“Something I find really moving is the timelessness of our struggles. Herbert probably wouldn’t have been diagnosed with a depressive illness, but we now know that he had terrible battles and internal struggles. To me this poem describes that perfectly. There’s something very powerful about holding hands across the centuries.“Rachel Kelly
Rachel Kelly is a journalist and writer with a long standing interest in mental health. She worked at The Times for ten years as a reporter, feature writer and columnist, and then went on to create an acclaimed educational poetry app and accompanying anthology with Allie Esiri. Her most recent book ‘Black Rainbow’ (2014) describes how poetry helped her overcome depression.
Imagine a small tribe living on the edge of the savannah. A tribe with it’s requisite, antler festooned Poet-Philosopher-Shaman doing her shape shifting, neologising, bewilderment making best to entertain us. What he or she presents to the tribe on a daily basis is fruit of a kind of psycho-poetic labour. Maybe couched in a technically tricky and arcane form like a sestina, or terza rima, stuffed to the gills with near and slant rhymes, the individual quest is synthesized for collective consumption. So important is this work for those who gather to listen or read that the creator of these poems is rewarded with the highest accolades. For her cooking pot: the tastiest morsels from the hunt. For her feet: incredibly warm and cosy winter slippers made from aardwolf pelts. Fast-forward a million years, and we (the tribe) still need and thankfully have such people amongst us, such as Niall O’Sullivan, and his Mundane Comedy project (which alas, is no more, but all the work remains online). For me the Mundane Comedy was a 1o pm thing. Each night, just before going to bed, Niall’s daily posting about fatherhood, Herne Hill, fair trade houmous, Star Wars, monarchism, the London riots, or whatever he thought needed to be processed that day for himself and us would pop into my inbox, and suddenly I’d be made a few stanzas more savvy about the world and my place in it. [Read the poem before listening to the podcast + some more info about Poetry Unplugged which Niall hosts each Tuesday at the The Poetry Café in London]
My parents were probably not hip enough to read me Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. You can’t really get more hip, as a writer of children’s books (and “A Boy Named Sue”), than have Johnny Cash introduce you thus: “Sometimes he wears a beard and shaves his head. Sometimes he shaves his beard and wears his head. And sometimes he’s lonesome….” Alom Shaha is also hip. Richard Dawkins with extra heart is how I’d introduce him, and I’m sticking with that after our reading together. I’m also buying my three-year-old niece and one-year-old nephew a copy of hisYoung Atheist’s Handbook for Chrismukkah, so that they won’t be able to level the non-hip slur in 30 year’s time against me on whatever new fandanglement replaces blogs and websites. [Intro tune: Latché Swing]
If you’re one of those people who claims to never have self-googled, then either a) You’re lying, or b) you have the self-discipline of a saint, or c) you’re lying. ↩
Apologies to all our Chinese listeners for my pronunciation of Han’s surname in this podcast. I give it as DONG like King KONG, rather than utilising, as Nicky does, the more elegant, and presumably more phonologically correct schwa sound ↩
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
"The title says it all. Poetry Pharmacy invites literary lovers to select a piece of writing which interests and revivifies them. Steve Wasserman, then trundles around to their 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 poems you might not have read before,” 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 which you'd like to explore.
Time to start practicing in the mirror methinks."
Poetry Pharmacy 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."