Friday, January 22, 2010

Mainstream Love Hotel & Other Books

This week sees a lot of books flying in my letterbox. I've been reading Mainstream Love Hotel, Todd Swift's latest offering, and bought copies of Elizabeth Bishop's Collected, Robert Lowell's Life Studies, Wallace Steven's Collected - and The New York Poets anthology from Carcanet, while I was at it, because I wanted Frank O'Hara's work all in the one place - in fact that was why I bought the others, so that I can more easily refer to them as I want, instead of rooting about at the various Nortons stashed away (besides, I had a book clear-out, enabling me to buy some... oh, you know how it is with a book-sickness!).

Anyhow, back to MLH from tall-lighthouse - all week I've been reading this, as well as catching up on new episodes of Mad Men (we're a few weeks ahead of the UK - bless RTE). One seems to compliment the other in a weird connected way: smart, sophisticated, sexy, psyco-analytical, egotistical, and old-school with a new-twist this book plays with you, toys with you, right from the opener, 'Mirror', with its cryptic ending, 'The sister of knowing is making.'

In fact, there's a wonderful playfulness about the whole book, a lightness that carries each poem's deeper layered sense, as in 'The talking cure,' which is also one of my favourite poems in the collection: yes, 'Bold. / Bad Baby' indeed. There's also a wonderful facility with language, again playful and fizzing, as in 'French poem,' where the sonics gleefully bounce down the lines from 'Elle' to 'Eiffel' and on to 'Zola' and then 'novel.' Stylish, sexy and smart? Yes. But there's great grist in there too, and a wonderful joie-de-vivre, no doubt because of Swift's Canadian background, and varied European living experiences.

And there's a waryness too in his work: 'These days,' again another well-wrought sonic and rhythmically cadenced poem balances each of its phrases carefully carrying the poem's motion softly down the page:

These are the days
not other days
these are the days I was
working towards
as other further weeks,
working for days
that now I see have come in,
fish from the street

sold fresh, the man
in his whites, ringing to bring
fish just off the boats,
days that were in the sea


I'd thought to have my work
done by now, to have reached

the goals set out long ago,
I won't get there now

But you must read the book to reach the poem's shimmering conclusion!

Known as a tireless promoter of poetry wherever he has travelled in the past, Swift now lives in London where he continues finding and pushing new (and established) poetic talent in his Oxfam Marylebone reading series. I think Mainstream Love Hotel sees a sure move forward from the previous Seaway: New & Selected from Salmon Poetry, which spanned a twenty year writing career. It's great to see his work becoming available to a broader audience and it will be interesting to watch the trajectory of his next twenty poetic years.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Meme about Books

I haven't indulged in these for a while, but this one intrigued me. I nicked it from Sheenagh Pugh's blog which is well worth reading in any case.

1. Which book has been on your shelves the longest?

Lord of the Rings – sorry!

2. What is your current read, your last read and the book you'll read next?

Currently reading Mainstream Love Hotel. Just finished The Lost Symbol, because I like reading pulp and giving out about it just as much as anyone else!

3. What book did everyone like and you hated?

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I really wanted to like it, but I got a bit annoyed with the heroine in the end. Probably just me being curmudgeonly, because I know the book went on to win great honours for its author, so it must be good.

4. Which book do you keep telling yourself you'll read, but you probably won't?

Ulysses by you-know-who. I know the plot, the characters and the story: I just need to read the damn thing.

5. Which book are you saving for "retirement?"

Isn’t that a bit ahead – who knows what I’ll be doing then!

6. Last page: read it first or wait till the end?

If I get annoyed with the book I will do this, but I’ll still read the rest of it. Mainly I wouldn’t do this on myself, as I enjoy holding back too much.

7. Acknowledgments: waste of ink and paper or interesting aside?

I can see both sides to that argument. A publisher I know said it was better to try and be concise, rather than thanking everyone, including the cat. Funnily enough, established writers don’t have long Ack. lists, if at all.

8. Which book character would you switch places with?

Watson, from Sherlock Holmes. I’d love to see Holmes in action, see the way his mind worked. I reckon I might have a bit of trouble in the trouser department, though.

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time)?

I have a book that I bought second-hand: Richard Scarry’s Big Book of Words. I bought it because it was the first book my parents bought me after a trip they had away and I loved it the way some kids love a teddy bear, or doll. I did let the kids read it – I’m not that precious – but I have reclaimed it, to ‘pass on.’

