...remember we talked about hobby horses here?) but most of all I found it a very vivid story – particularly the sections set back in the 70s. It is probably a good movie-possibility too – this could be it John, Hollywood calling...bring us back a souvenir...

My only problem with this fine book is the last chapter. I can't go into my reservations in this area without ruining your reading experience (and I would hate to do that) so you'll just have to read it and then we can talk it through (please don't give anything away in the comments if you have already read it – think of the others!). I have told John my feelings (and he has told me his...) but then finishing novels is notoriously difficult and finishing very good novels even harder still so there is no right or wrong, no final word on this matter. And despite my mixed feelings about the last chapter (which must remain, again most suitably, a mystery) I would still recommend this book to you all...again and again and again. It is one of the best new novels I've read in a while and you can take that with no hype, no nonsense and no sales pitch. Now I wonder how it will do out there in the big wide world. Will it get reviewed and into all the necessary retail locations? I hope so – it's a cracking read and every word laid down with passion and purpose. You could say the whole book is like a good tango in that sense. So I will. And I'll end on that thought too.


Friday, 17 April 2009

Skies and more

We're still down in England visiting family and friends but I've been meaning to have a go at Skywatch Friday for ages (keep seeing it over at Susan's) so I thought I'd post a bit of Yorkshire sky whilst we're here. Here is the sky over Leeds this afternoon:

We set off home tomorrow but in the meantime there's also a poem of mine just now on ink, sweat and tears. Whatever qualifies for normal service will resume on here some time soon!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Holiday reading?

We are away for a little while so nothing new till I get back - in the meantime here are some book reviews from the archives. I never intended to do book reviews on fact I have no idea what I intended...but now and again I have found myself in a book-reviewing state of mind (or something). All these have come about for a whole range of different reasons and whilst some have been reviews of new books some have been anything but! There will be another (new) book review when I get back (the John Baker 'Winged with Death' review I mentioned not long back).

I picked Ben Okri's novel 'The Famished Road' up in the library one day because I'd seen that it had won a prize some time back (Booker Prize 1991...whole lifetimes ago!) and wondered what it was like. This post is from June 06.

Jim Murdoch was one of my first blog experiences (that sounds a bit weird) and here I am spending a lot of typing time on his novel 'Living with the Truth'. It was a two-way thing – he reviewed my book slightly earlier on – but this piece is from June 08.

I don't review many poetry books. Why is that? I do read them...and I do write about poems and poets...I just don't often feel the need or desire to write reviews of whole individual poetry collections (it's not one of my interests as far as poetry is concerned I suppose...I tend to be more interested in individual poems...I think). I could go into this now but I haven't the energy or the time! Probably the closest I have got to reviewing a poet's book is Hugh McMillan's excellent 'Postcards from the hedge' so here is what I managed in August 08.

Remember the reading list for life project we got into on here last year? It started with a comment by Fiendish at Dave King's and it ended up with heaps of books we would all recommend to a young adult reader. One book that was mentioned by several of you was Aldous Huxley's novel 'Brave New World' and I had somehow never read it. So last year I did...and then wrote this in September 08.

Another one that had escaped me was Evelyn Waugh's 'Brideshead Revisited'. So I read that too and wrote this in September 08. That was quite a lively comments box if I remember rightly.

When I wrote a post about my family's Quaker links Colin Will mentioned the historical novel about Quakers by Margaret Elphinstone called 'Voyageurs'. I got it out of the library and wrote this in October 08.

This book sounded so daring that I bought it brand new - Bernardine Evaristo's 'Blonde Roots'. I wrote about it here in November 08.

A little more poetry...I wrote about the anthology '101 Poems by 101 Women' (ed. Germaine Greer) here in December 08. It's not exactly a review (are mine ever?) but you might like it anyway.

I like a little light reading at Xmas so I read comedian/actor Steve Martin's autobiography 'Born Standing Up' and wrote about it here in January 09.

Another book swap with a blogger...I wrote about Fiona Robyn's hot-off-the-press novel 'The Letters' here in March 09. What did she think of my book? I have no idea...

And that, my readers, is all there is for now. After last post's brush with royalty I would have liked a good Spitting Image does the royals clip to finish off but couldn't see one I wanted so instead you could go and see another famous family that starts with r instead (here).

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Are you there, ma'am?

