Reading a poem with someone is not that dissimilar to a spot of star-gazing. A good poem always has that moment (two or three if you’re lucky) where you feel the emotional-cognitive equivalent of hinging the head back, ciliary muscles in the eyes relaxing, pupils widening to take in the vastness of Everything Out There. This is often accompanied by a sigh of relief as we take a short break from the struggles of Everything In Here. So kick back and settle down for some star-gazing with myself, Claire Shanahan, and Louis MacNeice.
The machine, the industry that is culture works predominantly with and in the “now”. The official ethos is a warm, mindfully glowing “Be Here Now”. But what that really translates into is “BUY THIS NOW!”. Fair enough. Literature is a kind of sustenance that doesn’t adhere to the same rules as other forms of nourishment. I can no longer be nourished by the food I ate last week, but I can be just as nourished, perhaps even more so by re-reading a book I bought ten years ago. This is not good news for publisher, or writers churning out their Next Big Thing. But it is good news for us readers as long as we can ignore 93.2% of everything we are “fed” by Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. This is another reason why I love getting together with people to hear them read me something they love. It is hardly ever the most recent thing they’ve read. Deep abiding affection and esteem (love?) takes time to bed in. Even though this poem, particularly for the French, is familiar enough to no doubt have bred contempt for some, it is still probably a more interesting poem than 93.2% of anything written in the last month or so. Our conversation felt “new” too. And so it was. For never has this poem been passed consecutively through these pairs of eyes and ears (Anouche’s and mine), and talked about in the way we did. Even the poem itself has never read entirely this way as Anouche provided her own translation of this classic “pont”. Perfect listening for a rainy, autumnal day.
I was hoping that when Etgar Keret read me something he loved, we could perhaps “stage” a knock-knock set up in homage to the title of his new short story collection. I had brought with me a door for the purpose as I wasn’t sure if the Random House offices would have them. But when he arrived with his cup of deeply-steeped camomile tea and only half an hour to spare before Bethan Jones had to whisk him off to the Guardian, the door and the Beckettian script I’d carefully prepared for the two of us to read went out the window. ↩
Well, obviously Etgar Keret. I would have been genuinely surprised if another Random House author like Paolo Coelho or Erin Morgenstern had walked into the office instead of Etgar. Random by name, random by etc.? ↩
I was very conscious of not wanting to pronounce his name Edgar, him not being an Edgar, but an Etgar. Pronunciation anxiety was in the air at this recording. He professed to being very worried about having to read aloud in English, and I realised halfway through a sentence that I was just about to use the phrase eminence grise, having only a 50-50 sense of a)whether I was in fact using the term correctly b) whether the term itself existed at all, and c) how to make it sound not too French, but at the same time not too English either. I think you can probably hear this in the way in which the word flops out of my mouth. I didn’t want Etgar, or someone listening to the podcast, to think that I was remarking on his Nonce Grease. There is no Nonce Grease on Etgar Keret. TopQuark on Forvo sounds like he knows how eminence grise should be pronounced. So don’t listen to me, listen to him. Thankfully, I have finally worked out how to pronounce the Foer in Jonthan Safran. I always used to say it like “rower”, but knowing that I might need to use it on this podcast, I did my research (thank you FlannelTrousers, who is also keen to tell us how to locute attentiveness, unbending, glee, lumped, Cannabis, shady grove, and periodontal disease). I can now “four” it with the best of ’em. ↩
Unlike his stories, I never felt for a moment that I didn’t know what Keret was about. I’m talking here in a kind of loose, existential way. I also felt that I would probably trust him with my pension fund and spiritual well-being. I already knew that I would feel like this after having watched a documentary of him on YouTube where in one shot you get Keret pecking away at a keyboard with two loose index fingers. My first thought was: no wonder it’s taken him ten years to write a new collection of stories. Second thought: sorry Netenyahu, but why isn’t this guy Prime Minister? I hope you feel this way too after listening to him reading me something he love. ↩
Nick Pole is good for your soul. Well, he’s good for my soul. Nick and I ran a Mindfulness Based Practitioners group together for a while, once upon a time. I remember our third or fourth session where Nick offered to do something on mindfulness and poetry for the group that month. It wasn’t the best attended of sessions, but it was the best session we had (IMHO). I think it was also at that session that I must have thought, why can’t other people see the POWER of poetry the way Nick is able to communicate the POWER of poetry? Which perhaps planted a seed for this wee project (thank you Nick). Also: if Neil Nunes ever decides to step down from continuity announcing on Radio 4 – Nick is the man to step into those BASSO PROFUNDO shoes.
“The poetry I’m interested in most of the time is open-ended: inviting the reader to participate in the process of questioning, meaning, and everything really.” Marcus Slease
Marcus Slease was born in Portadown, N. Ireland. He has lived all over the world as a teacher of English as a foreign language. Recent fiction and poetry have appeared in magazines such as: Metazen, Housefire, So and So Magazine, Spork, InDigest, Gesture, NAP, Forklift Ohio, and Little White Lies. His most recent book, Mu (dream) So (Window) was published this year by Poor Claudia. He lives in London and blogs at The House Of Zabka.
DISCUSSED: Writing Personally To Get Out Of The Straitjacket Of Self; Big Things, Little Things, Trivial Things; Nice; Reclaiming the Vernacular; What Holds A Year/Your Life Together; Echo Mess Internet; The Poem As A Mind Graph; Living In The Moment (Argh!); Daybook Poetry
“The wonderful thing about poems is that no matter how many times you’ve read them before, they still feel new if you’re reading them in a live way.” Jane Davis
Jane Davis is changing the way people relate to literature, to each other and to themselves through a shared reading model called ‘Get Into Reading’, which brings small groups together on a weekly basis to read books and poems aloud. Run in care homes, libraries, hostels, mental health centres, schools and prisons Get Into Reading brings literature to where people are.
