Category Archives: Poetry

Stay at Home!

It’s not only sourdough bread that has happened over the last three months. Many authors have come up with online material to offer readers. In fact, there’s been such a glut that I’ve not been able to keep up. I just know there is much to find.

Small Scottish publisher Cranachan Publishing has a free ebook offering a wide variety of things to read. Their ‘Stay at Home! Poems and Prose for Children in Lockdown is a a free, illustrated anthology of poems and stories for children aged 8-12, comprising specially written lockdown-themed contributions by 40 writers based in Scotland.’

Try it! There are household names, and there are names you might not have heard of. Yet. But this is a nice collection, and what’s almost nicer still, is how people have pulled together to make it happen.

Clap When You Land

Cheating fathers is not an uncommon occurrence, although discovering that your beloved dad had another family, and another daughter, the same age as you, can be tough. Especially if your dad has to die for this to become apparent. That way you have just about lost him twice.

Clap when you land is the book Elizabeth Acevedo talked about last year in Edinburgh. It’s another poetic novel, set in New York and the Dominican Republic. Yahaira and Camino are at the relay changeover for the summer; i.e. early June when their dad leaves New York after nine months and goes to DR for the three months of summer. Except this time he dies in a plane crash just outside New York.

The girls take turns describing the news and how they feel and what their families and friends do, and while they both sense there is something else not quite right, it takes time for the secret to get out there. And as with all secrets, the question is how many people know about this?

Yahaira is an ace at chess. The way you play chess matches the way her father went from one square to the next; where it’s impossible to be in two squares at the same time.

Camino helps her healer aunt in their poor neighbourhood in DR, and dreams of studying in the US and becoming a doctor.

Both girls have been, or are, victims of men much older than themselves. Both keep all the bad stuff in, not telling anyone.

But there is much to be said for women power, and when Camino’s aunt gets her machete out, well…

New York and the Dominican Republic have good sides and bad sides to them. It’s not only the gloss of the big city, but there is plenty that’s good in the simple life as well. It’s easy to see why Señor Rios wanted to have his cake and eat it. Until he couldn’t.

This is a powerful story, told in few words, and it just sweeps you up.

Whose Shakespeare?

We moved Shakespeare upstairs over the weekend. Mostly this was because the bookcase he was in ascended, and Shakespeare is rather large, so needed the big shelf. He’s now in Son’s room, should the boy ever be able to return to it.

Anyway he went, along with the three-volume poetry collection from Linlithgow.

There was a most beautiful piece in Thursday’s Guardian, written by Aditya Chakrabortty, about his mother who died recently. I’m sorry for Aditya’s loss, but infinitely grateful that he shared his lovely memories of his mother with the newspaper’s readers.

Mrs Chakrabortty was a teacher. As her name suggests, she was not born in the UK, but she definitely did more than her share for this country and the people already here as well as those who arrived after her.

According to Aditya his ‘mother’s love of Shakespeare and Hazlitt was not an attempt to fit in. She claimed them as she claimed all of world culture.’

This set me thinking of how some people view Shakespeare, believing he’s there exclusively for the English. We all know Shakespeare in some way or other. His plays have been translated into many languages, and Hamlet is everyone’s prince; not just that of ‘cultured English’ people. We all have the right to know and enjoy Shakespeare’s work.

I would like to think he’d see it as an honour to be the favourite of a woman such as Mrs Chakrabortty.

The Book of Hopes

It’s always like this. I get tired and want nothing more than to stay at home for ‘quite some time.’ After a while – it could even be after ‘quite some time’ – I have had enough and I begin to want to climb the walls. Or at least to get out and go to some event, somewhere.

Well, I am ready for an event. Now. Before agoraphobia takes over.

I’ll pretend. There’s a book you can read for free. Katherine Rundell has collected lots of writing from a lot of writers, and some illustratings from illustrators. You’ll find them in The Book of Hopes, which you can get here.

There were extracts in the Guardian Review at the weekend. I was particularly taken with Catherine Johnson’s Axolotl poem:

“Care of Exotic Pets: Number 1. The Axolotl at Bedtime.
Never give your axolotl chocolatl in a botl.
Serve it in a tiny eggcup, not too cold and not too hotl.
Make him sip it very slowly, not too much, never a lotl.
After all, he’s just a sleepy, snuggly, bedtime, axolotl.”

And so it goes. More verses online!

‘All’ the big names have contributed something. Whatever you like, it could well be in here somewhere. I’m thinking what a marvellous book launch this would make, if we could all get together. See you there?

Author, in a dress

What do people do? During these unusual times, I mean.

Supposedly authors, who ‘always’ work from home, tend to do so in their pyjamas. I believe that some have now started actually dressing [properly] for work, from home. Even heard of someone who ironed his clothes.

And they write. At least those who feel up to writing. It can be hard to get in the mood. Or getting out of that other mood.

Will anyone still be around to publish what they write, once they have typed ‘The End’? Will there be shops from which to buy those books?

I came across the link to a video clip, where Wendy Meddour reads her new picture book, Not in that Dress, Princess! It does have a publisher, but won’t be out for a few months yet.

It’s about what princesses can do while wearing dresses.

I like it. Do you?

Please get well, Michael Rosen

One or two of my author friends have caught the Corona virus, and we’ve had our fingers crossed as they have traversed the fever, the headaches, the breathing difficulties, and the long-lasting cough.

I’ve learned that Michael Rosen was in intensive care over the weekend. He has apparently been moved to a ward now, and I hope very much that he will have the strength to fight back.

