Archive for January, 2010

Procrastination Station #62

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Apologies for the lack of Procrastination Station last week! Here’s a double-whammy of link love to make up for it!

OK, plug time! I made a bunch of new stuff and it’s up at the Read This Store! Grab it before it’s gone!

More video responses to the question ‘What Is Poetry?’

Rachel on artistic obsession.

Margaret Atwood’s ten tips for writer’s block.

Poet JK Rowbory is trying to raise £350,000 for vital medical treatment, by selling her poetry book. Can you help?

Two fabulous poems: one from Lynn Emanuel and the other from the always-brilliant Kim Addonizio.

I just discovered the Juxtabook blog! Loved this post: Labels, or how to ruin a lovely book.

Charles Bukowski’s Funhouse, featured by the Guardian Books Blog.

Scott Ginsberg is awesome — here are his four compelling reasons to write in the morning, even if you’re not a morning person.

I found out Taylor Mali has a blog — best news all year.

Writers talk about teachers who inspired them.

I’m really anxious to see the Howl movie.

How to be an annoying author.

This is a joke, right?

What ONS featured poets, friends, and readers have been up to recently: HUGE congrats to my good friend Ryan Van Winkle for his inclusion on the Cranshaw Prize shortlist. Fingers crossed for you, Ryan! // Inspiration machine Amanda Oaks is featured at My Favorite Things // A new haiku from Juliet Wilson // A new poem from Ainslee Meredith // At a handful of stones: Gareth Trew, Tom Rendell, Howie Good (he’s also at Bolts of Silk!) // I loved this from Stephen Nelson… and this even more // Matt Haigh shares his Best Poetry Books of the Decade // & non-poetry-related, but Morgaine (Boy’s mum!) has started an Etsy store!

If you haven’t yet seen these pictures from Haiti, then you should. Then you should donate. I mean it.

Extraordinary pencil sculptures.

Turn your books into jewellery? Surely not!

A woman photographed at 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 years old… all on the same day.

Are you following The Creamy Middles blog yet? You should be!

I love these portraits of Teddy Boys.

One day, I want to be just like Olga!

Thanks to @ricgalbraith for showing me this:

Wizard Smoke from Salazar on Vimeo.

What happened when a 14 year old with a tape recorder broke into John Lennon’s dressing room in 1969?

& finally… can I have one of these, please?

Have a great weekend! x

(Photo by JKönig)

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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Things I’m Reading #3 PLUS! ONS Giveaway!

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Sorry, I am late yet again with my Things I’m reading Thursday post – and ONS has been pretty quiet this week in spite of my best intentions. My rather pathetic excuse is I’ve been up against two deadlines this week… normal service will be resumed, I promise! To make it up to you, there’s a brand new ONS giveaway — details at the end of this post. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been reading this past seven days; feel free to share your books (and thoughts thereupon) too…

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
OK, if someone had said ‘hey, read this book – it’s 500 pages long and set in an Italian convent in 1570’, I’d have run a mile – in a bookstore full of fiction, this might well have been the last book I’d have chosen to read. However, because it’s required reading for me at the moment, there was no way out… so I braced myself and dived in.
I was actually quite pleasantly surprised – particularly since I’d tried to ease myself into the book by reading some reviews, and one or two I found were pretty savage. The book basically follows the story of a young novice who enters the Ferrara Convent against her will, and focuses on her relationship with one of the long-serving nuns who empathises with her plight. Unfortunately, Dunant makes the mistake of painting Zuana, the older nun, far more vividly than Serafina, the supposed protagonist – for me, Zuana was the more interesting of the two and I couldn’t really get a grip on Serafina’s character. The book also contains vivid and sometimes harrowing descriptions of convent life – nuns mistaking extreme fatigue and sickness for divine ecstasies, self-mutilation in the name of faith, etc. However, Dunant does not give a one-dimensional portrayal of these women – all the nuns display a degree of religious fanaticism, and many are vain, proud, jealous and secretive. The novel really comes to life in the passages where Dunant describes the small vanities of the sisters – their surreptitious personal grooming, the pampering of their pet lapdogs – I was far more interested in hearing about the trivial details of convent life than about tortured Serafina and her thwarted love affair. So I think perhaps I missed the point of this novel… but I did enjoy it, in spite of myself. I’d recommend it, but beware – like The Wonder from last week, it is also really, really (perhaps somewhat needlessly) long.

