Friday, 31 July 2015

Books, books and even more books!

One of the disadvantages of coming home, after a long period away, is the pile of mail waiting for you - a big shaggy pile of junk, bills, notifications, magazines and jiffy bags. This time was no exception.  I haven't been at home for more than two or three days at a stretch since the end of April, so the pile was substantial.  But the up-side has been the contents of the jiffy bags.  Books!!!!

Alice Jolly's wonderful, heart-breaking memoir 'Dead Babies and Seaside Towns' was one of the first to be pulled from the pile.  I read the first, addictive paragraphs and put it on one side for a proper read.  Then Kim Moore's new poetry collection, The Art of Falling, which I've been eagerly anticipating ever since it was published. And then I opened an envelope and Earthlines tumbled out - a beautiful magazine of environmentally related prose, poetry and stunning images - to find my own poem sequence about Emily Carr, Between the Forest and the Sea, laid out on a two page spread in the middle.

Other treats included the poetry magazine The Moth, which I've recently subscribed to. It is visually in a class of its own and the content is always varied and stimulating. I'm enjoying it very much and will probably keep up my subscription. At only £6.00 it's very affordable.

There were also lots and lots of books for research - all the way through my Canadian trip people kept recommending things I should read - many of them only available in North America. Fortunately Abe Books can find virtually anything second hand.  I found myself buying things from the Thrift Bookstore in the US for only a few dollars plus a few dollars postage.  They all arrived in the UK before I did.  It pains me, as an author, to buy second hand books that pay no royalties to the writer, but many of these books were out of print and only available second hand.  Others were university press published at prices only institutions can afford. That kind of publication does no service to the author at all.

Now, I'd better get off the computer and do something more useful than blogging! I have a lot of work to do over the summer and a book to write, but I'm also planning an orgy of reading. That puts a big smile on my face!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Tuesday Poem: Kathleen Jamie stops worrying about commas

'I'm aware now that life is finite.  So I'm going to keep at it, keep at it.  Instead of doing my usual thing of finicking around for two months per poem: "Comma in?  Comma out.  No, comma in. Comma out" . . . Well, to hell with that.  Stop worrying about commas.'

In the winter edition of the Poetry Review UK there's a very interesting interview with Kathleen Jamie. She talks about her development as a poet from her first collection 'Black Spiders' at the age of nineteen, to the present day and her expansion into eco-writing with the brilliant environmental essays published in Findings and Sightlines.

For women writers and artists born before the feminist revolution of the seventies and eighties, it wasn't the glass ceiling that was the threat to unlimited achievement, it was their own biology condensed into the image of 'the pram in the hall'. This was a phrase from Cyril Connolly's book on writing the great novel - "There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall". In the twenty first century we shouldn't have to keep talking about it, but the subject still comes up.


Women have always had to juggle their creativity with motherhood. Many famous female authors in the past were childless - Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Christina Rossetti, Katherine Mansfield, Eudora Welty to name only a few.  Writer Lauren Sandler famously said, as late as 2013, that to be a successful woman writer you could only have one child.  Kathleen Jamie has two. She thinks that having children was the best thing she could do, both as a woman and a writer. 'To think I might not have had those experiences and been deepened out by it, excavated by it. . .  The pram in the hall lasts about eighteen months!  It's nothing.'

Kathleen Jamie busts a lot of myths. When asked by a PhD student about how she had constructed her latest collection of poetry she answered 'I'm sorry, I just put the poems on the floor and shuffled them around.'  Lately there has been a loosening up of her approach to poetry.  'I think I've had enough for now of the "well-made poem".  There's more of a to-hell-with-it attitude in what I've been writing since The Overhaul.' She made a resolution in 2014 to write a poem a week, with a limit of 14 lines each. 'Just go with the vibe,'  she recommends.  'Go with the energy. . . It's great what happens when you just give up.'
Spontaneity, energy, the freeing of the imagination from the shackles of form.  Maybe we've become too self-conscious, too craft-conscious as poets and forgotten the sheer delight of words, that intoxication with language that outruns the pen and goes beyond any kind of discipline. Maybe we have to leave behind what Jamie calls 'well-madeness' and embrace risk and poetic hedonism. And stop worrying about commas!


