Monthly Archives: May 2010

Childhood Reading

Illustration: Jessie Willcox Smith

“Remember the feeling when turning the page was almost too much to bear? As adults grown weary of clichés and redesigned storylines, we too easily forget the initial jolt, the power, almost drug-like, of those first readings, when imagination flared up and seemed capable of consuming us.”
– Roger McGough in The Pleasure of Reading,
  edited by Antonia Fraser (Bloomsbury, 1992)
“What I sought in books was imagination. It was depth, depth of thought and feeling; some sort of extreme of subject matter; some nearness to death; some call to courage. I myself was getting wild; I wanted wildness, originality, genius, rapture, hope. I wanted strength, not tea parties. What I sought in books was a world whose surfaces, whose people and events and days lived, actually matched the exaltation of the interior life. There you could live.”
– Annie Dillard, An American Childhood (Harper and Row, 1986)
“The first book I ever treasured was a cloth book, a children’s book perhaps, and though I have no memory of the story I do think of it as something sacred … Words were talismanic, transfiguring, making everything clearer, and at the same time more complex. Words were the sluice gates to the mind and to the emotions. Reading for me, then as now, is not a pleasure, but something far more visceral, a brush with terror.”
– Edna O’Brien in The Pleasure of Reading, edited by Antonia Fraser
   (Bloomsbury, 1992)
“At any moment the impulse might seize me; and then, if the book was in reach, I had only to walk the floor, turning the pages as I walked, to be swept off full sail on the sea of dreams.”
– Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance: An Autobiography
(Simon and Schuster, 1998)

“I lay voluptuously on my stomach on the big bed, blissfully alone, and I felt a thrill which has never left me as I realised that the words coming magically from my lips were mine to say or not say, read or not. It was one of the peaks of my whole life. Slowly my eyes rode across the lines of print, and the New World smiled. It was mine, not something to beg for, book in hand, from anyone who could read when I could not. The door opened, and without hesitation I walked through.”
– M F K Fisher, Among Friends (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004)
“No days, perhaps, of all our childhood are ever so fully lived as those that we had regarded as not being lived at all: days spent wholly with a favourite book. Everything that seemed to fill them full for others we pushed aside, because it stood between us and the pleasures of the Gods.”
– Marcel Proust, A Selection of His Miscellaneous Writings,
   translated by Gerard Hopkins (A Wingate, 1948)
“Books provide the most helpful of road maps for (an) inner journey. They show us the tracks of fellow travellers, footprints left by earlier pilgrims who have trod the path that stretches before us. Their luminosity helps to light our way. As we read we realize that we are not alone.”
– Terry W Glaspey, Books and Reading: A Book of Quotations,
   edited by Bill Bradfield (Dover, 2002)
“In my own story books, before I could read them for myself, I fell in love with various winding, enchanting-looking initials drawn by Walter Crane at the heads of fairy tales. In “Once upon a time,” an “O” had a rabbit running it as a treadmill, his feet upon flowers. When the day came, years later, for me to see the Book of Kells, all the wizardry of letter, initial, and word swept over me a thousand times over, and the illumination, the gold, seemed a part of the word’s beauty and holiness that had been there from the start.”
– Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
(Harvard University Press, 1984)
“I love to feel a book’s weight in the hand, sniff the faintly acrid scent of old paper … The rough or smooth texture of a cloth cover, the incised, elaborate decoration of the Andrew Lang fairy books, green, blue, purple, grey and crimson, were an excitement in themselves.”
– Catherine Peters in A Passion for Books, edited by Dale Salwak
   (St Martin’s, 1999)
“As I grew older, the images of bleak yet rapturous imposture – particularly in fairy tales – aroused an inescapable sensation of wanting to write. Princesses turned into mute swans, princes into beasts. Think of the eerie lure of the Pied Piper! I began to pursue that truly voluptuous sensation in middle childhood.”
– Cynthia Ozick in The Book That Changed My Life,
  edited by Diane Osen (Modern Library, 2002)

Illustration: Jessie Willcox Smith

Sarah Hymas’s Host

Sarah Hymas was born and brought up in Harrogate, Yorkshire, and travelled extensively before settling in Lancaster. Her work has appeared in short story collections, anthologies, magazines, pamphlets, multimedia exhibits, film, on posters, and as lyrics and scripts. She has collaborated with other writers, musicians and visual artists on projects including video and operas. She currently works for the Lancaster Literature Festival, as the editor of its publishing imprint, Flax, and keeps a blog, Echo Soundings.

