Thursday 29 September 2016


We spent 4 days in and around Dublin. Dublin looks after its writers. It names bridges after them, it has a Writers' Museum, a Writers' Centre, and bookshops have sections on Irish fiction and poetry. At least 2 of the bookshops have displays of literary magazines (including British ones like Rialto, PN Review, etc). I bought a "Poetry Ireland Review", "The Stinging Fly" and "Town and Country", a collection of stories edited by Kevin Barry. I've not seen "The Stinging Fly" before, though I've heard about it. In September they tweeted that for their next issue they'd received 800+ submissions including more than 500 short stories. Getting a story published in it is hard work.

Beckett's bridge opens fortnightly. His phone is on show - it had a button to block incoming calls. Joyce is mentioned in many more places around the town. The James Joyce bridge leads straight to the house of the dead.

A literary pub-crawl is available, but the trend nowadays seems to be that bookshops have associated cafes or tea-rooms. The Winding Stair isn't the only shop to sell both new and second-hand books. It features on a 72c stamp.

Dublin has the highest smock windmill in Europe, a Leprechaun museum, and an abundance of tattoo shops and massage parlours. We saw the bog people. We went to Howth (where we saw cormorants, a curlew, and net-mending workshops side-by-side with sea-food restaurants) and Dalkey. We passed several Martello towers, but didn't see the one that's in Ulysses. My wife saw the Book of Kells. Trinity College at noon was just like being in Cambridge between lectures. We learnt that they call a half a glass. Speed limits are in km/h. The weather was too good to be true.

Saturday 24 September 2016

"Prose" and "poetry" again

  • Reading Sunshine by Melissa Lee-Houghton (much of which I liked) made me think again about "poetic language" vs "the language of the mentally ill". The non-standard twists, turns and dis-inhibition that characterise some forms of mental illness can have a strong initial impact, displaying features common to poetic language, but it also lacks features (conciseness, unity) that are common to poetic language. Thanks to new treatments we're less exposed than we used to be to schizophrenic or manic language, and hence perhaps we have trouble assessing its literary merit.
  • Reading Citizen (Claudia Rankine) and "Grief is the thing with feathers" (Porter) have made me think again about the prose-poetry spectrum. I'm surprised the "Citizen" was thought eligible for a poetry prize. Certainly some of the book is, but (equally certainly?) some of it isn't.
  • Reading Jonathan Edwards' "My Family and Other Superheroes" (much of which I liked) I thought that many of the texts were poetic without being poems, much as the Mona Lisa could be considered poetic without being a poem. They don't use language as a medium - the words don't warp the thoughts and the thoughts don't distort the language. The language is transparent, letting us see through to the poetic value.
    Was it market forces that made it into a poetry book? It contains a sestina and a villanelle, and books that combine poetry and poetry aren't popular, so I guess the poetry tag is sensible. And besides, the term "poetry" still has an aura that (say) "micro-literature" lacks.

Again, we see the use and abuse of categories. I find the terms "prose" and "poetry" (and come to that "mainstream") useful as short-hand descriptions, but there are situations (competitions, for example, or bookshops) when a text must be assigned to either the "prose" or "poetry" category. It's analogous to the problem in sports when competitors must be either male or female even if in other situations they'd prefer to be undefined.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could stop petty pigeon-holing and just have "Text competitions" instead of "Poetry competitions" and "Story competitions"! Actually, I think some poetry competitions are already "text competitions" in practice, the only limitation being the number of lines. And the Costa Award eventually matches poetry against prose. However, I can't help thinking that category-based competitions will never die out, just as female-only sports won't die out. I'd be wary of entering a "Text competition" - I'm already dubious about the judges' range of aesthetic sensibilities. Besides, most readers prefer to have a rough idea of what's between the covers before they browse or buy - many novel readers don't want to read poetry.

Thursday 22 September 2016

The Longer Write-ups (2015-16)

I don't try hard to make my write-ups entertaining, but here are some that are longer - they're almost reviews.

Books read 2015-16

Thursday 15 September 2016

All change, all change

Autumn's often a time of change, this year even more so -

  • One of my sons is now a doctor - at A&E initially. Loads of anecdotes I'd better not use in stories.
  • My other son starts Univ at Birmingham. I guess we'll be exploring the Birmingham area. The literary events up there are tempting.
  • My wife's 50th birthday's approaching.
  • There are some big syllabus revisions in the courses I'm involved with at work (C++ to Python, etc), with knock-on consequences for years to come.

So there'll be life-style changes. The house will feel quiet (until the builders start the extension). I need a project to keep me busy. Perhaps I should work harder at sorting out my "difficult third book" syndrome.