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Up-dated October/November 2017
With the marking of the centenary of the Russian Revolution, I took down from my shelves Anna of All the Russias, Elaine Feinstein’s biography of Anna Akhmatova. All the facts are there without the life of this extraordinary woman ever quite coming alive, though the searching out and cooking of a single potato for a visitor during the siege of Leningrad stays in my mind.
Somewhere second hand, I picked up Peter Burke’s Montaigne in OUP’s Past Master series. He does a good job of assessing this most uncategorizable of writers who characteristically invented the idea of the essay, or essais – not to declare the truth but to look for it. He was “weary of religion / and the fickle court”, as Adam Thorpe put it in his 1990 poem ‘Meeting Montaigne’, and would always ask ‘Que sais-je?’
In October I read in London with Caroline Maldonado and came away with her collection of poems called What They Say in Avenale (Indigo Dreams). She lives partly in Le Marche region of Italy and these poems record the people, their work, the weather and wild life of that beautiful place.
Few recent books are as economical and delicately allusive as Matthew Stewart’s debut, The Knives of Villalejo, from Eyewear Publishing. His two preoccupations are family (a West Sussex childhood, ageing parents, a child) and life as a resident in Spain. The former is about the loss of communication; the latter more celebratory (like Maldonado) with the rituals of food and wine featuring prominently.
The Hippocrates Book of the Heart is a unique anthology of poems from the likes of Alvi, Shuttle, Satyamurti, O’Brien, Harsent, Greening and Gross as well as a section of prose writing by medical professionals. I bought a copy to give to my daughter whose in her third year studying medicine!
Up-dated August /September 2017
I’d hoped that Nick Makoha’s Kingdom of Gravity would win the Forward First collection prize in September. I thought his ability to write about contemporary events a rare talent. Makoha will be important for UK poetry for some while.
William Griffin’s hyper-episodic biography of C.S. Lewis, The Authentic Voice has a novel-like attention to memorable detail. Simultaneously troubling and interesting, Lewis argued for Christians as a new step in evolution because they have abandoned their own personalities and allowed God to inhabit them. I blogged in more detail on Lewis here.
Shamefully, having referred to the text in teaching for years, I eventually got round to reading Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. It kept reminding me of Shelley’s Frankenstein – though of course the influence is the other way. Shame about the gobbets of Ossian later on.
Am teaching the always mysteriously wonderful poems of Robert Frost over the coming months and consequently blogging about him on occasions. For example . . .
I found Eric Langley’s Forward-listed Raking Light a challenge, not always of the right sort and it yielded up some thoughts about poems and explanatory notes.