Kathleen Jamie's interview is part of the Bloodaxe Archive Project in conjunction with Newcastle University.

You can listen to Kathleen Jamie reading her own poetry at the Poetry Archive. 


The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take it in turns to edit our main web page.  If you'd like to see what the rest of the group are sharing, please click here and take a look!





Thursday, 23 July 2015

Playing Truant with Yves Saint Laurent

We made it back eventually after two days of driving mainly at night to avoid the heat through Europe and a long day up from Dover to the far north through terrible English traffic. Home to briefly put the washing in the machine and repack the suitcases for the next trip. But I abandoned the piles of mail on the table (and the dust!) to take a granddaughter to the Yves Saint Laurent 'Style is Eternal' exhibition at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle.
Marina Schiano in That Dress
I think there are probably very few girls who haven't fantasized about sweeping into a room in a fabulous dress.

I was never a particularly girlie girl, but wasn't immune to the seductions of silk and swirl.  This exhibition looks at YSL's work as an artist in fabric.  The clothes are fabulous and most of them are very wearable.  Though this wedding dress makes the bride look rather like a robot. Anyone for crochet?

Many of the dresses were inspired by art.  This is the nineteen sixties Mondrian collection.

My favourites were the clothes that were conventional, very wearable and in beautiful fabrics and colours.  This is the Matisse dress.

Just for one day I played truant from all the socio-political issues of haute-couture and capitalist consumer culture. YSL knew all about the seductive and sensual qualities of clothes.  Now I have to pack the wellingtons and fleecy pyjamas and put on the wet weather gear to volunteer at a jazz festival in Llandudno.  Living in a tent for four days in north Wales with not a lot of opportunity for Style! But at least the music will be good. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Long Trek Home

Igor Mitoraj's clay faces baking under the sun in the piazza this week.


No post for a few days as we begin the long trek back to England across Europe.  The car has to go back to the UK to have its papers renewed.  This is definitely not the weather for a long journey, so we're planning to travel through the night, checking into a motel during the mid-day heat.  Motels are cheap in France - the one we're staying in is only 30 euros.  Setting off in the small hours tonight and hoping to get through northern Italy and Switzerland by Sunday lunchtime. Just hope the car survives the journey - its 13 years old now and beginning to creak a little.

I must say I'm looking forward to some cooler weather - the heat here has been almost unbearable at times - haven't experienced heat like this since I lived in the Middle East.  Over 40 degrees is an all time record for Italy in July - glad I won't be here for August!

The heat is stunning - makes you stand in the shade, admiring your feet,wondering who you are. This Japanese girl had clearly had enough.



Friday, 17 July 2015

The Beggar at Our Door


- because this is what Greece has been turned into by the actions of the Eurozone. We thought it was going to be David and Goliath, but this time David’s slingshot and pebbles were no match for Goliath’s sheer brute power and the terms set for the Greek government seemed more like a ritual humiliation than a proper political settlement - the financial equivalent of dragging a beaten leader behind your chariot through the dirt.

But the Greek Parliament has, like a turkey voting for Christmas, endorsed an agreement that will, by the frank admission of the IMF, reduce the country to even more abject penury, and bring them to their knees again within the next couple of years. It is all very sad and there is a lot of anger across Europe.

The decision comes on a day when the Pope has been giving a diatribe on the evils of global capitalism and exhorting young people to rise up and protest. He has joined forces with environmentalist Naomi Klein - an unlikely alliance, but one that could be very powerful.

In Italy we have been watching the outcome of the Greek attempt to stand up to the Eurozone bureaucrats with interest, because there is an uneasy feeling that this could be one of the next countries to suffer a similar humiliation.

According to statistics released this week, 1 in 4 families in the southern half of Italy live in absolute poverty and there are many in the north living beneath the nationally agreed poverty line. More than 40% of young people are out of work. General unemployment stands at 23%. The national monthly pension doesn't even cover the rent for the elderly. There is also the question of the thousands of refugees who arrive here every week from north Africa and the Middle East - how to pay for them, what to do with them? This is the fate of many.

