In Defense of Poetry

If you tell somebody you read poetry you’re likely to get a funny look. Their eyebrows automatically lift a little too high and the pupils glaze over slightly as they internally pass judgement. Most likely this stems from a misconception that poetry is flowery and difficult to understand. In truth a lot of it is, especially the stuff force fed to teenagers at school and it’s hard to shake the impression instilled in the formative years. But I’d encourage everybody to give it another go.

The best way to enjoy poetry is first thing in the morning. When you wake up and sit for your morning coffee take the time to read a poem. Start simple with writers from your century. If you don’t understand every line even better. What was confusing at 6am will slowly churn around your head and be unraveled at lunch time. Everybody deserves a little Eureka moment whilst  doing the dishes or sat in a meeting. Even if you never crack the lyric code the puzzle is enough to keep the mind churning.

Just like exercise to maintain a healthy body, poetry should be used to encourage a peaceful mind. A little time spent every day to discuss a shard of the human experience with someone you have never met can only be beneficial. We encourage the disciplines of yoga and meditation but neglect the need to enjoy creation. Poetry should be treated as a daily vitamin supplement for the soul. Just like apples, one poem a day will keep mind rot at bay.

 

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Maya Angelou’s Most Memorable Lessons

Some days life can knock you down and sending your hiding under the duvet. On these occasions I find myself before the bookshelf. The pages contain past wisdom, with the power to perk me up and send me back into the struggle. From Camus I learned to keep pushing the eternal boulder with a smile like Sisyphus.  Whilst the Stoics and Buddha teach how to accept the inevitable. When times seem especially tough I turn back to one of my favourite teachers: Maya Angelou. It is simply Dr Angelou’s positivity that picks me up again, preparing my return to the wider world. I’d like to share some of her most enriching expressions. Hopefully, I don’t infringe too many copyright laws along the way.

 

Love Liberates

This is a simple lesson and it’s probably one you’re already aware of, “if you love something, sometimes you have to let it go.” Even though concept is common knowledge it’s hard to exercise. Like most things Love liberates is easier said than done. After all, complex emotions and bonds are easily muddled by every day existence. Our intentions can be perfectly pure in wanting the upmost for another but how we express these intentions can be binding. If you are blessed enough be loved and have people that you love then it’s worth loving a little like Dr Angelou.

 

Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto

If you’re anything like me then your Latin language skills are none existent. Thankfully there are a number of slightly different  translations of the sentence. Angelou offers, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” Although she was multifaceted person Angelou wasn’t a time traveler from Ancient Rome. The phrase originates from the playwright Terence. A slave who penned himself to freedom during the heights of the Roman Empire.

Dr Angelou emphasised the importance of these words and internalising their lesson. Doing so allows you enjoy  the great achievements of our species. All the components for ingenuity, compassion and creation rest within you. Conversely, any destructive act a human can commit is within capabilities. This makes you empathise and stops you from imparting a moral judgement on another.

Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto is a hard lesson to live. I must fail about a hundred times a day. But it’s always worth trying again. Offering understanding to yourself and others can only bring people closer.

 

And Still I Rise

There’s only so long you can lounge in your melancholy. If I need something to kick me into the shower and out into the sunshine then I remember And Still I Rise. When I hear the poem I am reminded of the effort that came before this day: A thousand hunter gatherers who scrapped through harsh winters for our survival; the immeasurable love and support that pushed me to this point in time; every drop of rain water and every rotation of the earth has projected me here. The lesson I learn from Dr Angelou’s poem is that the battle of life must be loved. It’s going to knock you down but eventually you will stand up again.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman Review

After the indulgence of the Christmas period and the unfortunately rapid return to work I found myself exhausted. To cure my January Blues I retired from the reawakening world and I spent my Saturday night (and majority of Sunday) curled up with Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and the last of the season’s chocolates. I hadn’t intended to indulge both days in the stories but after the first few pages the outcome was inevitable.

If you ever attempted to explore the world of the Old Norse Gods then you’re confronted with a lack of modern interpretations. Most likely you’ll be offered the Poetic and Prose Eddas, quickly followed by Marvel’s dissimilar Comic Book hero. Last year I attempted the poetic Edda and enjoyed the lyrical stories. However, it’s not an easily accessible book and not recommended for young readers. Gaiman’s contribution is a perfect solution to this problem.

Norse Mythology presents the usual cast of Odin, Thor, Loki and others in an easily understandable way. The deeds and downfalls of the old Scandinavian Gods are depicted in a light and engaging manner.  Gaiman’s re-imagining has the unique quality of appealing to both adults and younger readers, which all myths should do. His style makes for easy reading and this simplicity allows the quality of the original stories to shine. In his introduction Gaiman writes that he chose the tales because of his childhood fondness. Hopefully, he was also interested in the myths of other lands too. A whole series of the world’s ancient stories in this style is worthy of any bookshelf.

Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

At the start of 2017 I set myself a challenge, through Goodreads, to read a total of forty books. Nine months into the year I have completed the task. I should have probably set the target a little higher but I wanted a goal that would encourage consistent reading as well as open my horizons to fresh authors and ideas. The following list is what I have read since January. Some of these texts were incredibly short (such as the Penguin black classics and books of poetry) which may be why I finished the challenge so early. Other books, like the denser Philosophical texts and anthologies, took weeks to finish. On balance I think my reading list contains a little something for everyone. Hopefully you find a title for you, one of your favourites or are able to leave me a suggestion or two.

Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro (3/5)

The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro (5/5)

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (3/5)

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (5/5)

Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (3/5)

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman (4/5)

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (3/5)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (5.5/5)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (4/5)

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (4/5)

A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar (3/5)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (4/5)

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr (5/5)

Maurice by E.M Forster (4/5)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3/5)

The Plague by Albert Camus (4/5)

Candide by Voltaire (5/5)

The History Boys by Alan Bennett (5/5)

Demian by Hermann Hesse (4/5)

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (5/5)

Poetry

I Knew the Bride by Hugo Williams (4/5)

The Poetic Edda by Anonymous (4/5)

The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (5/5)

Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara (3/5)

Complete Poems by Karen Boye (4/5)

Making Cocoa for Kinsley Amis by Wendy Cope (5/5)

Selected Poems and Letters by Arthur Rimbaud (3/5)

Nonfiction

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang (4/5)

Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche (4/5)

A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift (4/5)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (2/5)

The Republic by Plato (5/5)

Only Dull People are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Noam Chomsky (4/5)

Five Dialogues by Plato (4/5)

Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud (3/5)

The Symposium by Plato (4/5)

The Culture Industry by Theodor W. Ardono (3/5)

Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (4/5)

Reading List

Through the mystery, whim and mercy of our great universe I have been gifted with the rare three day weekend. I have no doubt that my fortunes will shortly run out. Tuesday will be rife with torrential rains, cancelled public transport and home invasions. In spite of the horrors next week has in store I shall whittle away my days of rest reading as much as possible and placing a book order. I thought I’d share my long weekend reads with you. Hopefully you’ll get one yourself or leave a suggestion.

Amélie Nothomb– Hygeine and the Assasain

My Canadian friend recommended this next book by the Japanese born, Flemish author. Written in French it was Nothomb’s first novel and for all the searching in the world I cannot find an English language version of the text apart from on Amazon. I’ve tried two e-readers, four book shops-I can’t even download it onto my Kindle. The plot is a mystery but I’m going to have to place an Amazon order just to get hold of it. I confess dear reader, I am only writing this blog post because I want more book suggestions to pad out my online basket.  Free shipping is essential.

Plato- The Symposium

I started my journey into philosophical texts in random places. Firstly, I dove into Simone de Beauvoir and Camus. Then I  stepped back into as much Nietzsche as possible. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated their lessons I had the feeling I started in the wrong place. To fix this I went to Youtube and found a series of lectures that intended to be a rough syllabus to a first year undergraduate course.

The videos sent me back to Plato and over the past year I’ve been making my way through many of his writings. I’d recommend Plato as an accessible introduction to Philosophy. His Socratic dialogues are easy to follow with their conversational structure but still contain fresh ideas to ease open your thinking. Finally, I have reached the symposium. I’ve saved it for last because it sounds the most entertaining: slightly liquored people making speeches about love- an ancient Greek gay wedding reception.

Agatha Christie- To Be Confirmed

There’s no need for panic my confused Agatha fan. To Be Confirmed is not the secret Christie title you never read. I just haven’t decided the exact book to settle down with yet. I’m open to suggestions except The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Everyone knows the policeman was the killer all along and if you didn’t it has been spoil for you just as it was for me. But I can hear you dear reader querying through your screen, “Why Agatha Christie?” The reasons are numerous and complex: I’m English, she’s apparently pretty good and my favourite episode of Dr Who centers around her.

 

Last Exit to Brooklyn

In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is still a challenging book to read. Selby Jr treated his characters with the contempt they treat each other. Every person in the novel is dragged along by their base desire for sex, violence or securing a chemical high, often leading to their demise in a pool of their own blood.
Overall, it is a brilliant but uncomfortable book to read. The character’s lives are fast and you’re pulled through the pages by the sentences missing full stops and chapters lacking paragraphs. The foregoing of traditional punctuation lends a unique style, as if a friend is telling you graphic gossip at a bar.

Two years of Goodreads

I first joined Goodreads in September 2015 and have been using it on & (mostly) off ever since. In the last eight or nine months my activity on the book review site has accelerated. Before opening the first page I immediately update my “book shelf” and after final sentence I award the author my stars. My visits to Goodreads have probably increased due to ‘Reading Challenge” function. This feature allows the user to set a reading goal for the end of the year, so that whenever you complete and update your latest favourite you’re also reaching a goal.

For this year’s reading challenge I set myself an attainable target of 45 books. Now we are roughly half way through the year and I’ve managed a respectable 27 titles (60% apparently). This pile of books has been bolstered this year by being able to update eBooks from my kindle devices. Opening up my Goodreads to electronic texts has been helpful in finding new books as well. Sometimes, one of the worst aspects of being a heavy reader is that you simply run out of books, or rather you can’t see the wood for the trees. Perhaps a more subtitle metaphor for this stage in the paper’s production would be ‘not seeing the pages for the books’? Whichever allusion you choose, it’s handy to have a community of people, across several platforms with varied reading interests that mirror and inspire your own.

The other function I’ve recently discovered (I shall exorbitantly name) is multi-platform reviewing. This allows me to share my recent Goodread reviews on my WordPress blog. Sharing the reviews onto my blog is something I am excited about because it enable me to join two areas of my writing experience together. Now that the reading challenge is slowly rolling downhill towards the goal I intend to focus more intently on the reviews and hope you enjoy them.

Happy Reading