10. Name a book you acquired in some interesting way.

The Crowning Privilege, a book of Oxford lectures by Robert Graves. It was the first, and probably the last, book I bought on eBay. It was brilliant – Graves had a strange mind when it came to poetry and how it worked – if you’re in any doubt about that, try reading The White Goddess.

11. Have you ever given away a book for a special reason to a special person?

I find it extremely hard to part with books, but I have given them away - I gave a signed copy of a Billy Collins poetry collection to a dear friend of mine. I regretted it instantly, but she adored it.

12. Which book has been with you to the most places?

Probably that copy of The Lord of the Rings. It has moved house with me countless times.

13. Any "required reading" you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad ten years later?

Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. I hated it in secondary school, but loved it later as one of twelve 19th c novels I had to read for a literature course.

14. What is the strangest item you’ve ever found in a book?

Dried flowers. And a shopping list. Not in the same book, obviously. Although who knows..?

15. Used or brand new?

I like both. I love the smell that second-hand books have, slightly musty and, well, bookish, but I love the feel of a book that hasn’t been opened yet, cracking the spine of it – that sort of thing.

16. Stephen King: Literary genius or opiate of the masses?

I’ve read him, but I don’t like categorising. Pass.

17. Have you ever seen a movie you liked better than the book?

I had reservations about Peter Jackson tackling LOTR. But I thought he did very well in the end. Can’t think of any movies that are better than the book, because I do like both mediums and also I like the world I create in my own head when I read a book.

18. Conversely, which book should NEVER have been introduced to celluloid?

Uh, can't think.

19. Have you ever read a book that's made you hungry, cookbooks being excluded from this question?

Paradise by Abdul Razzak Gurnah. It was aching. It made me hungry to experience eastern Africa. But that part of Africa probably doesn’t exist any more. All the more reason why the book worked for me.

20. Who is the person whose book advice you'll always take?

I used to have a great friend who was always dropping in really interesting books and CDs. Alas we don’t live in the same town anymore, but I always read those books – many of which I still have.

Now, if you feel like having a go at this yourself - nominate yourself. Go on, you know you want to!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Spring Sap - Already?

So, only a few days since this area shook off its white winter coat and assumed its green one and what a relief to see green again. I think that you can feel a little ill if you don't get to see the colours you're used to seeing out in the garden. It's so warm today I've even turned off the heating, which is a bit mad. I even saw a few buds on my clematis outside, which is great because I was worried it had been killed by the cold.

I think they used to call these days Halcyon days; country people that is. I remember that great Weather Eye columnist Brendan McWilliams writing about them in the back pages of the Irish Times. He talked about those rare days you get in winter when the sun actually shines and people and the country take a wee breather.

It's nice, I can tell you, not to be feeling my feet going numb or my fingers going stiff over the keyboard. I know, you think I'm probably some old crock, the way I'm going on. Thing is, as I get older I'm getting a lot stiffer, a lot earlier than I'd like. So days like today are a blessing, halcyon or not. It makes me think forward to the summer.

And someone outside is running a machine that sounds like a lawn-mower. Incroyable! Brid's Day isn't even here yet...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Changing the Numbers

Isn't it great to be able to say twenty-ten, instead of the mouthful of two-thousand-and-nine, and all the previous year incarnations up 'til the end of the decade?

I remember when I was a little girl watching some programme on the TV, in the seventies, about what life might be like post-millenia, and seeing a picture of the then-BBC-newsreader Richard Baker put through special ageing makeup in order to see what he'd look like thirty or forty something years from then. Basically it was just a grey wig they used, plus some crow's feet around the eyes. I remember thinking that it was a long time away to me, a little girl - but look how the years have just plinkity-plinked past. Jeepers, I didn't even feel that last decade at all, at all.
All this is by way of remarking on how quickly forty-two years have snuck past when I wasn't looking; somehow I don't think I'll feel the next forty-odd either. This time thing: you can waste it and spend it, some say you can even save it (but I've never seen a time bank, have you?) - but you can't keep it from flowing through your fingers - each day, each hour, each second - all those labels to help us move along our seven days, our months, our years... and time only ever moves one way. Time's slow arrow moves into a future that we cannot see - a little like shooting over your shoulder without taking aim. Hmm.