Sarah Hymas

Sarah Hymas’s debut collection explores heritage: familial, social, environmental. Investigating notions of territory, these poems skein out our complex relationship with the natural world — how, guest, stranger or gardener, we’re pulled into its dynamic cycles.
The two sections of Host (Waterloo Press, 2010) flare with distinct tones. In Bedrock four generations of one family reveal their hopes and disappointments: glinting in the stones of Yorkshire, love, in all its universal peculiarities, sustains and agitates this extended narrative sequence. In Landfall the canvas expands beyond home, to encounter a dark riot of colour: a more playful, if elusive, world of travel, sailing, friendship and sexual awakenings.
Throughout, these poems display a metaphorical brilliance, illuminating the sacred within the familiar. This book heralds the arrival of a passionately muscular voice, rooted in necessity and physical experience.
Classroom, 1977
Sarah Hymas

If there were signs, I don’t remember what they said.
Their authority transcended words. I just knew
it was private. I wasn’t to touch.
Except when Grandpa, besuited and tall, unlocked the door,
led me inside to look at rows of rocks,
butterflies of Japanese silk, all labelled, behind glass.
Cabinets shone as light as this room
surprisingly. His fingers, long like ribs, pulled out a stick
carved with rats, each the size of a fingernail, crawling
over each other, tails twirling. It was the femur
of a prisoner-of-war. He had dominoes made from bones
of another dead man. Not for play but to hold
and feel the weight of my own.
Choice, 2003
Sarah Hymas

That morning, the choice of underpants was bewildering.
Which should I wear, Doreen? I asked.
Then took the pair she’d laundered,
as I had for the previous ten thousand days, more.
The black pudding went down well,
so much so, I asked the other couple there
Have you come far? As if I was always happy to pass
the time of day with strangers in dining rooms.
Later, I agreed to hold my granddaughter
for the first time in her three months. I didn’t know
quite how so she wouldn’t break her neck.
But she lay, on my knee, against my arm. Quiet.
I couldn’t smile for the camera. I couldn’t lift
my eyes from her tiny body, lighter but stronger
than mine, and face my wife. Why let on
that in less than an hour I’d be dead?
Bearing Witness
Sarah Hymas

The lake fills dawn with moisture
soft as magnolia flesh,
cobwebs the grey mountains
blurring my line of wakefulness.
Not for him, running back
with a camera full of shots,
an apple, and feverish eyes,
though we’re 2000m above a mosquito.
The sadhu, orange-robed, painted, plaited,
stood in misted water, eyes closed.
Sang. Doused. Gave him the apple.
I haven’t seen fruit for a fortnight.
Go tomorrow, he urges. At first light.
It’s like he’s seen the silhouette of his soul
and it no longer quite fits.
He breakfasts on his apple. Leaves.
I schlep to the lake the next day,
squat by the shore. Beneath bird calls,
I search for the momentous,
as if trying to recall a dream.
Echo Sounding
Sarah Hymas

Light glosses over tidal streams,
hiding our deepest valley, highest mountain.
Through gale force and iron stillness, the albatross
circumnavigates yearly, mates for life.
Imagine weeks of greys and blues, slate, silver, sky,
rocking to stay vertical.
Without wind to tauten polyester and rope,
sails are like a sextant without sun.
Despite the light and dark there is no night or day,
just three hour shifts, off and on.
The swell breaks on deck. I’ll never
rinse this salt from my ears.
from Host (Waterloo Press, 2010)
Visit Sarah’s blog, Echo Soundings.
Visit the Lancaster Literature Festival site.
Sarah Hymas’s debut collection, Host, will be launched on Monday,
7 June 2010, together with Naomi Foyle’s second collection,
The World Cup (Waterloo Press, 2010).
Venue: Iambic Arts Theatre, above Bell Book & Candle on Gardner St with the entrance behind the shop on Regent St, signposted with balloons (Brighton)
** table seating and cash bar ***
For a map please click here
Time: 7:30 for 8pm start
Price: £5/4
With poems from all five continents and music from:
Linos Wengara Magaya
One of the UK’s foremost mbiri players, and leader of the
Zimbaremabwe music collective.
Los Bonobos
The eccentic French/German folk duo. Plenty of costume changes!

