Sir John Betjeman was a founding member of The Victorian Society and campaigned to save and preserve many of the period's buildings, perhaps most notably St. Pancras Station and its attached Midland Grand Hotel (which in its new incarnation was my home last week).
Sir John is commemorated in the station by a pub, The Betjeman Arms, and by this statue by Martin Jennings. Inscribed on its base are lines from the former Poet Laureate's work Cornish Cliffs:
And in the shadowless unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.
Last Thursday, the 28th. of August, would have been Sir John's 108th. birthday, and someone who recognises his contribution to the country's architectural and cultural heritage left flowers and a birthday card beside his statue - a sweet gesture, I thought.
I missed Monday night's A.N. Wilson documentary Return to Betjemanland, but thanks to iPlayer (and a timely comment from Kaggsy) I watched it last night and greatly enjoyed it. Just by the way, Wilson's last television film was on C.S. Lewis*, Betjeman's tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford, and a man with whom he did not get on; Wilson has written biographies of both.
*If you haven't already seen it, this post may be of interest.
I heard in Addison's Walk a bird sing clear: This summer will come true. This year. This year. Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees This year, nor want of rain destroy the peas. This year time's nature will no more defeat you, Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you. This time they will not lead you round and back To Autumn, one year older, by the well-worn track. This year, this year, as all the flowers foretell, We shall escape the circle and undo the spell Often deceived, yet open once again your heart, Look, look, look, look! the gates are drawn apart.
This plaque in honour of C.S. Lewis is in Addison's Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford, and although now in September we are not 'early in the year', I took the photograph a few days ago on my birthday, and - 'one year older' - thought that a particularly appropriate time to read the poem; (you can find the 14-line version, Chanson d'Aventure, here).
Speaking of birthdays, I share mine with some illustrious souls, as you'll see from this splendid 50-word story which my 'twin' Sarah wrote for us!
Back to the book group for a moment, and I have ideas for books for both October and November - I'm still swithering over one of them but hope to be able to post about them early next week so that we can all get ahead if we wish.
Finally, please come back later for 'book of the day'; I was going to include it here, but I think it deserves a post of its own ....
My Edbookfest event on Saturday was all about cover design - how best to tell the potential reader what's inside the book. We learned that boys won't pick up a book with a girl on the front (until they get to a certain age and it's a certain type of girl), that humans require Vitamin 'S' - 'S' for 'Story', and that the design process, over several editions, is a constant process of refinement and audience-targeting.
If you're a lover of food in novels, Sunday's post gave a link to a special edition of The Food Programme on 'cooking and crime', or eating with the detectives. Much there to whet the appetite for certain books or just plain make you hungry.
On Monday I posted details of the Cornflower Book Group's next book. Our September read is Crusoe's Daughter by Jane Gardam (whose Edbookfest event - a delight - I attended last week), and I hope lots of people are getting their hands on a copy ready to join in with our discussion.
've posted only one review this week but it's of a cracker of a book, Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season. However, I have just finished another treat of a novel, and I'll write about it in due course, but for now, look out for the fun, sweet, warm-hearted, mad-in-a-good-way Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore.
It was back to the Book Festival yesterday to hear about two very different books (and a controversial opinion on historical fiction!), and as I have more events in prospect, I'm off now to sharpen my pencils and get ready to report.
Poetry is under-represented on this blog and in my reading generally, and I thought to address that by buying the doorstop-sized The 20th Century in Poetry edited by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae, an anthology which presents - in chronological order - over 400 poems written in many parts of the English-speaking world during the twentieth century. "From war to peace, from industry to strikes, from artisans to technology, here is history seen as never before, through the poets' eyes."
"Our aim has been to allow the poems to tell the stories of the century, both public and private," say the editors, "...[and] to offer pleasures, both simple and complex ...". I'm going to be working my way through, perhaps reading just a poem a day, but taking my time.
The book begins, of course, in 1900 with The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy:
I leant upon a coppice gate When Frost was spectre-grey, And Winter's dregs made desolate The weakening eye of day. The tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be The Century's corpse outleant, His crypt the cloudy canopy, The wind his death-lament. The ancient pulse of germ and birth Was shrunken hard and dry, And every spirit upon earth Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among The bleak twigs overhead In a full-hearted evensong Of joy illimited; An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small, In blast-beruffled plume, Had chosen thus to fling his soul Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings Of such ecstatic sound Was written on terrestrial things Afar or nigh around, That I could think there trembled through His happy good-night air Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew And I was unaware.
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
The line, "the blue is all in a rush with richness" reminds me of another Hopkins poem The May Magnificat - which would also be appropriate today - and its couplet "And azuring-over greybell makes
/ Wood banks and brakes wash wet like
lakes", and elsewhere he wrote of "the blue-buzzed haze" and its effect on him. If, as Katherine Swift suggests, "blue is the colour of possibility", for Hopkins it had a deep spiritual significance.
London readers in search of a bargain may like to pop into Heywood Hill in Curzon Street before 26th. January and have a rummage in their basement as they are offering 40% off a large selection of secondhand and antiquarian stock including items from the libraries of Anthony Powell, Edward Heath and others.
If you haven't already seen it, do read the poem Oatmeal by Galway Kinnell which Nancy very kindly incorporated in her comment on the breakfast post earlier in the week, and another lovely food-related poem, Mother N by Adèle Geras which you can find here.
Fans of Angela Thirkell (and I am one now having read three books of hers in quick succession last month) will be pleased to hear that Virago Modern Classics are to be bringing out four more of her novels. Pomfret Towers, described by the publisher as having “a pleasingly
light-hearted Downton-esque storyline about the marriage plans of a
young heir to the entailed family estate”, will be published in November
2013, while The Brandons, Summer Half and August Folly will follow in summer 2014.