I’ve also been dipping in and out of various poetry books – too many to list here – in order to find inspiration for my forthcoming portfolio deadline. So instead of picking one of the many I’ve been looking at, I thought it was high time for another ONS giveaway. Last summer I was sent a little package of poetry books by the lovely people at Donut Press — this is another of those. Frankie, Alfredo, by Liane Strauss is up for grabs and Donut describe it thus: “poems of great ingenuity, humour and charm. This feminine metaphysical verse frequently explores aspects of desire, and holds at its heart a number of seeming contradictions: it is often ironic yet romantic, passionate yet deftly controlled, intellectual yet accessible, and displays wit counterbalanced with modesty.” Who could refuse such a book? I’d be tempted to add that it’s small but mighty – about A6 size – and has cover art to die for. Want a free copy? Just tell me what you’re reading this week in the comments box, before Thursday 28th. Simple!

(Photo by Montgolfier)

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Procrastination Station #61

Friday, January 15th, 2010

I felt like doing something a bit different this week, so here’s an all-visual Procrastination Station for your viewing pleasure! Enjoy :)

OK, a good start: here’s Sharon Olds talking about, erm… bums.

Sarah Kay on Jellyfish and karma.

I could basically listen to Benjamin Zephaniah all day…

Some facts about owls.

I love Simon’s Cat.

Speaking of jellyfish…

Cuteness!

& finally… I love Tom Waits.

Have a good weekend!

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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Things I’m Reading Thursday (erm, Friday!) #2

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Apologies for the lateness of this post — my Thursday this week was rather busy, but in a good way! Full of good meetings and progress, which is always good. Here’s what I’ve been reading this week…

The Wonder by Diana Evans
I’m actually not all the way through this book, but I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. The Wonder is a family saga that spans three generations and shuttles back and forth between a small Jamaican village, a dance school in Notting Hill in the 1960s, and a becalmed narrow boat on the Grand Union Canal, present-day. The novel is mainly about dance — Evans was a professional dancer before she turned to writing, and you can tell — but it’s also about coming-of-age, self-belief, displacement and alienation. Unfortunately, it’s also very long.
Over at Vulpes Libris this week, the following question was posed: why do novelists these days feel that their novels need to be so darned long? The Wonder is a complex tale, yes… but I’m only halfway through and I already get the feeling that I could have got here a lot faster than I did, without missing anything vital. Evans’ prose is simple, her voice not particularly stand-out or unusual (sorry, fans!)… so there seems no proper reason for the book to be this long. She has a tendency to repeat the same details again and again, too — if I have heard that Carla’s hair was “shaggy” and “foresty” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times already. Like I say, I am enjoying the book, but I constantly have the urge to skip bits. Hopefully the final pay-off will be worth the 300-page wait!

Sixty Women Poets, ed. Linda France
I’ve been ploughing through this book for a while, dipping in and out of it as I am wont to do with anthologies. I think this one has been spoiled for me by the fabulous Women’s Work — I defy anyone to put together a better selection of contemporary poetry by women right now. But then perhaps a comparison between the two is unfair — Sixty Women Poets was compiled nearly twenty years ago and seeks to do something really quite different. There are the old favourites in there of course — Carol Ann Duffy makes an appearance — but there are also some of the great unsung female poets of the past fifty years featured here. The selection of poems by UA Fanthorpe is brilliant; I also enjoyed the pieces by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanaín. Often I find that dipping into an anthology of contemporary poetry can really inspire me — this one felt a bit too serious at times and didn’t really have the same effect, perhaps because of the way the poems are ordered (in ‘blocks’ by each poet rather than by theme, or more randomly). I did make some great discoveries though.