OK, so we know one never know who's reading! I don't know exactly who I imagine as readers when I put these posts together (sometimes carefully and at length...sometimes fairly flung down at speed) but mostly I suppose I imagine it's the regular commenters and maybe a few others besides - people wandering around cyberspace, filling in time or more likely frittering it away when really they should be writing that report by Friday or getting on with clearing out the garage. As I've mentioned before I never look at stats or any of that 'who came via what page''s just not something I want to spend time or brainpower then it's a surprise, I'd have to say, when folks show up that you weren't expecting (as happened mean you've not read it..?). You get all...'oh sorry, if I'd known you were coming...I mean I'd have at least hoovered the comments box...I'd have got some posher biscuits in''s an automatic reaction...isn't it? Not even a teeny bit? Even for the most agitated amongst us?

So, with all that in mind, I thought I'd see who else I could tempt out of the woodwork. Come on, your majesty, I know you're out there...

Queen Elizabeth II is the one on the left by the way, just in case there was any doubt, and let's not even get started on who has the most class. So, how might I get her majesty's attention?

Well, wouldn't you just know it, I have a poem about her! I've been meaning to post it ever since we talked about all the things we've ever written poems about (back here – in amongst the sex poems post). It's weird how this poem came about because I don't normally ever read about the royals or give them a second thought (other than to think 'oh please, you're still playing that game of charades?'). But then one lazy night I'd ended up watching some of a documentary about Elizabeth II's 80th birthday and it was so...miserable...and the interviewer asked (to my mind) all the wrong questions so somewhere around then this little poem popped out. I suppose you might call it light verse but that is just not one of my terms (plus although the style may be light-like the content is really anything but...I am quite serious...I really would ask her these questions!). For those of you in the lands of far, far away I should perhaps say that the poet mentioned in line 4 is the very marvellous Benjamin Zephaniah who turned down an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2003. There's an article by Zephaniah explaining his decision here but, you know, people turn them down all the time (John Baker had a list of people who had done the same back on his blog here). I sent my poem to Zephaniah and he put it on his website on the page of other people's poems (which was nice) and he even said my poems were 'buff' (I had to look that's a compliment...). There was also an interesting little interviewette with Zephaniah recently in the Scottish Big Issue (you can read that here). Anyway, here's my royal offering:

Questions for a queen

What do you think of your children's divorces?
Do you close your eyes and dream about horses?
Is it tiring to always be part of a show?
Do you care when a poet to honours says 'no'?
Do you feel like us, do you cry wet tears?
Have you changed, as we all have, over the years?
Has it been a real life, has it felt real to you?
To us it seems made-up, a story, untrue
Parades and carriages and armies of staff
We make our own breakfasts, we run our own baths
Do you like it, would you choose it, would you be queen again?
Or would you rather live quietly, just one of them?
Less money, fewer banquets, not a sniff of a crown
Just headscarves or, better still, hair let right down


So come on, ma'am, what does one think of that one? You can tell us...


Tuesday, 7 April 2009

So how uninteresting is this book exactly?

I guess those dancing posts will have to wait because look...there is work to do...or work to think about anyway...or to be precise a book about work to think about (come on, girl, spit it out...). Work (as in paid work) is not exactly my favourite subject (my 'career' has been...much-broken and twisted) but it is today's topic here at the Crazy Diamond and, now I come to think about it, I have written about it, from another angle, back in January of this year too. So maybe it is my subject...maybe everything is. Nowhere is safe...

But, the book! Let's get to the book! First let me just say that how you approach this meandering post probably depends, to an extent, on what you already think of the book's author one Alain de Botton. Here he is (photograph by Charlotte de Botton):

We tend to form fairly clear opinions of famous people (don't we?) and de Botton is certainly something like famous (what might we call him...the thinking person's Jeremy Clarkson? No, that would be silly...). Some of you might consider de Botton (a) interesting (and maybe even charming) and if you do it's likely that you will enjoy at least some of his new book about work. Others amongst you may feel less flattering adjectives are required for this man, one of the UK's better-known intellectuals, and I guess you (b) people will probably avoid this book at all costs anyway. But should you? Is it worth a read? Somewhere in all that lies below I will try to help you decide...but in the end of course it's up to you. Read it or don't read or no deal...