Lastly today, this is very tongue-in-cheek this, but follow the link to find out whether you are on the Wolf Hall spectrum, and if so, where!
Here's something for all those interested in creativity and in mental wellbeing: the Creative Minds podcast, part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. It features novelist Linda Gillard whose books are loved by so many of us here at Cornflower Books, and it's certainly worth listening to. If you're short of time and can't stay for the whole programme (around 25 minutes), you can catch Linda's segments at 4.07, 14.13 and 20.00, and as you'll hear she talks about how writing gave her the 'mental breakthrough' she needed, how it has helped her live with bipolar disorder and how her first novel Emotional Geology
has inspired others to acknowledge and further their own creativity. The book Linda refers to as being enormously valuable to her in showing her the importance of valuing and responding to the creative impulse is Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives
by Louise DeSalvo. ~~~~~
If you're in the market for a stimulating literary retreat, how about Gladstone's Library (pictured) at Hawarden in Wales? Among the events on their programme next year are a creative writing workshop with writer-in-residence Vanessa Gebbie (author of The Coward's Tale
which I greatly admired), and the short course, Looking Back: Introducing Neo-Victorian Fiction which explores "our enduring
fascination with the Victorians, both on the page and on the screen [and] offers the chance to examine not only why readers and viewers
love the Victorians so much, but the many ways in which they are brought
back to life.’ More details here. ~~~~~
To mark National Poetry Day, Faber are giving away the audio download of Carol Ann Duffy's anthology Jubilee Lines
which features the work of sixty contemporary poets to mark sixty years of the Queen's reign. The work will be available from 7.00am today (4th. October) and you can download it here.
Judging by many of the writers I follow on Twitter, getting down to work is the hardest part of the job for them, and staying at work comes a close second. As we touched on this subject the other day with Ann Patchett's productivity trip, I was interested - and amused - this morning to see this piece about various writerly 'carrots and sticks'.
A golden rule of literature:
Rowan Pelling writes, " ... while in real life only 4 per cent of the population of Europe have red hair, in novels 75 per cent of heroines are flame-tressed, because this is apparently the best way to suggest a female character is spirited and idiosyncratic." I have a flame-tressed daughter ... 'spirited' is right.
60 years in 60 poems:
Mark the Diamond Jubilee in poetry by exploring '60 years in 60 poems' through sound recordings and film footage at Jubileelines. Beginning with Dan Stevens reading Winged Back by Dannie Abse (1953), you can choose to hear each poem read or read the text yourself, click on the arrow pointing right to see pictures, then click on them for sound or film, go back and scroll down for more years of the Queen's reign represented in poetry.
What an inspired title for a collection of poetry! Sarah Salway's You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book - which is being launched in London this evening (details here) - is pin-sharp, clever, funny, contemporary, and expresses in beautifully original style a unique way of seeing the world.
If poetry is the distillation of observations, feelings, experiences and personalities, then Sarah's work is the equivalent of strong spirit - so much 'life' concentrated in so few perfect words.
Click here to read Love and Stationery and I'm sure you'll smile knowingly; from this page you can follow links to hear Sarah reading from the book; meanwhile, I'm taking the liberty of offering you one of my favourites,
Business as Usual
The Ivy is creeping with poets today
while over at Sheekey's they're teaching
kids how to fish for themselves
and you can't move at Glyndebourne
for storytellers swilling champagne.
The auction house is hushed as a sonnet
sells for millions and no one cares as the banker,
On Saturday, as part of a private group, we were given a talk by the archive's curator David McClay - a man of boundless knowledge and infectious enthusiasm - and his equally ardent colleague Rachel Beattie, two people whose passion for their work gladdens the heart! In addition to hearing about the library's acquisition of this incomparable piece of publishing history - all the papers of this unique family firm encompassing 7 generations over 237 years, its range including literature, science, travel and exploration and more - we had the chance to actually handle some of the documents.
Apologies for the quality of the photographs as they were taken hastily under artificial light, but they'll give you an idea of the treasures we saw. At the top of this post is some Jane Austen material, e.g. a ledger entry regarding the publication of Emma, a letter from Jane herself concerning the book, a royalty cheque for £38/18/1 in respect of sales of Emma, made out to Miss Jane Austin (her own signature on the reverse carries on the mis-spelling).
Above are more of Byron's papers, and with reference to the extensive crossings out in yesterday's picture, and more of the same here, as part of its digitisation programme the library is carrying out spectral analysis to reveal what may have faded or been deleted - Byron was going to a lot of trouble to make sure that what he initially put down would not stand, but such is modern technology that his efforts may have been in vain. Top left there is part of a letter from Lady Caroline Lamb to John Murray, but purporting to be from Byron himself, giving permission for a picture of him in the Murrays' possession to be given to Lady Caroline. The bit you can see (click to enlarge) is a note in Byron's own real hand stating that it is a forgery. Rachel told us that the Murrays claim their premises in London's Albemarle Street are haunted by Lady Caroline who spent a great deal of time there just hanging about on the off-chance that Lord B., with whom she was mightily obsessed, would drop in. Also pictured is the manuscript of Childe Harold, full of deletions, amendments and additional pages stuck in, many of them over-written scraps torn from other books.
We got our hands on all this and more, and if you ever get the chance to do the same, or to hear David and Rachel speak about the collection, take it!
It's been a while since we had any poetry here, but I thought I'd offer some to be listened to, rather than to be read. Anthony Hopkins' rich, melodious voice is the perfect instrument for this, so here is Yeats' The Lake Isle of Innisfree and Dylan Thomas' Fern Hill.