Category: poetry

The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane (Penguin Books, 2013)
The Old Weird Albion by Justin Hopper (Penned In The Margins,2017)

Screen shot 2019-12-02 at 21.59.29If Robert MacFarlane were to say “I’m just poppng out for a walk”, chances are you wouldn’t see him again for days, weeks, even months. Not for him a gentle stroll in the park. We’re talking serious trekking here. He tells us nothing about the equipment or supplies he takes with him, but it’s plain that he sets off prepared to sleep rough and scavenge for food if necessary.

Being fully immersed in the natural world is what drives him and gives him sustenance. In ‘The Old Ways’ the writer wanders around England and Scotland and also roams abroad (Palestine,Spain and Tibet). Some of these adventures border on the reckless as he challenges himself against the elements or strikes out onto what he knows full well to be inhospitable terrain. MacFarlane regards “walking as enabling sight and thought rather than encouraging retreat and escape”. In other words, it’s a serious business and not just a gentle recreational pursuit. Continue reading

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue (Harper-Collins, 1998)

Screen shot 2019-12-01 at 10.25.48This is a self help book for the soul in which traditional Celtic wisdom from Ireland is couched in universal terms. It is full of  quotable anecdotes about living correctly and completely.

On the downside, affirmative thoughts are frequently undermined by woolly references to ‘spiritual’ values that imply all life’s gifts are God-given. O’Donohue argues that “At every moment and in every situation, God is the intimate, attentive, and encouraging friend”, ignoring the fact that there is not a shred of concrete evidence to support such a statement.

As a life-long Atheist I find the pseudo-religious aspects of the book frustrating primarily because it seems at odds with the admirable Humanist thrust of the key ideas. How can we be truly free as individuals if we are subservient to a divine being? Continue reading

Screen shot 2019-11-17 at 09.51.41I am currently reading Ursula K.Le Guin’s wonderful collection of talks and essays – ‘The Wave Of The Mind’.

One essay, written for her own entertainment in the 1990s, is entitled ‘Collectors, Rhymesters And Drummers’ and contains this quote on the importance of words that I wish I had read as a student of English Literature when I was at school :

“Words, whether in poetry or prose, are as physical as paint and stone, as much a matter of voice and ear as music, as bodily as dancing.

I think it is a major error in criticism ever to ignore the words. Literally, the words: the sound of the words – the movement and pace of sentences – the rhythmic structures that the words establish and are controlled by.

A pedagogy that relies on the “Cliff Notes” sort of thing travesties the study of literature. To reduce the aesthetic values of a narrative to the ideas it expresses, to its “meaning,” is a drastic impoverishment. The map is not the landscape.”

THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton, 2018)

This great society is going to smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.

W.H. Auden – Bucolics Part II – Woods (1953)

51-zvpnlixl._sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_The pitch for this remarkable novel, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction,  is that it follows the converging stories of nine people who are transformed by the emergence of tree consciousness.

In the first section called ‘Roots’ there are separate back stories, more like fables, which introduce the reader to these diverse characters. The following three sections – Trunk, Crown & Seeds – show how these lives interconnect.

Significantly, none of them start out as political activists but each, for different reasons, feel moved to act out of a sense of moral outrage over the way our eco-systems have been, and are still being, destroyed for the sake of economic gain.

The book has 9 humans and over 300 named trees; the latter are in many ways the real protagonists. Powers wants us to appreciate the interdependence between humanity and the inanimate world. In an interview at Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris, he poses the question: “What if the living world sets patterns that we have to accommodate?” Continue reading

goodreads 2018.jpgSince 2014, I have set and maintained a relatively modest reading target on ‘Goodreads‘ of 50 titles a year. I find this website invaluable at the end of year when it comes to reviewing the books I’ve read.

Being gifted, and being thoroughly absorbed by, Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘The Buried Giant’ led me to a reappraisal of the Nobel Prize Winner. Up until then, I’d read only ‘Remains Of The Day’ and hadn’t been particularly drawn to his other novels. The slow, deliberate pace and absence of colloquial language put me off but now this actually drew me in. Perhaps it’s an age thing. Ishiguro skillfully takes the reader deep into the mind and, above all, the memories of his characters. The only novel of his I haven’t read is ‘The Unconsoled’. Aside from the uncharacteristically messy ‘When We Were Orphans’, I rated all of his works very highly.

Getting fixated on this male author sabotaged my resolve to read more female writers this year. By the end of the year only 20 of the 50 were by women. Of these, my two favorite novels, one old and one new, were Sarah Waters’ quietly subversive ‘Fingersmith’ and Gail Honeyman’s funny/sad study of loneliness : ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’. Continue reading

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