As I said not long back, I like de Botton generally speaking (well, certainly more than I like far as public figures go). I've never met either of them in person but I like the de Botton that we meet quite regularly via our busy media in the UK. I like his approach and what he says in interviews (here's a recent one by Lynn Barber from the Observer). Perhaps most importantly (seeing as he's writer) I like de Botton's writing (some humour, lots of trying to be clever and open and honest and readable and challenging all at the same time ). My favourite book of his so far is probably 'How Proust can change your life'...just because I'm generally more interested in literature (of all kinds) than I am in some of his other topics like, say, architecture or (reading about) love. 'Status Anxiety' (the TV programme), with its thoughts on how we struggle in the neverending, often unspoken competition with each other, I absolutely loved and agreed with hugely (so much so I felt I didn't need to go and read the book...there's only so much reading time in one person's life after all). The only one I haven't gone near yet is 'The Art of Travel'...but that's another whole set of posts.

Anyway de Botton's new book, 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work', what of it, I hear you cry! I'd seen that it was around (how could you not – reviews and interviews are everywhere) but it's a hardback just now and it's about work so it wasn't something I was planning to read exactly. I've had plenty of crappy jobs (and no doubt I'll end up with more at some other point in my life) so my original thought was the admittedly fairly lengthy 'why on earth would I want to read about that right now when I'm temporarily free from the whole wage slave thing thanks to complicated domestic arrangements that are really none of anyone else's business'? It seemed like a reasonable standpoint but then life intervened and I ended up with a copy of the book anyway (and a bit of a guilt complex about dismissing it out of hand...something I say I never do...). So, there I was...with a job to do after all - read the book and have something to say about it. So I read the book. And I thought about it. And I'm still thinking.

As already mentioned De Botton always gets heaps of press coverage (why is that exactly?) so I read some reviews of the new book too. There's a quite brutal one by Naomi Wolf here (and she likes him – yikes!) and a more favourable one here but you can see that there is going to be a fair bit of mickey-taking going on around this latest project of de Botton's. Why is that, you ask. Well, because he's an easy target in this case. This is after all a book about work (all the different types of paid work that make up our modern world) written by a man who (according to many sources including yet another interview in the 'Independent' here) has “a trust fund of £200m” but “doesn't use the money, preferring to live by his writing” [STOP PRESS - please see corrections on this matter from A de B in the comments. Was that me believing what I read in the British press again? Now I remember why I don't get a regular newspaper myself!]. Pause. Makes you wonder what does happen to all that money then, doesn't it? Anyway, it is always going to be hard in this information age (when everyone knows everything about everybody) to take words of wisdom about labour from someone in such an unusual position (no matter how wise those words might manage to be). Don't you think? The subject of work and pay affects us all so differently (any of you not need to touch your £200m trust funds? I know I don't...) but whatever our situation we, naturally, tend to feel quite strongly about this kind of...extreme situation. Journalists can be particularly bitter and twisted (so often the bridesmaids...even with a book deal...) and you can see how some of these issues might make it through into reviews. You can see how the subtext might easily become “rich tosser, never known he's born, what the hell does he know about work...”. Sometimes that text might not even be so sub.

But let's put all of that aside for now and think about the book (which de Botton calls his attempt at a “hymn to the intelligence, peculiarity, beauty and horror of the modern workplace and not least, its extraordinary claim to be able to provide us, alongside love, with the principal source of life's meaning”...and I hear a few of you, not least my beloved, drifting away from me right there...). I fear too that my rambling may get out of control today so seeing as I linked to a Q & A with de Botton last time here are some Q & A of my own to keep things under control. What might you like to know about this book, do you think?

Question 1 - Is this book worth reading?

Yes. I'd have to say... yes. It might annoy you (along the “rich, posh tosser” lines) now and again but that doesn't mean it isn't interesting and, quite simply, worth the time and effort it takes to read (plus I have known lots of rich, posh tossers in my time and, believe me, he is small fry in that category). For a start 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work' did make me laugh and make me think and those two are always worth the time spent, aren't they? It's very varied and detailed and quite ambitious and all of those things I like – in general and in here. It had all sorts of effects on me that I wasn't expecting too - for example, it brought back some memories about particular crap jobs from my own past. There is a whole chapter on United Biscuits (in particular the brand McVities Moments) and as I worked as a Research & Planning Executive for the company that did advertising for Fox's Biscuits many moons ago all the stuff about the brand development of a biscuit (the focus groups and so on) was frighteningly real. I led those focus groups! I talked for endless hours about crunchiness, sweetness, how that biscuit might make you feel (and so on and so on...). It was weird to think about it all again (and with de Botton as a sort of alien onlooker, as it were) but not unpleasant in its way. Doing that job drove me quite crazy and whilst I have some ideas about that Botton's input (even at this late stage) is neither useless nor unwelcome (and now one is starting to write like him, isn't one?).
But yes...for many reasons, and even considering all its potentially infuriating moments, I would say this book is worth reading. The hardback is costly for those of you without Trust Funds you could easily wait for the paperback...or get it out from the library (did I mention I love libraries...the more public the better...).