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers’s The Everyday Wife

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers wrote for television for ten years before publishing her first collection, Taller than Buildings (2006). Her poetry and prose are published in local and international journals and anthologies, including The Edinburgh Review, Poui, A Hudson View, and the recently published Home Away (Zebra Press, 2010), New Writing from Africa (Johnson & King James, 2009) and Just Keep Breathing (Jacana, 2008). She has performed on a number of local and overseas platforms. Her one-woman show, Original Skin, has toured in South Africa and abroad. Her new collection, The Everyday Wife, is published by Modjadji Books. It was launched at the Harare International Festival of the Arts in April 2010. Phillippa lives in Troyeville with too many animals and her son. 

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

Stolen rivers
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

for Chiwoniso Maraire
We Africans came to Berlin to sing
and recite poetry. We had an agenda:
remembering our anthems of loss,
galloping, consuming,
the pillage, the cries
like forest fires, like haunted children,
how can we, how can we even
begin to redress?
Enraged, we wanted revenge
and then, Chiwoniso, you stepped on the stage and
you opened your mouth and
every stolen river of platinum and gold
poured out of your mouth in song;
your voice etched us out of the night
and doubled the light in each of us.
You restored all the treasure-houses
from Benin to Zimbabwe, Mapungubwe to Cairo;
Africa moved its golden bones,
shook off its heavy chains
and danced again.
That night I thought
if only
love could purchase bread,
Africans would not be hungry.
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

My rural cousin’s labia
were round and thick, her teenage sex
dusted by tiny curls.
I watched her body
when we bathed together –
a six-year old with eyes like ants,
storing sweetness
in the convoluted corridors of my hungry little brain.
She was dark brown
like the chocolate biscuits you got if you were
lucky after Sunday school;
after the dry weeping of Cardboard Jesus when
they let the children out
to plastic cups of Oros and one biscuit each
from the Bakers Assorted.
Among the pink wafers and lemon creams and
shortbread, the rare
delicious chocolate.
I would pounce discreetly and then turn away
to eat. First I’d nibble the edges, then
pull it apart
to find the seam of sweet gum that held
the two halves together, lick it
until it dissolved;
me and the biscuit were one: holy communion.
We girls were promised nothing but
the protection of marriage to keep
the secret at our middle sweet.
At sixteen I stopped going to church. I had to admit
that I was only there for the biscuits.
from The Everyday Wife (Modjaji Books, 2010)
Read Margaret Busby’s foreword to The Everyday Wife.
Read an interview with Phillippa at
Visit Phillippa’s website.

Some thoughts for Monday

“Chew your way into a new world.
Munch leaves. Molt. Rest. Molt
again. Self-reinvention is everything.”
– Amy Gerstler, ‘Advice from a Caterpillar’
“I like to hear and smell the countryside, the land my characters inhabit. I don’t want these characters to step off the page, I want them to step out of the landscape.”
– Peter Matthiessen
“What crazies we writers are, our heads full of language like buckets of minnows standing in the moonlight on a dock.”
– Flannery O’Connor
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
– Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
“Poetry is my love, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face.”