Poetry 180: A Turning Back To Poetry, ed. Billy Collins
Perhaps because of the ’serious’ feeling I got from Sixty Women Poets, I found myself hunting out this old favourite once again this week. I have no idea how many times I’ve read this anthology — cover to cover — but it must be a lot. I love the concept behind the book, for a start — Collins made it one of his missions as Poet Laureate of the USA to create an anthology of poems that absolutely anyone could pick up, leaf through and find something they’d enjoy. He then incorporated the anthology into a school reading programme — thousands of high schools across America joined in with the scheme, under which a poem from Poetry 180 was read every morning at registration class over the school tannoy. However, because the book came first it doesn’t feel at all like a school textbook. It’s full of gems from poets old and new, and even though I’ve read it a million times, it always surprises me. This time for example, I unsuspectingly came across John’s Updike’s poem “Dog’s Death,” and ended up blubbing into my cup of tea… all thanks to Billy Collins’ cunning poem choice/placement.
Basically, if you don’t already have this poetry anthology, buy it. The end!

OK, your turn — tell me what you’re reading this week, what you want to read next week, what you thought of the latest book you read, etc etc!

(Photo by samie.shake)

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Found online this week: Black Books

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

As a total literature geek, I am kind of ashamed to admit that I have only just properly discovered Black Books. For those of you who don’t know, Black Books was a brilliant TV series that ran on UK TV a few years ago — it only lasted three series but every single episode was total gold. Black Books is the name of a very untidy secondhand bookshop run by Bernard Black (Dylan Moran), who is basically a total swine — drunk, abusive, apathetic and generally pretty nasty. His friend Fran (Tamsin Greig) owns the shop next door (at first — she then gives it up for a string of other amusing jobs) and basically comes over every so often to check that Bernard hasn’t slipped into a terrible votex of misery, or killed anyone. Bernard also employs a shop assistant called Manny (Bill Bailey) who he routinely attacks, belittles, tricks and generally abuses.

My sister has been nagging me for ages to ‘get into’ this show - I’ve been vaguely aware of it since it was on TV, but never done anything about it. However, the aforementioned sister was staying with me over New Year and basically forced me to sit down and watch every single episode. I am now a total convert and can’t believe I lived without Black Books for this long. It’s a must-watch for any bookworm, literature geek or alcoholic poet.

Annoyingly, Channel 4 — apparently fascists when it comes to Youtube — have disabled embedding on the following videos, but please do click… you’ll love it, I promise!

Students in bookstores, mobile phones, sale assistants.

Seeing the accountant.

Book search.

A haggling customer.

Manny moves to a conglomorate bookstore.

& finally… Holiday reading:

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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Procrastination Station #60

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Link love!

Q&A with Jeanette Winterson

A M A Z I N G book art!

Natalie Goldberg on writing every day, from Ophelia Blooming

The best book designs of 2009.

Remembering writers who passed away during the past decade

This is why I love the Rejectionist.

AL Kennedy on a writer’s friends

Ever wondered exactly what the deal is with using hyphens? Look no further.

Some recent antics of friends of ONS: Matthew Haigh at a handful of stones… again! // Regina Green also at a handful of stones — and congrats! Regina also (deservedly) won a poetry scholarship! // Also at a handful of stones: Howie Good & Michelle McGrane // David Tait at The Cadaverine // Lewis Young talks to Bob Dylan // Heaps of new stuff from Chris Lindores

I love octopi, and I just discovered CEPHALOLOVE. Cue *squee*.

Anyone else seriously looking forward to The Road? Trailer here!

Five people who only ever wear one colour.

Utterly surreal but somehow addictive: Nic Cage as everyone.

Hawtness at Chainsaws and Jelly.

Alphabetti badges!


Sugarchile Robinson: real musical genius.


If you haven’t seen this yet… well, just watch it.

