Category Archives: Poetry

A new laureate

At first I was a little disappointed that Imtiaz Dharker declined becoming our next poet laureate. I half felt I knew her – after a meeting over a signing table! – so that would have been good. Another woman, and one from an outsider kind of background. But I can see why she felt she couldn’t accept.

Carol Ann Duffy has over the years become a very familiar figure, through our shared Manchester connection, MMU and the Edinburgh Book Festival.

But Simon Armitage is the next best thing. At least he will be when I can manage to remember his name and not call him Richard. We have a ‘connection’ to Simon as well. Daughter really liked his poetry at school, so I bought tickets for us to see him at the Manchester Literature Festival one year. We got as far as our home station, by which I mean the platform opposite the former Bookwitch Towers. There we decided not to go after all, so turned round and trotted home again.

[According to the Guardian] it seems that Simon comes from a witty family. His parents burst into tears when they heard the news about him being the new poet laureate. ‘I got a text from my dad later saying “We’ve stopped crying now. — If your grandad had been alive today, this would have killed him”.’

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Angie Thomas

‘Do they know it’s not August?’ both Offspring asked. They did. They being the Edinburgh International Book Festival. And bless them for having an extra event for us, in the dreary days of March, when it was so cold that I suspect Angie Thomas, whose event this was, wanted nothing more than to get back to Mississippi. ‘I can’t do cold weather,’ she said. Although it appears Scottish shortbread goes some way to pacify her.

Angie Thomas ticket

This event, where Angie spoke to poet Nadine Aisha Jassat, was very popular. People queued outside the Gordon Aikman lecture theatre in George Square before being let in. It was a predominantly female audience, mostly young ones, but a fair few unaccompanied adults too. This is testament to how well known this new American author has become, and how popular she is. I’m guessing most had read both her books, The Hate U Give and On the Come Up.

As one [black] fan in the audience pointed out, Edinburgh is not a very black city, or I’m sure there would have been a much larger proportion of black readers present. Angie’s books must be what they have all been waiting for. I would have, if only I’d known.

On this, her only Scottish gig, Angie said you should do what you’re scared of. She’s surprised that she’s now making a living lying, which she’d not been expecting when working as a church secretary in Mississippi, occasionally writing her novel at work. Like her two heroines, Starr and Bri, she grew up in a poor black area, going to a white school, having to live two different lives.

‘I respond to things’ is how she describes herself. She changed after a shooting of a young man in California, where everyone concentrated on the fact that he was an ex-con, rather than on the fact that he was lying on the ground and was shot in the back. So Angie wrote The Hate U Give to prevent herself from burning down her school in anger. And On the Come Up was written in response to that book.

Writing is cathartic, and she has inspired young people to write, which has empowered her. For many of them it has been a revelation to read a novel where ‘they talk like I talk, they sound like me.’ Angie pointed out that although her speech may sound simple, using words like ain’t, she has a GPA of just below 4, which is very high.

Angie wants people to remember that Trayvon Martin was a boy whose mother loved him. She also said that contrary to popular belief that black fathers are not part of their children’s lives, there are statistics that prove they are more than average involved. For Angie it’s important to concentrate on the people, not on the issues.

She feels that she can’t worry about what others think of her; it’s better to follow her heart. The best way to change the world, is to change the world around you.

And with that it was time for questions, and we were all very taken with the flying mic. It’s a soft – red – cube, that was chucked round the auditorium. It was hard not to hold your breath as you watched to see where it would land, and if its intended target was going to miss. First one out was someone I know, and it was one of many really good questions.

Angie Thomas, with Sheila

Angie feels that white Americans have stolen from the country by celebrating people like Dr [Martin Luther] King only after their deaths, especially when they were responsible for him dying. But she’s hopeful, feeling that the young of today are much more aware of issues. ‘The work has to start now.’

She has always made up stories, beginning by rewriting Green Eggs and Ham because she didn’t like the ending. At the age of eight she entertained her friends at school with cliffhangers. Her books need both the trauma and the triumph, which answered a question I’d had too. Subjects like fatal shootings don’t generally have much good about them, but Angie has inserted hope into her stories.

She loved Harry Potter. Those books ‘saved my life!’ And we could see that in The Hate U Give; it’s almost incongruous to have the famous wizard in a story about crime against black people in America. But it gives it recognisable reality (I know. They are books about magic), something nearly all of us know.

On the Come Up features hiphop, which when it’s good Angie describes as poetry. Luckily someone asked her to rap, which she did, long and well, to jubilant applause. (The sign interpreter in Newcastle the day before had had to give up halfway…)

Asked about her books being banned, Angie said that ‘the banned book list is a great list’ to be on. Americans always want to read more of banned books.