– Anne Sexton
“Writing is finally a series of permissions you give to yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To leap. To fly. To fail.”
– Susan Sontag
“Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at the know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.”
– Brenda Ueland
“I learned that when writing you should not feel like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead on after another.”
– Brenda Ueland
“Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day’s progress through the dazzling quicksand, the marsh of blank paper.”
– John Updike
“We put on our stories before our clothes …”
– William Wenthe

Folding the Sheets

Folding the Sheets
Rosemary Dobson

You and I will fold the sheets
Advancing towards each other
From Burma, from Lapland,
From India where the sheets have been washed in the river
And pounded upon stones:
Together we will match the corners.
From China where women on either side of the river
Have washed their pale cloth in the White Stone Shallows
“Under the shining moon”.
We meet as though in the formal steps of a dance
To fold the sheets together, put them to air
In wind, in sun over bushes, or by the fire.
We stretch and pull from one side and then the other –
Your turn. Now mine.
We fold them and put them away until they are needed.
A wish for all people when they lie down to sleep –
Smooth linen, cool cotton, the fragrance and stir of herbs
And the faint but perceptible scent of sweet clear water.
from the sequence ‘Daily Living’, published in Collected Poems
(Angus & Robertson, 1991)

David Hart’s The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks

David Hart, born in Aberystwyth, lives in Birmingham, has been (many years ago) a university chaplain, theatre critic and arts administrator, and now lives as a poet, with recent part time teaching posts at Warwick and Birmingham Universities; residencies include psychiatric and general hospitals, Worcester Cathedral and the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival; Birmingham Poet Laureate 1997-98; winner National Poetry Competition 1994, 2nd in 2003. Elected Member of the Welsh Academy. His poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies and his books and pamphlets include Setting the poem to words, Crag Inspector (a poem of Bardsey Island), and Running Out (all Five Seasons Press), and The Titanic Café closes its door and hits the rocks (Nine Arches Press, 2009).

© David Hart

The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks
or: Knife, fork and bulldozer ultra modern
retail outlet complex development scenario
with flowers
Nominated for the Michael Marks Poetry Award
Originally probably an office and observation point for the canal company, on the Bristol Road in Selly Oak, Birmingham, the freestanding building that takes centre stage in this sequence was in recent memory the Knife and Fork café (Titanic café, unsinkable), a small business next door, and above them a huge advertising hoarding. After storm damage, the place became derelict and in 2007 was demolished.
The poem and notes are a mix of local history, surreal and playful language, and not a little anger at the proposed ‘development’ of the canalside area as a huge retail complex on what is poisoned ground sprouting something of a revelation – a wonderful crop of wild flowers.
Published by Nine Arches Press as part of their mini-pamphlet series, The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks includes a selection of colour photographs taken by David Hart on location to accompany the poem. This vivid and dynamic sequence is a fitting swansong to a city’s lost landmarks, the vanishing and shape-shifting human geographies of the heartlands.
Titanic Café is one of the most lightly achieved, unpretentious, mordantly ironic, and relevant contemporary poems I have ever read. It possesses gravitas in spadefuls, yet never fails to laugh at its own futility as a gesture against change – this is the poet as King Canute, both pointing ironically and weeping as the waves sweep in around him, or the bulldozers in this case.”
– Jane Holland
Read the full review here

© David Hart

an extract from
The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks
(Nine Arches Press, 2009)
The traffic that blooms in the Spring, tra la,
head to tail in the glorious Spring, tra la,
the same every day in the Spring, tra la,
there’ll be no more spring in the Spring, tra la,
                  boopy, boopy.
                  Place borns us
           and suffers and joys us
                   and dies us.
The theatre of THE BEST TEA IN THE UK
              is falling down,
the canal isn’t deep enough for the TITANIC CAFÉ
to sink without trace, there’d be a fine mess.
                  All but ready to collapse
                  of its own volition. Listen,
a child on a longboat along from Bournville asks,
     What’s that?! ‘It’s a
planks and struts and frames by numbers temple
                   to the God of Advertising
where you could buy God’s Own Tea
till the God of Storm
                            took it away almost.’
Birds Food Trefoil – Eggs & Bacon , Ham
& Eggs, Hen & Chickens, Tom Thumb, Lady’s Slipper,
Granny’s Toenails, Fingers & Thumbs, Cuckoo’s Stockings,
Dutchman’s Clogs – a place exquisitely lit
by eyes that know it.
                            Ah to escape all shit,
by day and night
and be disembodied thought.
      Stop at the lights,
      move at the lights.
Everything can go into little bags,
Sainsbury’s old and new can go into a little bag,
what remains of the Battery Co. can go into one,
the new hospital can go into one with the university,
the Worcester & Birmingham canal can be drained
                   into a purse
and the concrete can be folded into a handkerchief,
the Knife & Fork Café as was can go into a black bag,
the whole wild flower waste ground can go into one,
Selly Oak library can go into a little glo-bag,
a little polythene bag will be plenty for the Bristol Road,
another for COMET, B&Q, HOMEBASE and the rest,
another bag for the Dingle,
all of them in a trail of little bags,
a little bag now for the railway station and a Cross City
and a Virgin Pendolino that happens to be crossing,
a little bag for all the people in Selly Oak at 3 a.m.
                   this Easter Sunday,
all the dogs in a little bag, all the cats in another,
all the cars, vans, lorries, motorbikes and buses
                       in a crisp packet,
                         for Christmas.