Dazzi’s is the posh patisserie in our wealthy little town, and next to it there is a shop that has recently closed down (another clue to the state of things) and outside it today an elderly woman, thin as a stick, begging.  She may be from Romania or Albania, but one thing is certain, she doesn’t have any money and the police will quickly move her on. This is the tourist season  and they don’t want the rich tourists to get the wrong impression - or be hassled for their small change. The police had a big clean up a few weeks ago, but gradually the dispossessed are building up again.  And yes, I did have her permission to take the photograph.

Dazzi's - 2 metres away, 2 different worlds


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Tuesday Poem: The Ice Cart by Wilfred Gibson

Perched on my city office-stool,
 I watched with envy, while a cool
 And lucky carter handled ice. . . .
 And I was wandering in a trice,
 Far from the grey and grimy heat
 Of that intolerable street,
 O'er sapphire berg and emerald floe,
 Beneath the still, cold ruby glow
 Of everlasting Polar night,
 Bewildered by the queer half-light,
 Until I stumbled, unawares,
 Upon a creek where big white bears
 Plunged headlong down with flourished heels
 And floundered after shining seals
 Through shivering seas of blinding blue.
 And as I watched them, ere I knew,
 I'd stripped, and I was swimming too,
 Among the seal-pack, young and hale,
 And thrusting on with threshing tail,
 With twist and twirl and sudden leap
 Through crackling ice and salty deep -
 Diving and doubling with my kind,
 Until, at last, we left behind
 Those big, white, blundering bulks of death,
 And lay, at length, with panting breath
 Upon a far untravelled floe,
 Beneath a gentle drift of snow -
 Snow drifting gently, fine and white,
 Out of the endless Polar night,
 Falling and falling evermore
 Upon that far untravelled shore,
 Till I was buried fathoms deep
 Beneath the cold white drifting sleep -
 Sleep drifting deep,
 Deep drifting sleep. . . .

 The carter cracked a sudden whip:
 I clutched my stool with startled grip.
 Awakening to the grimy heat
 Of that intolerable street.


Copyright Wilfred Gibson, 1872-1962


Drowning in the intense heat that is covering Italy at the moment, I keep thinking of ice and polar bears and cool places.  Can't sleep, don't feel like eating, don't have the energy to do anything, except in the middle of the night when it's cooler.  So, when it came to choosing a Tuesday Poem, this one came instantly to mind.  My cousin Jean had to learn it by heart for school and I remember one summer holiday when she kept repeating it over and over - can't read the poem now without hearing her fourteen year old voice reciting it.

Wilfred Gibson isn't much known now, but he was born in Hexham, near where I live in England, and, though he left as an adult and went to London, he spent most of his life writing about Northumberland (check out The Kielder Stone). He was a friend of Rupert Brooke and Edwin Muir and he's currently labelled a 'Georgian' poet and rather overlooked.


The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take turns to edit the main website.  Check us out on this link. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Hiding from 'L'Onda di Calore' in Italy

I used to look at Italian houses with their shutters tightly closed, as if they were unoccupied, and wonder why, on a beautiful sunny day, they closed up like moonflowers.


But now I know.  There comes a moment, sometime after lunch, when the air outside becomes a lot hotter than the air inside.  That's the time to close the windows and the shutters and keep as much of the precious cool air in as you can.  We've been suffering - like other parts of Europe - from a wave of heat bulging up from North Africa, laden with sand and red dust. We've also had some spectacular storms.  This was a few days ago.  Pietrasanta, our small town, was under the brightly lit centre.  We were sitting outside a small bar and watched it come over us like an alien space ship.

Photo Guy Fletcher
Temperatures have been soaring above 40 degrees, tourists have been collapsing in Florence and there was a Tromba d'Aria (a tornado) in the Veneto  yesterday- this is one of the press photos.


 It killed at least one person and injured more than ninety, destroying houses, shops and cars.  This is the aftermath.

This is July in Italy, with August's temperatures and some very unusual weather.  Just now I can't be parted from the fan and it's too tiring to do anything but walk to the fridge for a cold drink.