At first Angie hadn’t been sure it was OK to write the way she did, so she asked an agent on Twitter, which is how she got herself an agent, and how her debut novel had 13 US publishers fighting to get it. Another five in the UK. Her very sensible editor tells her that she needn’t worry about how she writes; she should stick to being authentic, and if white readers don’t get it, they can Google. There are apparently a number of in-jokes in both books…

Angie Thomas

We could easily have done another hour. As it was, Angie had a plane to catch, but there was time for some signing downstairs. At first I wondered why so many fans went to the toilet instead, until I realised the signing queue went down to that level and then round and up the other stairs, and initially back outside as well.

I chatted briefly to a friend before going in search of Dodo and Son for some tea. When we’d failed to get into our first two choices of café, and walked back behind the lecture theatre, the queue was still going strong.

Angie Thomas

I’d say that was one successful event. Even if it was in March.

Recruitment of authors…

I don’t mean that, of course.

Apart from the fact that I realised I’d not been invited to the Chicken House Big Breakfast 2019, I was really pleased to find this YouTube clip from that Witch-free event.

I’m still a bit surprised that Maz Evans is a girl. I tend to think of her as a boy, but of course she’s a girl. One of those authors paid 8%. She’s the kind who writes her own books (unlike some, who are not named).

This is a poetic, not to mention humorous, speech. There should be more like that. Maz tells it like it is.

Next time, invite me. I can always say no. (I didn’t, did I?) Or it could take place in Central Scotland.

Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

The Poet X

This is such a beautiful book! Elizabeth Acevedo has written a teen love story, a story about finding your place in the world, and a story about how to stand up to your family and a society that only sees one thing when looking at you. And she has written it as poetry. It really works.

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

I had my doubts, but I quickly lost myself in the book, realising that you don’t need all those words found in other novels. It’s perfectly doable to describe a complex story about a teenager in Harlem this way. X (Xiomara, really) likes poetry and writes a lot of it herself, keeping it to herself as well. She needs it to make sense of the world.

X’s mother is hard on her, but as an adult I could see that she loves her daughter. She just doesn’t trust anyone, and wants X to be careful and pious, not to see boys, and to go to church.

Were it not for the poems and the beauty of this book, it’d be just another teen story, set in New York, featuring girlfriends and boyfriends and enemies and bullying at school, teachers, neighbours, the priest, and so on.

I’m not a great fan of poetry, so the fact that I loved this so much, is proof how well the concept works, and what a captivating story Xiomara has to tell. I’m not at all surprised the book has been nominated for the Carnegie medal, and I hope it goes a long way, maybe even to the top.

I was also pleased to see that Elizabeth incorporated a lot of Xiomara’s Spanish home language, without always translating every word or line. There is even a whole poem in Spanish, although that does get a translation on the next page.

So very lovely, in so many ways.

Another prune

Who’s going to take the books away? That’s what I’d like to know.

We’re on holiday, but as the Resident IT Consultant tackled the wilderness ‘garden’ I tackled the books. I am a Bookwitch, after all. I’d been going soft and allowing all kinds of books to remain. But being realistic, how many potential readers of a dozen or so volumes of Swedish poetry am I likely to find around here?

Books

But I looked at all the books, and found some of the old dears looking quite promising in one way or another. So they stayed. As did both versions of David Copperfield. But more of him later.

Yes, that is a copy of Don Quijote, below. I asked the Resident IT Consultant, whom I consulted, if that was right. Apparently it’s not a very good translation. And we clearly don’t want that.

Books

Then I liberated the children’s books from near the bed and by doing so freed an awful lot of dust. You wouldn’t believe how much dust there was. Even if you are good at collecting the grey fluffy stuff, it will be nothing compared to what I’d inadvertently done.

Perhaps I’ll breathe more easily now.

The amalgamated books allowed to remain look reasonably neat now. There is room for more to join them, or for – small – knick-knacks. Except I don’t do that kind of ‘styling.’ There are two pairs of binoculars, however.

I’ve put the going-away books in five large paper carrier bags. I trust if I think positive thoughts that they will depart under their own steam. Somehow.

Granny Garbage

I’m not usually big on poetry at all, and scary poetry is not a thing I’ve really come across. But there is always a first time for nearly everything.

One of my guests on Wednesday, Joan Lennon, not only writes really great novels, but she’s into poetry too. Scary poetry. Instead of flowers/chocolate/wine Joan gave me a thin leaflet, which is her most recent literary offering (I missed the launch). Granny Garbage.

Joan Lennon, Granny Garbage

She reassured me that it wasn’t going to be so horrible that I’d not be able to sleep. But this poem lasting no longer than sixteen pages is not without fear. Especially when you get to the end, even if there is some menace on every page.

Look out for Granny Garbage.

(I mean that any way you might think I mean it.)