DISCUSSED: Uncomfortable Praise; Highs and Lows (Interaction); Patterns of Creativity – Losing and Finding; Smelling, Relishing, Budding; Email To A Future Self; A New Vocabulary for Mental Health; The Mother Root; Angry Fathers; God as Inhuman?; Turning Away From Life, And Back Again; Poems as Mantras; Spacious Readings; Lines that Move Within
“Although this is specifically a poem that speaks about poetry and the powers of poetry, it also speaks to me about the powers of the imagination. And that’s something I prize in life enormously. What books bring to me is the possibility of not only imagining fictional worlds, but the possibility of imagining what it might be like for someone else, the possibility of empathy.”
Laura Barber is the editor of four popular poetry anthologies – including the hugely successful Penguin’s Poems for Life – and former ‘Poetry Doctor’ at The School of Life. She is also Editorial Director at Granta Books where her interests range from literary fiction to memoir, reportage, travel, narrative history and nature writing,
I’ve felt like I’ve needed to learn poetry this year. By heart.
You might have had this feeling too? You may have thought, or perhaps even said these words aloud to someone sitting across the way from you on the sofa reading Joan Didion: “I need to learn this poem, Trevor. I need to commit it to memory. There is something in this poem that I need to digest slowly and carefully and with utmost concentration.”
Where does this need come from? Why poetry? Why share it with the Didion reader, or anyone else for that matter? These are questions I cannot fully answer, though I’ve been having a go at finding my own answers for a while.
A woman who has been learning poetry and thinking about what it means to do so for over a decade now is Kim Rosen. Some of my burning questions were answered in her thrilling and moving Saved By A Poem book. Others she addressed in our RMSYL chat a few weeks ago, as well as reciting and talking about Marie Howe’s What the Living Do.
I so enjoyed Heather Hampson reading from the International Treasure that is Leonard Cohen that I thought it might be worth commiting to memory some of his favourite songs for my By Heart quest. You would think, having listened to these songs for two decades, I’d already have by-hearted a fair few, but it would appear that I am one of those people who takes in the aggregate of a song, with only the odd line sinking into the memory bank. How many of Leonard Cohen’s songs truly stand up as poems? Is this because his lugubrious delivery so indelibly pigments the words that one can never recite them again without feeling locked into his rhythms and melody, fettered as it were in the Tower of Song (do-dumb-dumb-dumb/da-doo-dumb-dumb)? Or did Cohen’s lyrical poems become more watered down and less linguistically adventurous as he transformed into a songwriter? Even the great ‘Anthem‘, with that oft-quoted line about the “crack in everything /That’s how the light gets in” reads off the page a tad light and doggereled at times:
The birds they sang at the break of day Start again I heard them say Don’t dwell on what has passed away …
This is not the case with Queen Victoria – a cracking poem (but an extremely leaden song). So what Cohen songs work well as poem for you? Suggestions welcome. [Heather’s novel, The Vanity Game can be purchased for the price of a cuppa from this purveyor of electro-words. “The Vanity Game eviscerates celebrity culture with the incisiveness of an expert surgeon – but with a giddy, over-the-top pleasure that’s exhilarating.” – Megan Abbott Leonard Cohen’s ‘Queen Victoria’ can be read online here, and bought in song-form for the cost of an overpriced Skinny Latte on the album Live Songs.]
It seems kind of fitting that I first heard DW Wilson’s prize-winning short story The Dead Roads about this time last September, midway through a ten-mile hike through the Chilterns. Even more fitting would have been to listen or read it whilst out camping in his beloved Canadian Rockies. One day. Sometimes when creating these podcasts, I have to leave dozens of glittering minutes of conversation on the cutting room floor in order to get an episode that isn’t going to tire out the average listener. This time round I thought I might offer it as an Extra for those who are interested to hear Dave speak a bit more about his connection to Bill Gaston and what he learnt from him. He also makes some incredibly interesting comments about the craft of writing a good short story, delivered with his usual witty candour and no-bullshit proclivities. DW Wilson’s fantastic collection of short Stories Once You Break A Knuckle is out now. Bill Gaston’s equally fantastic collection of short stories Mount Appetiteis also out now.
"The title says it all. Read Me Something You Love invites literary lovers to select a piece of writing which excites them. Steve Wasserman, then trundles around to your home with his mobile recording studio in an attempt to translate the pleasure of the reading aloud experience to a wider audience.
“One of the joys of doing this is being open to the experience of how other people’s enthusiasms will wing their way into your life and get you all gee’d up about stories or poems you might never have glanced at twice,” says Wasserman.
Anyone can take part, just email your suggestions to Steve. The only real requirement is that your selection has proved spine-tingling to you in some way. Readings are limited to 20-25 minutes, so a short story, a well-chosen extract or a poem are perfect.
Time to start practicing in the mirror methinks."
"I don’t know about you, but seeing someone read a book on the Tube often gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that this potentially wasted part of the day is enriched by a good book. The rarity of book lovers gracing the seats of the Underground these days makes me feel both sad and like I’m in a secret club that is only acknowledged by a sideways glance at the books of fellow commuters.
So on discovering the Human Reading Being blog, part of the Read Me Something You Love project, I was terrified that I’d spot a terrible picture of myself reading something embarrassing and then overjoyed that this humble daily habit is being celebrated.
Read Me Something You Love involves Steve Wasserman asking authors and non-authors alike, to read a piece of literature they love before leading a discussion on the piece. If you love submerging yourself in the imagination of others, come and celebrate this dying pastime."