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by ~BostonBill~)

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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Things I’m Reading Thursday #1

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Remember Things I Love Thursday? You should do — it was a regular feature on ONS for a whole year! TiLT is a big blogosphere phenomenon and I loved trying my hand at it, but a while ago I decided to quit and move onto something more relevant to this blog. I’ve been scratching my head over it for ages and then finally came up with this: Things I’m Reading Thursday. I now plan to let you all know what I’m reading each week (even if that happens to be nothing — yes, I promise I’ll be honest), and I hope you lot will jump on the bandwagon too. I’m always on the lookout for book recs, so let me know what you’ve read recently too. OK? Here goes, then…

Alex Cross’ Trial, by James Patterson
Well, a weird book to start on… because it’s one I’d never, ever, ever pick up off a bookshelf in a million years, under normal circumstances. But right now I’m doing some work that requires me to read such… stuff, if you can believe it, so I had no choice.
I’m pretty sure this is the worst book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read some bad, bad books. To add insult to injury, Patterson holds the record for the highest number of US Bestseller novels by the same author (51 so far), and is rumoured to be worth more than any other living fiction writer. I was aware of his fame and fortune before I started the book, so expected that he’d at least be able to string a decent plot together (a la John Grisham, for example). Apparently, that was a rather silly assumption.

I won’t do a character assassination on the book because hey, clearly millions of people love his work (this just in: yes, a million people can be — and are — wrong), and I’d literally be here ALL DAY. Apparently Stephen King once said that all Patterson writes are “dopey thrillers.” Having read the first half (yeah, I gave up. Well, I say ‘gave up’… I mean ‘threw it across the room’) of Alex Cross’ Trial, I’d be inclined to agree.

Strangers by Anita Brookner
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I have never heard of Anita Brookner, yet in her thirty-year writing career she has written 25 novels, and she won the Booker Prize in 1984. Strangers is a rather weird novel — definitely not what I expected from the cover blurb. It tells the story of Paul, an elderly man living alone in a London flat. He is obsessively nostalgic, and on the one hand desperate to have someone ‘around’ as he grows older, but at the same time fiercely protective of his own miserable solitude. Brookner writes in a style that’s only a whisker away from old-fashioned… and at times her prose seems repetitive, but I think that’s part of Paul’s “voice.” Other readers say they found the story depressing and Paul’s interior monologue banal, but I’m inclined to think: hey, elderly people really live like this. Sorry if that depresses or bores you, but it’s true! Personally, I am enjoying the novel (I’m on the last couple of chapters). I find Paul’s character interesting — he seems frustratingly selfish but also justified in his partly-self-made vulnerability — and I’m curious to see if his endless musings (there’s barely any dialogue, only Paul’s own thoughts) actually lead to anything. It’s not a book that’s easy to read, but I’m terrible for giving up on prose as soon as I get to a patch that bores me (typical poet, right?), and I haven’t put this down yet. I probably won’t read it again, but it is definitely A Good Read.

So, what are you reading right now? I’m nosy — tell me in the comments box! Or better still, jump on the Things I’m Reading Thursday bandwagon and write your own post.

(Photo by Mindfulgirl)

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The decade’s best poetry books: my picks, part two.

Monday, January 4th, 2010

See part one here!

Shag by Sue Vickerman (Arrowhead Press, Darlington, 2003).
I’m revisiting a lot of previously-documented discoveries with this list, and Sue Vickerman is another one! She’s a former winner of the Biscuit Poetry Prize and a novelist and short fiction writer as well as a poet — Shag is her first pamphlet collection and it’s full of absolute gems. Vickerman’s poems are straight-talking and confident, acutely observed — but they also posess an intrinsic beauty and warmth. Her wording is never flowery, complex or showy — every single word here is well-placed and necessary. But the poems are never sparse, either — there’s some deft wordsmithery at work here that gives the poems a simple beauty and originality: “Aberdeen was gentle / as an egg-box, pencil-shaded, hesitant outlines / smudged by weather” (Low Pressure). Every poem in this slim collection takes you to a new place — from birdspotting on bleak northern beaches to bedrooms in the Shanghai Hilton to rainy warehouse yards in Toxteth — and every poem is a new vignette or story to immerse yourself in. This is only a pamphlet, but if my first collection was as impressive as this, I’d be more than happy.

