Any thought of escaping home and summer in London for sun, sea and al fresco lunches – paella, gelato, freshly grilled octopus – has been scuppered by the recent global lockdown. The world is at a standstill as we are besieged by Covid-19. Travel plans and holidays have been either postponed or cancelled. A trickle of pictures of lunches by turquoise seas and sun-kissed legs keeping cool under striped umbrellas have only very recently begun to sneak back onto my social media feeds from the lucky few who have managed to get away.
So reading Heaven, Manuel Vilas’s latest collection of poetry and short fiction published by Carcanet Press, translated from the Spanish by poet and Cambridge don, James Womack, abated my craving for the Hispanic sun, cool cobbled church squares and ocean swims. Complex, rich, melancholy, beautiful, biblical and profane, this is one of the finest and most powerful collections of contemporary poetry I’ve read in recent years. Violence, beauty, tenderness, sex and death coexist and have a momentum all of their own, at times even eclipsing the author. Continue reading Guest Review | Rachel Goldblatt | Heaven, Manuel Vilas | Carcanet Press
Meet Jenny Lewis in person at the tenth and final BookBlast 10×10 Tour talk at Waterstones, Manchester, Deansgate @waterstonesMCR 6.30 p.m. Thursday 8 November. Theme: Claiming the Great Tradition: Women Recalibrate the Classics. In conversation with Michael Schmidt @Carcanet, chair, and poet & translator, Jane Draycott. Book Tickets
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Pembury, Kent and grew up in London.
What sorts of books were in your family home?
Milton, in his Areopagitica, advises us to read “promiscuously” and, as a somewhat lonely, post-war London child, I did just that, reading voraciously anything I could lay my hands on from my grandmother’s leather bound classics (Shakespeare, Dickens, Tennyson …); dictionaries; encyclopedias; my father’s old medical books; the modern novels I found on my mother’s bedside table (The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute) to children’s books such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, comics (The Beano, The Dandy) and, of course, Kellogg’s Cornflakes packets and, most memorably, tins of Tate & Lyle’s Golden Syrup with the picture of a lion surrounded by bees and the legend “Out of the strong came forth sweetness” which puzzled me. Was the lion dead or just sleeping and why were the bees swarming over him? One of life’s great moments was when I realized there were such things as libraries where there were thousands of books to be borrowed. From then on, I half lived in the Hammersmith Library near where we lived.
Continue reading Interview | Jenny Lewis, poet
Meet Nafeesa Hamid in person at the BookBlast 10×10 Tour event, Waterstones, Birmingham, 24-26 High Street, B4 7SL @Bhamwaterstones 6.30 p.m. Thursday 25 October. Theme: The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write with reference to the anthology edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. In conversation with Elizabeth Briggs SAQI BOOKS chair, and poet, Aliyah Holder. Book Tickets
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Pakistan and came to the UK at aged four. I grew up in Alum Rock, inner city Birmingham where I lived until nineteen. There was (and still is) a massive sense of community in Alum Rock, which is lovely for the most part, but also means everyone knows everything about everyone. I attended school in Alum Rock – Shaw Hill Primary and Park View Secondary (involved heavily in the Trojan Horse Scandal). Continue reading Interview | Nafeesa Hamid, poet | @NafeesaHamid
‘You doing this for charity?’
‘No, it’s entirely selfish’, I reply, ‘A wish to live, before life passes by’.
Tony Chan – originally Australian, but now living and working in England – composes a poem a day as he treks between the four extreme cardinal points of the British mainland. His walk begins on 3 January, 2015, at the northernmost point, Dunnet Head, continuing on to Ardnamurchan Point and Lowestoft Ness, before ending at Lizard Point on 21 March.
There were times, at bedtime, when my daddy
Told the one lonely tale that he knew best,
The sino-story, Journey to the West,
With its magi heroes, Monk and Monkey.
Here I stand, having chased my father’s voice,
Rock under my feet, waves against the rock,
And waves all through the line of nine o’clock:
At journey’s end, there is only one choice.
Continue reading Review | Four Points Fourteen Lines, Tony Chan | Book of the Week
“Alison Brackenbury loves, lives, hymns and rhymes the natural world and its people like no other poet.” Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales
Brackenbury’s latest (ninth) collection, Skies, reflects on childhood memory, Christmas in the country and stories from the WW1 passed down by relatives and friends.
“It was the First World War.
Her husband was away.
She knew fear, but also found
new freedom in the day . . .” Continue reading Review | Skies, Alison Brackenbury | Book of the Week