“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.
Gemma Seltzer is cool. I am probably not the first person to arrive at this estimation of her, and I shall no doubt be one of a very orderly queue lining up to say so now and in the future. Her book Speak To Strangers has everything in it that I find exciting and compelling about creative nonfiction. Which some people call docufiction. Anyway, one of those reality-hungry hybrids. You’d probably just call it great writing if you were to read it, which you should, which it is – formulated around a beautifully simple and elegant notion. This short story has nothing to do with E’s Eels (those Novocaine For The Soul Eels), but you still might need some 2-(diethylamino)ethyl 4-aminobenzoate after listening. It’s powerful stuff. That’s what we dispense over here at RMYSL The Chemist.
The covenant of RMSYL has always been that of Mo going to the Mountain. Mo to the Mou, if you like. If you get in touch, and invite me round for a cuppa, as long as you don’t live in Timbuktu, I’ll be there (with a packet of biscuits). But it’s also pretty darn special when the Mou comes to Mo. In this case, the Mou not only came to Mo, he came all the way from Wo. Wolverhampton that is. Well, pretty much so. The mountain didn’t of course come down from Wo just for Mo, he also came for Mu and Dü, and ended up listening to a recording of some Dub. But that’s a tale for the next podcast. Regardless of where the Mou came from, it was a pleasure hanging out in his mountainous heights, depths, and Black Country vowels. I’m hoping to tempt him down again with a verse-reciting gig in a neo-Gothic chapel for National Poetry Day, where he might wrap those multi-syllabizing, Wulfrunian vocal cords around 60 sonnety lines of Derek Mahon’s ‘Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’ (Mou has been memorising Ma and writing about this the last couple of weeks – a very good read that is too).
“I dislike travel writing about temples, or churches, or mosques, or architecture in general, or, for that matter, trees, or trains, or roads, and especially the Khyber Pass; in fact I think I only like travel writing when it’s not about travel at all but rather about friendship, lies, digression, amateurism, trains, and sex.” Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Gideon Lewis-Kraus is the author of A Sense of Direction, a travel memoir (of sorts). He has written for numerous US publications, including Harper’s, The Believer, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and others.
“Because our friendship has been so important to our progress as writers (as well as human beings), we wanted to find out about friendships between other female authors we loved. We all know quite a lot about male writer friends: Wordsworth & Coleridge, Hemingway & Fitzgerald. But who was Jane Austen’s friend? Who was George Eliot’s? ” Emma Claire Sweeney & Emily Midorikawa
Emily Midorikawa is a half-English, half-Japanese writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia and her work has been published in, amongst others, Aesthetica, Mslexia, The Telegraph, and The Times. She teaches creative writing at City University London, New York University in London and the Open University.
Emma Claire Sweeney’s short stories have been published in the UK, Ireland and the USA. She combines writing with university lecturing, community based writing residencies, and mentoring and editing services for emerging writers. Her current writing, research, and residencies all relate to links between narrative and learning disability.
DISCUSSED: what makes prose timeless; interpersonal warmth & class tension; bang slap etymologies; transgressing boundaries; opposites attract and refract; the perfect segue; SW nails his colours to the mast; ECS does some judicious defending of VW; the Desert Island Discs question; Something Rhymed; gender differences in accomodating competition in friendships
“The problem the whole book presents is that it’s trying to give you a strategy for getting what you want: out of people, out of things, out of a seat, an outfit, a drink. I hope, personally, my own agenda is a little bit more outward-facing.” Brian Lobel
Brian Lobel create performances about bodies: politicized bodies, marginalized bodies, dancing and singing bodies, happy bodies, sick bodies and bodies that need a little extra love.
DISCUSSED: C-word alert (not cancer) ; existential #fail; power showers; my father for instance; charisma; I think about it every day; focus; playing games with hierarchy; the powerless pleasures of pyjama-time; aah…exhalation; our fantasies of invisible work/lavatories/side stands; how to get out of Siberia; deep vs. shallow relating; In Bed With Brian; schmoozing vs. networking; transactional loopholes that (might) lead to connection; barking teachers; the guest’s agenda
"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."