The Unswept Room by Sharon Olds (Jonathan Cape, London, 2003).
Sharon Olds is one of those poets who needs no introduction — I’ve also discovered that she’s in that rather exclusive club with poets like Ginsberg and Bukowski. Marmite poets, in that you either love or hate them — I’ve yet to meet anyone who says “yeah, Sharon Olds is OK,” but I meet plenty of people who vehemently detest her or obsessively love her. I’m obviously in the latter category — I love the bravery and audacity of her poems. Some people can’t stand Olds’ apparent need to lay her past and personal life bare (she has freely admitted that her work is pretty much 100% autobiographical), or the way she returns again and again to the same anecdote or memory in many different poems. I, however, like this decision to use poetry as a way of understanding the past, of exorcising demons… and I have been particularly fascinated by her changing perception of a significant event as the years (and books) pass. The treatment of a memory in her 1980 debut Satan Says is often vastly changed when she returns to re-examine it in a later collection. I have enjoyed the journey Olds has taken me on in her work, and The Unswept Room is my favourite of all the stops along the way. Favourite poems include Pansy Glossary, in which the pansy becomes a metaphor for womanhood in its many shifting forms; Bible Study: 71 B.C.E, which I like because it sees Olds doing something she doesn’t often — putting herself into the shoes of someone else; and Still Life In A Landscape, when Olds recalls the day her family witnessed a fatal car accident. Those of you who already know Olds’ work will have made up your minds about her already, but if you haven’t, and you’re looking for a good place to start… The Unswept Room is it.

Poems for the Retired Nihilist, edited by Graham Bendel (Fortune Teller Press, London, 2005).
I love this little anthology, mainly because it’s pretty darned weird. Picture the scene: Barbara Cartland alongside Charles Bukowski, Lawrence Ferlinghetti sharing page-space with Sylvia Plath. Not only that — some of the poems here are actually song lyrics, snatches of prose or cut-ups. Some are old favourites while others will doubtless be surprising new discoveries. Every turn of the page reveals a radically different piece to the one you just read, which makes the book feel pretty damn bonkers. However, it is also brilliant. Printed in a limited run, it’s a low-fi, big-hearted anthology unlike any other, and regardless of your poetic tastes (from Betjeman to Richard Hell — I’m serious) you’ll find something to love in here. The book thumbs its nose at both ‘Favourite Classic Poems’ -type anthologies, and the more contemporary ‘poetry’s current edgy young things’ collections that come out every so often. What this book essentially says is: poetry is everywhere, poetry probably isn’t anything you think it is, poetry is awesome. If you can find a copy (I suspect it may now be near out-of-print), snap it up.

More soon! In the meantime… tell me what your favourites were, and why!

(Photo by Sfgirlbybay)

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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Procrastination Station #59: Happy 2010!

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Happy 2010 to all my readers! I can’t believe we’re already ushering in a new decade — it feels like two minutes ago that my 13-year-old self brought in the new millennium… what happened? I hope the Noughties have been as action-packed and fulfilling for all of you as they have been for me. Now! It’s been ages since I did a Procrastination Station post, so without further ado… Happy New Year!

I LOVE this ever-expanding video series in which people on the street answer the question “What is poetry?”

Terrible poetry jokes from McSweeney’s.

It’s ages ago now, but I loved the story of the phone box library.

A fab SPL podcast with one third of the awesome Edinburgh-based Chemical Poets.

Will pointed me in the direction of these two great poems by Kim Addonizio — thanks!

Thanks too to Bram (another Chemical Poet) who recently introduced me to Ross Sutherland — here’s one of his poems, originally posted at peony moon.

Recently rejected?

The new issue of Sparkbright is out!

Hey editors — go easy on young poets! Here’s why!

I really loved this ImprovEverywhere stunt!

37 things you should never apologise for, and why. Sound advice.

A brief note on the importance of proofreading from the hilarious Rejectionist.

& what ONS readers/former Featured Poets/friends have been up to recently!: Incredible new work from Heather Bell // Scene setting with McGuire // Matt Haigh at a handful of stones // New from Alex Williamson // Open house at Swiss’ place // Regina Green featured at Escape Into Life // A cool cut-up from Stephen Nelson // A seasonal poem from Tom Rendell at a handful of stones

All best for 2010! Have a great New Year weekend!

(Photo by Mukumbura)

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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