Enthralled Herons – 21 April 2024

Awestruck and enthralled, I know where to start but not how to. For this week was packed with poetry: a stunning performance from Rachael Clyne at monthly poetry night Under the Red Guitar; a screening of the 1986 BBC film Caribbean Nights: Poetry in which Derek Walcott, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Fred D’Aguiar had an argument about tone, voice and class, a very polite argument which made their disagreement all the more stark and enjoyable; a discussion of their discussion with poets Helen Thomas, Anthony Joseph and Rishi Dastidar; but then, Alice Oswald.

Alice Oswald holding out the scissory voice of a blackbird. Alice Oswald offering the chatter of the river Dart. Alice Oswald bringing the deaths of men in the Trojan War to a war-torn present.

I cannot do justice to the experience and effect of hearing her poems, a profound one which I think the whole room shared. I write this before sunrise with birdsong outside to which I should listen more closely. I write this with copies of Memorial and Dart beside me to which I must return more intently. I write this thinking about what great writing can do, what speaking a poem can do, how, really, to listen.

Don’t worry, I won’t attempt here to answer any of the questions the reading raised for me. I’ll muse over a cup of tea between recommending a few books which I think matter.

Grief’s Alphabet by Carrie Etter
A celebration of her love for her mother, a reckoning with the death of her mother and a recalling to life of her mother’s spirit.
The Butterfly House by Kathryn Bevis
Her body has filed for divorce, her cancer is a ring-tailed lemur with whom she gets on OK, she sees butterflies each time she closes her eyes – when she dies, Bevis will become a flamingo and we will have the love of this collection. 

Another England by Caroline Lucas
Caroline Lucas offers a different version of England and English identity from that which dominates the headlines. Through Chaucer, John Donne, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith, she finds plural and progressive stories and draws on these to shape a vision of what England could become.
Woman, Life, Freedom by Marjane Satrapi
The author of Persepolis has brought together Iranian academics and researchers with artists to tell the story of the death of Mahsa Amini in graphic form. The book documents a revolution – the defiance of the demonstrators, the violence of the state – and calls for the rest of the world not to look away.

The Spoiled Heart by Sunjeev Sahota
Nayan Olak has worked his way up in his factory job in Chesterfield. Focussed only on work since his family died in an accident twenty years before, he is now running for union leader against the privileged Megha. Their opposition, fraught with questions of politics and class, leads to his unravelling and to the revealing of a larger story about collective responsibility.
Some Strange Music Draws Me In by Griffin Hansbury
Turn up Patti Smith and climb into the story of Max, formerly Mel. In 1984 Mel, a Carson McCullers novel in her back pocket and a summer of sluggish small-town life stretching ahead, meets a woman with strong arms and the voice of Lauren Bacall. In 2019, Max looks back, angry.

Kevin the Orange by Alan Windram, illustrated by Olla Meyzinger
A pithy, picturebook in which Kevin, tired of being orange, tries out being other colours and learns to embrace his orangeness.
Peregrine Quinn and the Cosmic Realm by Ash Bond
Join Peregrine Quinn and the cast of dryads, fauns, magical plants and bogbrethren in this wild, world-hopping adventure story. Classical mythology, very much alive in the streets of Oxford, meets the wonderful mind of Ash Bond. We loved it so much we’ve decided to make it our first children’s book of the month, which means we think everyone who is or has ever been a child should read it. 

Our event news abounds. May is looking rich with book launches, book groups and book crawls.

May your Sunday be full of song, of the Homeric, the blackbird and the Patti Smith sort,

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