Question 2 – how much can de Botton be accused of stating the bleeding obvious?

This is something, I believe, this author has been criticised for before...and you can see why. I did even write in my notes at one point 'stating the bleeding obvious' (regarding his comment about there not being guidebooks for the working dock areas of London but only for the more stereotypical or accepted tourist destinations). But then you think about it a little and... that is kind of his point, I think, that it is obvious. We're meant to start wondering about why it's obvious, aren't we? We're meant to ask ourselves why take such-and-such for granted (in our current world at least)? The bleeding-obvious points are not about stupidity they are about observation, I think, and that's not such a bad thing, is it? Poems do it all the time after all, don't they – try to get readers to look at something from a different angle? Some poems anyway.

Question 3 - There are a lot of photos in this book (it is even described as “a photo reportage”) – are the pictures any good?

There are a lot of photos...mostly by a man called Richard Baker (though his name is in very small type in the book and he doesn't seem to be mentioned much in the reviews I've seen either). To be honest the photos are a bit small as presented in the book and then, of course, they are rather dull. I know they're meant to be dull (I get that!)...or at least I know they're meant to be ordinary (and I get that too) - in fact possibly my favourite chapter in the book is the one about electricity pylons (really? Yes really) and part of the whole point of that chapter is to emphasise how something dull to one observer can be absolutely fascinating and vital to another (again bleeding obvious but you'd be surprised how often people choose to forget it!). I might even say it's quite daring to have so many photos of so many conventionally dull subjects (biscuit warehouses, workstations etc.) except I note they didn't use one for the front cover (fairly annoying shot of blonde staring out of window instead...cop-out thought up by marketing department maybe...). Still, daring or not...I'm not sure there are many images in the book that you would want to look at again and again even so... especially when they're this size. It's a tricky one. McKelvie – you're a good photographer (he really is)...go look at it 'The Pleasures...' in a bookshop and tell us what you think of the images. Think of it as a secret assignment or something.

Question 4 - Is the book poetic in any sense?

Apparently the author wanted this book to be “a series of poetic journeys through the modern landscape”. So... is it? Yes, I would say and then...though some of the journeys get a bit overshadowed by other things that are going on in the writing. A lot of the time, for example, it is hard to make out any potential poetic moments because you are distracted by the somewhat overbearing style that makes the book read a bit like the diary of an English intellectual from a bygone era as he wanders around a branch of Asda ('one might choose the individual Chinese ready meal tonight but, on the other hand, one might have feasted sufficiently on Oriental fare already this week '* and so on). I don't mind all these bits of the book (and there are loads) but whatever they are they're not particularly poetic (not for me anyway). They are just the way he writes, I suppose. Reviewers, of course, are mentioning them aplenty (as you might expect...lots of easy laughs at this expense...posh philosopher meets ordinary people Botton writes about Skips shock! Jesus, he even goes to Middlesbrough** at one point!) but somehow I don't mind all the 'intense academic meets everyday life' bits because for me they are an important part of the book - the meeting of old and new, the knit of high and low brow, the meld of mix and match. It's not surprising that I like these features perhaps (I did once write a story featuring Dostoevsky's ghost in Tesco...see the 1 o'clock story on usual website) and also, as I said, I am well-disposed towards the author so in the end I find de Botton's otherworldliness...bearable, sometimes endearing, above all honest (and he is from another world...believe me, I've visited it now and again). He knows what he is too – a man who has done little (so far) but write and think (and succeed) and in a Scotsman interview he says of the subject of work “I've tried to use my naivety to my advantage”. Largely I think he succeeds in this too but it does mean that the book reads, now and again, like the beautiful homework of an expensively-educated, frighteningly clever, exceedingly well-behaved small boy on the subject 'what other people do all day' (and that is kind of what it is). It would be so easy to have a go (SO easy!) but I think he really is interested in some kind of public good and how can that be held against him?

