Category: poetry


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

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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

M TRAIN by Patti Smith (Bloomsbury , 2015)
smith

If you have lived in a cave for the past four decades or spent too much time listening exclusively to crappy chart pop you wouldn’t know that Patti Smith is a Rock’n’Roll star.

You wouldn’t necessarily be any the wiser from reading her second autobiographical work either since there are practically no references to music making.

What you do learn from this collection of short loosely connected essays is that she is addicted to coffee, hates housework, loves visiting the graves of dead poets, likes taking black and white photos with a Polaroid camera and spends a good chunk of her free time binge-viewing TV shows (The Killing is a particular favourite). Continue reading

new_skin_for_the_old_ceremony As a gift to a friend of mine who is retiring soon, a group of friends and colleagues have been asked to write articles about a poem or song.

These texts will be connected by the themes of one, or more, of the four elements – fire, earth, water and air.

I have chosen to write a piece on Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire which, as you may know or recall, goes like this:

And who by fire, who by water,
 who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
 who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
 who in your merry merry month of may,
 who by very slow decay,
 and who shall I say is calling? Continue reading 

Why Woolf Works works

woolfworksIt might seem an odd notion to base a dance performance on three novels by Virginia Woolf, but Wayne McGregor is a choreographer who makes his own rules. He proves that great prose can inspire and captivate in the same way that the rhythmic flow of lyrical poetry can.

Woolf Works was premiered to huge acclaim in 2015 and is divided into three sections: ‘I Now, I Then’ is based on the themes in Mrs Dalloway; ‘Becomings’ takes its cues from the surreal wit & vitality of Orlando and ‘Tuesday’ is inspired by The Waves, Woolf’s most experimental novel.

This final section is also named after the heading to the suicide note Woolf left for her husband. This letter, which begins “I feel certain that I’m going mad again”, is beautifully read by Gillian Anderson as a preface to the profoundly moving conclusion.

The revival of these pieces was a hot ticket at The Royal Opera House but has now reached a wider audience thanks to a live worldwide broadcast in over 1,500 cinemas and more than 35 countries on February 8th 2017. Continue reading

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