Purchase The Titanic Café closes its doors and hits the rocks
(Nine Arches Press, 2009) here.
Read more about the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets.

David Hart

Counting Sleeping Beauties reviewed by Kayang Gagiano

Counting Sleeping Beauties
by Hazel Frankel (Jacana, 2009)
A review by Kayang Gagiano
Reading Counting Sleeping Beauties felt similar to paging through a book of impressionist paintings. Hazel Frankel has adeptly combined a series of vivid, dream-like vignettes, narrated by her four female characters, to create a stirring and sensitively-wrought novel.
These vignettes capture moments in the lives of four women (and the men they love), all living together in Johannesburg during the 1950s: aged Lithuanian-Jewish immigrant Leah Gerson, her adult daughter, daydreamer Hannah, and their domestic worker, Sina – a young Sotho woman from rural Pietersburg who has come to Egoli (Johannesburg) to seek out the father of her child.
Sickly, bed-ridden Leah is largely out of touch with her high-strung, slightly neurotic daughter, Susan. She obsesses about the brutal pogrom years of her youth in a Lithuanian shtetl (village), immersing herself in memories and poetry. Susan, meanwhile, is so caught up in her personal miseries and own sense of inadequacy that she tends to overlook her sensitive daughter Hannah. Then there is the faithful Sina, who because of her race and position in the house has her own heart-wrenching losses go largely unacknowledged.
Differences in language and culture and, most significantly, generation gaps, create emotional schisms between relatives on the one hand, and employer and employee on the other. Frankel incorporates Yiddish, Sotho and Afrikaans expressions, songs, and poetry into her story to great effect. I really enjoyed reading about aspects of Jewish culture I was unfamiliar with as well as evocative descriptions of life in bygone Johannesburg.
Counting Sleeping Beauties revolves around a harrowing family tragedy. Frankel examines with great insight and pathos how life unravels for her protagonists after this pivotal event. Human frailty, selfishness and self-castigation all end up eroding the fabric of a once happy home, creating a cast of lonely, isolated individuals. It is a compliment to Frankel’s skill as an author that I wished more than once that I could shake a character by the shoulders and beg them to realise what they were doing to themselves and their loved ones.
Frankel’s novel has a special focus on the destructiveness of repression and the negative effect this has on children. The novel left me pensive.
Kayang Gagiano’s review of Counting Sleeping Beauties was first published in Sawubona Magazine, April 2010, and is reproduced with the editor’s permission.