Breakfast with Burns

There we were, a roomful of foreigners, invited by the Scottish Government to a Burns Breakfast. I looked around and found we all appeared boringly normal. With the exception of one splendid looking man wearing what I will call a Bavarian style outfit, there was nothing to point to our foreign-ness. And I suppose that’s the whole point. We are all the same, give or take the odd thing.

The presence of quite so many press photographers became clear when Nicola Sturgeon entered the room. I should have guessed. After all, the venue was only divulged after registering. Ben Macpherson, Minister for Europe, Migration & International Development, kicked off with an introduction, and then it was time for the First Minister. It struck me that this was the first time I’d heard her speak, after so many encounters at the book festival. Basically, Scotland wants us here. We are welcome.

Thank you.

Nicola pointed out that Scots are good at having fun, even in deepest, darkest January. So before the first half ended, a young actor whose name I didn’t catch, talked about Robert Burns, and Robert’s strong belief in his own greatness, but thought the great poet might have been surprised to learn of the existence of vegan haggis. There was a most professional address to a haggis, followed by the piping in of a plateful of haggis canapés…

In the interval there was music, and Nicola Sturgeon walked round the room chatting to anyone who wanted to chat. I daresay she’d even have talked to me if I’d been able to come up with something sensible to say. She’s the mistress of selfies, and many many selfies were taken. (Daughter – via WhatsApp – demanded one of me with the FM, but I wriggled out of that by borrowing someone else’s big moment.) The thing about our First Minister is that she talks to people as though she’s a normal person. Not all politicians can.

As we started the second half, Nicola was spirited away, and the rest of us were treated to more music by the trio from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. They play very well, and the singer has the most beautiful voice. Starting with Auld Lang Syne, the audience perhaps displayed more of a foreign disposition by merely humming cautiously along, but I’d say that’s because we didn’t want to inflict our voices over that of the singer’s.

After several more wonderful songs, by the Burns chap again, Minister Macpherson thanked us, while apologising for the things Westminster is putting us through.

I had a final look at the information stalls, and helped myself to a blue and white pen. Very grip-friendly for elderly fingers, so one simply has to steal where one can.

And I never needed that book I’d brought.

All the Dear Little Animals

How could I not love Ulf Nilsson’s All the Dear Little Animals? To begin with, anything illustrated by Eva Eriksson is automatically extremely loveable. And the story of three children who hunt out dead animals so they can bury them is also rather sweet, don’t you think?

It starts with a bumblebee, which died of natural causes, and its death causes the poetic narrator and his friend Esther to arrange a funeral for it. Our narrator is good at coming up with poems for the ceremony.

And then Esther’s little brother Puttie discovers what they are up to, and he cries. He cries so well that he becomes their official crier. Puttie – unlike his older sister – finds death rather upsetting. He can see that when he dies, their parents will be very distraught.

Esther, on the other hand, avoids telling him that the most likely scenario might be the other way round. This, presumably, is for the adult who reads with their young child to decide to discuss. Mortality, and how it makes you feel.

Once they have hunted out a good many corpses, dug graves, read poems and cried, they are satisfied.

Tomorrow they will do something else.

(Translated by Julia Marshall, this is not a new book. Not even in translation. I would have liked the original title to be mentioned, so I didn’t have to Google it; Alla döda små djur.)

Lost verse

‘I can’t find the Oxford Book of English Verse,’ the Resident IT Consultant said one evening.

‘Well, I don’t know. It must be there, somewhere,’ I replied.

We searched. ‘Could it be we don’t actually have a copy?’ he asked.

While we do seem to own a fair few copies of these large, worthy, Oxfordy type tomes, I concluded this was a possible explanation.

Because it wasn’t upstairs with the other poetry. And not downstairs with the large books.

‘What did you want it for?’ I thought to ask.

‘I wanted to read Paradise Lost,’ the Resident IT Consultant said. ‘I suppose it’s lost, heh heh.’

‘Which part?’

‘The first two.’

‘Well, I have those. It was set reading at university. I don’t remember culling my copy, so it’s probably still here. Upstairs with the rest of the poetry.’

Turned out I was right. It was. And Bookwitch had saved the evening. She, who doesn’t do verse much.

I guessed the whole thing was set off by letting the Resident IT Consultant read The Secret Commonwealth when I was away for a few days. And he got to watch the first episode of His Dark Materials on television, also without me. Goes without saying that Paradise Lost is his next port of call.

Whereas when I got to the Smyrna bit in Philip Pullman’s second Book of Dust, I couldn’t help thinking of Giles Milton’s Paradise Lost…

Attaboy!

She even has a temporary flamingo. That’s Daughter, with the flamingo. And it’s only temporary because it’s not hers and it’s going to stay in the temporary place when she moves on. Otherwise I’d like to think it’s very much a permanent flamingo. If only for its sake.

I’m mentioning the flamingo because there were several of them in her last place as well. One wonders if she attracts them.

It’s pink. Pink-ish, anyway.

Dean Atta

Whereas the flamingo that brought this on is black, as in the book title The Black Flamingo. By Dean Atta. You might recall Daughter and I went to hear him talk at the Edinburgh book festival in August, and she ‘just had to’ have the book.

I mentioned taking Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust instead of drugs, last week. Well, Daughter did too. Her own copy, I might add. When life is stressful, it really does help.

But then she went and finished the book. And in temporary places, even those with flamingoes, there are not so many books to choose from when you want to read. But I urged her to pick one of her other two (!) works of fiction, for her continued drug-taking.

Once she’d started she couldn’t stop, and it ended with her sheepishly calling me to say that she had, erm, read the whole flamingo.

So that leaves one book. Plus the Kindle, which apparently has now been fed, so it can dispense fiction, hopefully on demand. Because what’s the point of me having forced her to buy ebooks if the Kindle is hungry?