Four Quartets – T S Eliot

Four Quartets first editionI don’t read much poetry, but thanks for BBC Radio 4 I get small doses of poetry which make me wish I had the time to explore more poets and their work.  Every week Poetry Please with Roger McGough provides it’s listeners with 30 minutes of readers requests and occasional features on individual poets (Shirley Henderson’s reading of Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market was a recent delight).

Back in January we were treated to a reading by Jeremy Irons of T S Eliots Four Quartets, a set of poems which contain so many immortal lines it would be hard to know where to stop quoting them.  In an English February for example, Eliot-s words capture the rain-soaked cold which seems never-ending despite the occasional glimpses of sunshine:

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat

Eliot had the ability to paint a canvas of imagery in just a few words:

Ash on and old man’s sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.

(you can almost see the scene, an elderly man in an a shabby, old arm-chair with dead-roses in a vase on a table next to him).

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Review: Ljubljana Tales – New Europe Writers

lubliana tales Ljubljana Tales is published by New Europe Writers, a publishing enterprise dedicated to exploring the literary connections between the various European states, with an emphasis on those countries which were formally behind the Iron Curtain.

They have published several volumes of “Tales” including Warsaw Tales (now available for free download), Budapest Tales, Prague Tales and Bucharest Tales. I like the idea of anthologies of books from a particular city, especially when it’s a city I know little about.  Ljubljana is of course the capital of the former Yugoslavia nation of Slovenia.  My son visitited Ljubljana last year and keeps telling me what a an interesting city it is and this seems to be confirmed by its Wikipedia article.

Ljubljana Tales is a very nicely presented mix of poetry and short fiction in very accessible translations which all reflect the literary tradition of the city.  Slovenia had it’s own “Spring” which began in 1987 when the  magazine Nova Revija published articles demanding reform.   We who live in nations with a more settled history find it difficult to understand the place that writing had in the revolutionary movements which led to the liberation of countries like Slovenia.

The range of pieces in Ljubljana Tales is very wide.  About half the book consists of short poems, and the other half a mix of short fiction, never more than about half a dozen pages long.  I counted 66 pieces in total and found that as they were so short it was easy to immerse myself in the literary community of Ljubjana for a couple of days by picking the book up at odd moments.  In fact, some of the pieces would make useful accompaniments to a visit to the city.  For example, Miha Pintarič’s The Cobblers Bridge makes fun of an old ritual that used to take place there:

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Christmas Gifts for Readers

Over the last month I’ve been looking out for books which would make good Christmas gifts for readers. I’m covering one more item today and also listing the other four below this article.  Today’s choice is a subscription to Slightly Foxed, a quarterly journal which calls itself “The Read Reader’s Quarterly”.

I have periods of subscribing to Slightly Foxed and at other times I catch up with back-numbers on ebay.  Either way its a journal which reminds me what reading is all about.  It’s not about the rush to read the latest new release or to spot something you must have in a in book-shop, so much as a slow meander through shelves old and new, remembering gems from the past and passing on your enthusiasm to others.

Each edition contains a number of articles by book enthusiasts in which they write about a book or an author who has inspired them.  The articles are illustrated with drawings and wood-cuts and are printed on a beautiful creamy paper.  The journal is meant to be kept – this is not a magazine which you will want to pass on to someone else because with the addition of the annual index it builds up into a wonderful resource on writers old and new.

The range of books covered is as wide as the avid reader would want.  One article could cover Terry Pratchett or Lee Child, the next could go back to the delights of Laurence Sterne or John Cowper Powys.  Whatever period the books come from, you can guarantee that the writer of the article will make you want to dip into the chosen volume and my experience is that of finding many beautiful books which I would otherwise never have encountered.

Of course, this would be no use if the books mentioned in Slightly Foxed were unavailable, and indeed, many of them will be out of print – but I usually find that they can be found so easily and often cheaply online on ebay or abebooks etc.  I now have quite a few books on my shelves which I discovered by reading about them in Slightly Foxed and I am grateful to the publishers that my reading has been enriched in this way.  One article by Jonny le Falbe on Gregor Rezzori led me to aquire all this mid-20th century writer’s books and I have written a set of articles about his work on A Common Reader.  Another unlikely find was Elizabeth Von Armin, a Countess and also a friend of H G Wells who I have yet to write about but will do so next year – most of whose books can be downloaded for free in ebook format on Project Gutenburg.

The other items on my Christmas recommendations list can be seen below: Continue reading

Review: Poems on the Underground – Judith Chernaik (ed)

Christmas Gifts for Readers no. 2. (a short series)

Anyone who travels on London Underground will be familiar with the poems which appear over the heads of passengers in the advertising frames.  The project began back in 1986 when Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert persuaded London Underground to post poems on their trains and then to double the number of spaces for which they obtained funding.

Since then countless passengers have founds solace and amusement by reading these short poems. The project has been so successful that it has inspired similar projects in Dublin, Adelaide, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Stuttgart, Sydney, Barcelona, Athens, Moscow, St Petersburg and Shanghai (source: Booktrust).

Today sees the publication of a completely new edition of Poems on the Underground: A New Edition (Penguin Hardback Classics) containing 230 poems, beautifully presented in a nice binding, the cover design being based on the moquette fabric used on the seats of tube trains.  The book is timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the London Underground on 9th January 2013.

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Review: New Oxford Rhyming Dictionary

New Oxford Rhyming Dictionary Why would you want a rhyming dictionary?  After all, much of today’s poetry is free-form or blank verse where rhymes have been discarded in favour of the enigmatic, meaningful lines that stop you in your tracks.  Rhymed poetry seems to draw you on relentlessly from one line to the next – great for narrative verse but not necessarily for the reflective, soul-baring poetry of today.  After all, an attempt to rhyme leads you away from the stream of thoughts into a more technical quest linked to your command of vocabulary.  Trying to find a rhyme can even seem to be a distraction, an straight-jacket confining your thoughts as though in tram-tracks, something which militates against pure art.

But even the most radical poets may wish to prove their ability at more traditional forms of verse.  It doesn’t take much exposure to poets like William Wordsworth to discover that rhymed verse can be as moving and emotional as any freer form

“And trust that spiritual Creatures round us move,
Griefs to allay which Reason cannot heal;
Yea, veriest reptiles have sufficed to prove
To fettered wretchedness, that no Bastille
Is deep enough to exclude the light of love,
Though man for brother man has ceased to feel”.

In fact there are still many poets who still struggle with rhyming verse.  Apart from those who love trying to write rhyming poems for the sheer love of it, there are rappers, song-writers, comedians, performance poets and many others who all need to find the perfect rhyme to make their verses flow – anyone who is interested in how their poetry  sounds will soon find that rhyme is a technique they need to master.

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The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems

9780374530938Parrish recently reviewed The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems and wrote that “as an introduction to a poetry that can hold it’s head high on the world stage, this book will take some beating”.  I was inspired me to take a look at it and agree that its pretty good.  I’m not a great poetry lover, but sometimes a poem speaks to me and makes me wish I could commit to memory without all the hard work that would take me.

This book comes with various covers but I liked the one to the left, a photograph of the Berlin Wall (which also gives the book a slightly different title).

The book covers a very troubled century of course, and we start with the classicism of Rilke and move on through First and Second World Wars, to East/West partition and beyond.   Gunter Grass is included an many  others including Bertolt Brecht, Inge Muller (“After the Rubble” – “When I went to fetch water, ths house collapsed on top of me . . “).

Michael Hoffman has expertly translated many of the poems but others too seem to have done a fine job – I particularly liked Autumn Day by Rainer Maria Rilke which is translated by C F MacIntyre:

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