I seem to be losing my thread...ah yes - back to poetry! I think there are points in this book where the author gets past the quaint goodness-me-why-is-this-warehouse-so-ugly and writes some really lovely sentences (they are in there – you just have to work at it a bit). There's the odd overwrite but mostly I'd say he chooses his words precisely and carefully (and from a huge vocabulary!) and now and then he can dazzle a little and surprise the reader too. There is emotive writing - wonder at the satellite launch, beauty and care in the chapter on painting (painting pictures...not toilet walls, in case you wondered), delicate thoughts on the sleeping dreams of an accountant in chapter 8 (quite a lot of 'Brave New World' in the accountancy chapter too, methinks). There is also gentleness in the biscuit factory (whatever other reviewers say) and thoughtfulness at the end of the (dead) tuna's long journey from the Indian Ocean to the Bristol tea table. He makes good use of artistic and poetic references (they could be pretentious, some of them, but I don't think they are) and there is also an awful lot of setting the present in a wider historical context (de Botton's first degree was history and he's very good at that kind of detail too). So, overall, I would say it's not all poetic (and why should it be?) but it has its moments...quite a few of them and I think he tries really hard to make this a well-written book in many different ways (and if you remember trying is one of my favourite things).

Question 5 - Did I learn anything from reading this book?

Now...another you read philosophy books to learn... or just to think? I'm not sure and perhaps that's one reason I never stuck to philosophy (despite my mother's regular insistence that it would be a more valid pursuit than poetry!). De Botton is known as a philosopher (though he prefers the word 'essayist', according to one interview) and I think partly I read his books to enjoy experiencing a mind at work and, I suppose, to help mine continue its own rambling development (does that sound right?). Saying that, his books do have their no-question-about-it educational moments too and this one perhaps more than most (it could almost be a college textbook in places though it gets a bit maudlin and off topic now and again and students really don't need any help on that score). He visits a lot of different workplaces (from accountancy firms to fish packing facilities, from aviation fairs to cheap and not-so-cheerful motels) and he passes on a lot of factual details from each one so you'd be a fool if you didn't pick up some new information somewhere along the way. There are intelligent observations on modern life of all sorts too and, in some ways, this book is not completely dissimilar to the very popular and mildly educational Bill Bryson travel books (lots of detail of local characters, places, contrasts and comparisons) - except this time Bill is...well, not really Bill at all... and he's not allowed to go to ANY of the traditional tourist destinations (in fact think 'Bill Bryson meets Jeremy Irons on his way to an international nylons exhibition in Frankfurt***'... and you might be just about there).

Overall what I would say this book does well is that it tries (and to a good extent succeeds) to give a whole picture of our international system of strange survival (exactly what it takes to get the food on our tables, the picture on our TV screens, the people sat at tables at our careers fairs etc.). He paints (or photographs...) the picture without lecturing on the whole (far more questions than answers, more observations than commands) and that's quite a relief in this age of the ubiquitous tell-you-how-to-live manual. This offering is, like all de Botton's books in a way, more about how to think about how to live...and that's no bad thing. What's unusual about his books, considering all the big media splash on each arrival, is that they are surprisingly subtle. It's a fairly mixed blessing, all the hype, I imagine...

Question 6 – While we're on the subject, are his books overhyped?

Well, not compared to Jordan/Katie Price's books or Geri Halliwell's books or Jamie Oliver's books they're not, no. They may get a lot more attention than many other books we can all think of that deserve more coverage but that's not really de Botton's fault as such (is it?). All he has done is (fairly effortlessly, I suspect) do what Research & Planning executives talk about all the time – he has found a niche that no-one else was filling. Who else writes in English about modern life in quite the way that A de B does? There is Will Self's journalism (which I really like and in some ways it is not completely dissimilar...bit grubbier, bit more random), the 'Affluenza' of Oliver James (though he is a psychologist...someone trying to fix us...), the more political Naomi Klein but de Botton is different to all of these. He is just a wandering intellectual, pondering life's many questions in ways most of us can understand (more or less). I think he makes important contributions. I can see why the book section editors can't resist him...and his books.