Hazel Frankel

Recent poetry publications

I’m very happy to have had a clutch of poems published recently.
‘The Escape Artist’ appears in Magma 46, edited by Jacqueline Saphra with Norbert Hirschhorn. You can read  about the issue’s launch here and order a copy here. ‘Along the Corpse Road’ is forthcoming in Magma 47, edited by Annie Freud with Roberta James.
‘Princesse de Lamballe’ and ‘Terra Marique Potens’ have been published in Horizon Review’s fourth issue, edited by Jane Holland. ‘The Remise of Marie Antoinette’ and ‘Madame Bovary’s Final Visit’ appear in the third issue.
‘Hina Matsuri’, a poem about the Japanese Doll Festival held annually on 3 March, is published in Ink Sweat & Tears, edited by Charles Christian with Helen Ivory.
‘The Giraffe in the Restaurant’ and ‘Paper Flowers’ appear online in incwadi’s autumn issue. ‘Shrine’, ‘Potiphar’s Wife’ and ‘Venice Beach’ were included in the spring issue. incwadi is edited by South African poet, Ingrid Andersen.
A tiny poem, ‘Wicche Jarre’, is published in Now Culture’s short poems issue, edited by Don Zirilli and Gene Myers. To read the short accompanying narrative, click on the text.
I’d like to give a huge thanks to all the editors and ‘behind the scenes’ producers for their time and commitment.

Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave Me

Pascale Petit (credit Jemimah Kuhfeld)

Pascale Petit trained at the Royal College of Art and spent the first part of her life as an artist, before deciding to concentrate on poetry. Since then she has published five collections, two of which were shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and featured as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement and the Independent. In 2004 the Poetry Book Society selected her as one of the Next Generation Poets. She teaches poetry writing courses for a number of organisations, including Tate Modern. Petit has read her work at many festivals around the world and travelled to Mexico several times to research Frida Kahlo’s life.

What the Water Gave Me (Seren Books, 2010) contains fifty-two poems in the voice of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Some of the poems are close interpretations of Kahlo’s work, while others are parallels or version homages where Petit draws on her experience as a visual artist to create alternative ‘paintings’ with words. More than just a verse biography, this collection explores how Kahlo transformed trauma into art after the artist’s near-fatal bus accident. Petit, with her vivid style, her feel for nature and her understanding of pain and redemption, fully inhabits Kahlo’s world. Each poem is an evocation of “how art works on the pain spectrum”, laced with splashes of ferocious colour.
“Their apparent shared sensibility makes the ventriloquism of these poems entirely unforced, and while Kahlo’s voice is subtly distinguished from Petit’s own, both women have a way of taking painful, private experiences and transmuting them, through imagery, into something that has the power of folklore. They capture the unsettling spirit of Frida Kahlo and her work perfectly.” Poetry London

“No other British poet I am aware of can match the powerful mythic imagination of Pascale Petit.” Les Murray Times Literary Supplement
Remembrance of an Open Wound
Pascale Petit
Whenever we make love, you say
it’s like fucking a crash –
I bring the bus with me into the bedroom.
There’s a lull, like before the fire brigade
arrives, flames licking the soles
of our feet. Neither of us knows
when the petrol tank will explode.
You say I’ve decorated my house
to recreate the accident –
my skeleton wired with fireworks,
my menagerie flinging air about.
You look at me in my gold underwear –
a crone of sixteen, who lost
her virginity to a lightning bolt.
It’s time to pull the handrail out.
I didn’t expect love to feel like this –
you holding me down with your knee,
wrenching the steel rod from my charred body
quickly, kindly, setting me free.
The Little Deer
Pascale Petit
Little deer, I’ve stuffed all the world’s diseases inside you.
Your veins are thorns
and the good cells are lost in the deep dark woods
of your organs.
As for your spine, those cirrus-thin vertebrae
evaporate when the sun comes out.
Little deer too delicate for daylight,
your coat of hailstones is an icepack on my fever.
Are you thirsty?
Rest your muzzle against the wardrobe mirror
and drink my reflection –
the room pools and rivers about us
but no one comes
to stop my bed from sliding down your throat.
Published in What the Water Gave Me (Seren Books, 2010).
Order What the Water Gave Me.
For information regarding launches and readings, please visit Pascale’s blog.
Visit Pascale’s website.
Read Dreams, Spirits and Visions, my interview with Pascale in the third issue of Horizon Review.

Jamaica Kincaid on writing

“One of the things I found when I began to write was that writing exactly what happened had a limited amount of power for me. To say exactly what happened was less than what I knew happened.”
– Jamaica Kincaid, Backtalk: Women Writers Speak Out,
edited by Donna Perry (Rutgers University Press, 193)