Question 7 – One of the reviews said something about this being the wrong book for the wrong man (as in this was not a subject that suited de Botton) you agree?

I can see why a reviewer might say that and there are awkward moments in the book (as reviewers have highlighted) where de Botton's manner and language do clash horribly with what you might call ordinary people's lives. That doesn't mean however that some of what he is saying in those moments is not's just uncomfortable to witness. So why is that? Because it's not often, even in this day and age, that we witness people really mixing across class/education/background boundaries - mostly we still like to keep people in their separate boxes if we can (uneducated people over there, middle management here, famous people behind the VIP signs, privileged intellectuals to the left a bit...). As if challenging this, one of the tasks this book sets itself is to look at many, many different kinds of paid work and to ask as many different kinds of questions about all these as possible and it's perhaps here that the author's naivete falls down. Maybe he didn't quite realise what a huge, doomed-to-at-least-some-failure project this really could be (the world out there is huge, Alain, isn't it? Why do you think so many of us hide in here...). But still, I don't hold that failure against him. Nobody's perfect. So maybe there are painful moments now and again and maybe the content is more suited to a series of books rather than a series of essays (not that I'm suggesting he write them...) and maybe it was all just a pie-in-the-sky idea (worthy of some of chapter 9's entrepreneurs...) but, you know, he had a go, he tried something new (or something old in a new way at least). At the end of the book de Botton sounds tired ('bad day, dear?') and whilst he jokes to Lynn Barber about having a “nervous breakdown” during one of the field trips in the US I have to say there was certainly something nervous and possibly mid-life crisissy going on in the prose now and then (much talk of his not-long-deceased father, much inability to compute in different situations, much melancholy). For this and many reasons I don't think he makes a bad job of this giant project**** overall. And now let's end this session on a sentence (from the accountancy chapter) to give you a taste of it:

“She has a business card which she hands over in meetings and which tells other people – and, more meaningfully perhaps, reminds her – that she is a Business Unit Senior Manager, rather than a vaporous transient consciousness in an incidental universe.”

Quite beautiful wouldn't you say? No? Anyway...if you're still there... you just might like this song from the 1980s (couldn't embed it – shame).

Time for me to clock out now.


*This is not a real quote from the book by the way.
**Where I spent a good part of my teenage time, for those of you who don't know this.
***I once had a job interpreting at just such an exhibition (working for a company who worked for ICI Fibres). There was a lot of drinking in the evenings, I can tell you that much.
****Though can I just say I hate the line about picking up a one-legged person by mistake on page 312? Almost as bad as being flippant about baldness I'd say.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Tango Sunday - something else borrowed..?

OK – I made that up. There is no regular feature on any blog anywhere (that I know of) called Tango's not even Sunday yet...I just liked the name. Plus I have been reading the new novel by John Baker called 'Winged with Death' and it is filled to the margins with tango, tango and... more tango (the dance not the soft drink!). I finished the book yesterday and now I have to think of something interesting to write about it because I am due to be part of one of those virtual blog tours (my date 20th April). 'Winged with Death' is a very interesting and thought-provoking read but... it's school holidays...and Small Girl is now poorly with a tummy bug from hell (I thought we got off lightly this winter...)...and we are going to England for a week to visit family and old friends soon...and odd things keep happening (so what's new?)...and I keep getting more books to review...and I'm not even a book reviewer! If anyone else wants to read this particular book before 20th April it is a paperback, out now and published by Flambard Press. I notice that quite a few others are on John's virtual tour page. Interesting to see what we all make of it...

Anyway while I think about all that (and about a million other things...) please enjoy some very flippant-and-yet-tender tango from a different set of old friends (the cast of 'Frasier'). I know it's TV but it's very, very good TV (some beautiful lines, some fantastic facial expressions, some crucial cringes...). The 'Frasier' episode that made me laugh the most might just be the one where someone thinks Frasier's Dad Martin is gay...I laughed and laughed and laughed when I first saw it (it's called 'Out with Dad' series 7, episode 15) and it would probably make me laugh even more if I watched it now (if anything I find 'Frasier' funnier now we too are a multi-generational household). Anyway...back to the's Tango Sunday...with Niles and Daphne and part of the 'Moon dance' episode (series 3, episode 13 – first one directed by Kelsey Grammar, apparently):

p.s. If you want to see the full ball scene it's here. I feel a chain of dance-related posts coming on...

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Something else borrowed - Things I love Thursday

Last week I borrowed the idea for Five Senses Friday from Green Ink and this week I am borrowing another feature from another lovely girl ('Father Ted' moment...allow me that...). This week I present Things I love Thursday (TILT), borrowed from Claire Askew at One Night Stanzas. Claire comes up with lists of things week after week after week (except this one, strangely) and her enthusiasm is almost boundless. I have no intention of attempting this every week but here's a few things I love for today.

First off?

I have a fair soft spot for the man with the biggest bald spot...popular philosopher Alain de Botton. He has a new book out just now so he is all over the UK media this week and I feel like I might mind... but I don't because I like him. The new book sounds fairly uninteresting, I have to admit, but we all have our peaks and troughs...even popular intellectuals with healthy book deals [STOP PRESS - unfair and flippant dismissal of book I haven't actually read - be back to talk about it again in a while when I've read it]. In the meantime you can see the clever shiny one doing a Q & A type feature for the Guardian newspaper (which my Mum insists on calling 'the Manchester Guardian' even though everyone else stopped calling it that quite some years ago!) here.

Well there had to be some music, didn't there? One of my favourite bands these days is the US bluegrass band Crooked Still. We saw them a couple of years ago at Celtic Connections in Glasgow and their singer, Aoife O'Donovan, has one of my all-time favourite voices. Here's a clip of the band with the old line-up (they have since changed their cellist and acquired a fiddler too):

oh and here's another one:

Who doesn't love a lighthouse? I took a walk out to our local one Scurdie Ness this week. Here it is:

And talk of lighthouses reminds me of a fantastic book about living in Scottish lighthouses called 'Stargazing' by Peter Hill. Highly recommended.

And poetry?
I am that total Robert Burns-loving English-person-living-in-Scotland and one of my regular dog walks takes me past this carving on a nearby lane (hope you can read it OK):

Here's the view up the lane from the stone:

and the view down:

Every single time I pass these words about Burns on the wall they make me smile (“a poet...and look how important he is!”). So why is it here? Although Burns lived in the west of Scotland for most of his life his father came from the farming area of the Mearns in the east (just up the road from here) and Robbie did make at least one journey up this way (details of it here, halfway down the page).
Just this week a group of young Scottish men, the Paul McKenna Band, played at our folk club and performed the Burns song 'The Learig' (a song also beautifully done by Karine Polwart on her cd of traditional songs 'Fairest Floo'er'). I couldn't find that song by either of them on youtube or myspace so you'll have to go and hear them both live. The Paul McKenna Band are all so young that it did make me think about the debate of late re are there/aren't there enough young Scottish poets about the place. I don't really have an opinion on that particular poetry question (other than to say that poetry is such a weird business/specific case and that very often writers don't develop an interest in, or a talent for, writing it until later in life anyway) but I do know that the folk clubs of this country (and indeed other countries too) are regularly visited by loads and loads of amazing and exciting young Scottish musicians, singers and songwriters. I know it is a very vibrant and varied scene just now with all kinds of styles and sounds going around. Just nobody mention the word 'dangerous'...

More poetry?

Often when I like a poem it is just one line (or group of words) that does it for me. On the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Lost Voices' about Rosemary Tonks they featured her poem 'Story of a Hotel Room' and as it was read aloud this line jumped out at me:

“To make love as well as that is ruinous”

Great stuff, eh? To read the whole poem get a copy of Bloodaxe's anthology 'Being Alive' (or just go here if you're cheap...or skint...).

More words?

I'm the same with song lyrics – sometimes just a couple of words can do it. I was sorting out all my vinyl records this week and I came across my LP of Paul Simon's 'One Trick Pony' (wasn't I writing about it just the other day? Oh yes I was - here). On the song 'Oh Marion' these lines appear:

“the boy's got brains
he just abstains”

Now those words in that order... I love.

And finally...

I also love...hearing songs on the radio that you haven't heard for ages. Patti Smith's 'Because the Night' was in the charts in 1978 (when I was eleven) and I remember taping it off the radio (with a cassette – sellotape over the tabs and ker-lunk). Tom Morton played it on Radio Scotland one afternoon this week – what a song. You can find it here.

Hope you loved some of these too. See you soon.