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A Guernsey Double Guernsey Poetry Richard Fleming

How not to annoy a poet

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Peter Kenny and Richard Fleming

In the granite cliffs of the south coast of Guernsey is a particularly beautiful spot called Icârt Point. I proposed to Lorraine my wife there two years ago, and I have known and loved the place all my life.  I have written poems about it, with two even having been set to music. When it comes my time to join the majority I quite fancy having my ashes smuggled to Icârt and tossed to the wind.

The friendly owner of the cafe at Icârt once told me he had mercury poisoning. “Success,” he said  another time, while sliding a ham sandwich at me across the counter, “is knitting your own Ferrari”. A koan I have puzzled over. Meanwhile the cafe garden had grown increasingly mazy and is full of roses and towering alien-looking echiums. Add into the scene the little tables and trays of cups and saucers, sandwiches and cakes, then it hard not to start looking about for a sleeping dormouse or a tardy white rabbit.

Where better then to meet my old friend Richard Fleming with whom I collaborated on a book called A Guernsey Double, which collected some of our poems about the island. I long stalked Richard through magazines and local island publications as he was clearly the best writer of poetry on the island (exemplified only a couple of months ago by his featuring heavily both on the island and open sections of the recent international Guernsey poetry competition).  While I’m all about the South coast of Guernsey, Richard has often written about the West. Here is one of his poems I love from A Guernsey Double about the West of the island. (Also see Strange Journey.)

Grand Rocques

When the Fat Lady sings her song
of death, her red dress billows out.
Her stage is the horizon there
beyond the sea where white birds shout
like stage-hands in the cooling air
or, lazy, simply bob along.

Her audience, this perfect night:
beach strollers, men with barbecues,
joggers, dog-walkers, laughing girls,
wet-suited boys in bright canoes,
stare as her aria unfurls
its ruby notes in dying light.

Collectively we hold our breath
to watch the Lady, red as paint
sink down, her wondrous final scene
completed in a breathless faint.
The colour now, the tangerine
of saffron robes, perhaps of death.

Richard also has a highly enjoyable blog called Bard at Bay.  Now I am getting back into the poetry world I realise that for better or worse that poets are my tribe. Back in 1984 Matt Groening (originator of The Simpsons) did  a cartoon of “Your Guide to the Modern Creative Artistic Types”. His entry for poet suggests that the way to annoy them is to “Be Another Poet”.  Not true of course, although this thought has come to me when I have met poets burdened by being a genius, the kind of burden that I as a mere poetic foot soldier could never understand. Fortunately such people are few and far between.

The poets who are my friends and who do not annoy me just by being another poet, such as Richard, are generous hearted people who happen to love reading and writing poetry. And as the eccentric cafe owner might say, long may Richard continue to knit his poetic Ferraris.

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Categories
Autobiographies Reading

What I read in 2014: autobiography and other

Here are some more books I read in 2014.

Autobiography

  1. 36 Views of Mount Fuji, Cathy N Davidson.  My first book of the year, started on the plane back from Japan after a family holiday. Cathy N Davidson is an American Academic, and here describes three long stays in Japan and the cultural differences she found there. A sensitively written, thoughtful account. Well worth looking at even if you have no intention of visiting Japan.
  2. On Writing, Stephen King Now this is the kind of how to write book I like. Such advice as there is, is  derived from his personal experience as a successful writer, and is presented in an autobiographical context. The book ends with a lengthy account of returning to work after an appalling road accident that left him for dead by the side of the road. Well worth reading.
  3. Rock Stars Ate My Life, Mark Ellen. I once met Ellen in a Chiswick swimming pool and chatted to him for five minutes. As genuinely nice then as he seemed on the telly. This book is a amiable recollection of how the love of music filled his life with characters and adventures. Ellen is engagingly self-depreciating, and quietly nostalgic for a lost age of rock music. A happy read.
  4. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou. I found this lived up to its reputation. Maya Angelou is unsentimental in her reminiscence. I find her account of her episode of silence after she was raped as child to be heartbreaking, and the depiction of her childhood in the country seems to me to be describing something from the 19th Century.
  5. Night, Elie Wiesel. Holocaust literature is always going to be gruelling. ‘Night’ is a  chilling account of the author’s deportation, the loss of his family and experience in Auschwitz and Buchenwald with his father in the last years of the second world war. This, alongside Primo Levi’s work should be required reading throughout Europe, especially for nationalists of all hues.
  6. Experience, Martin Amis. A memoir of disparate strands. A murdered cousin, thoughts on writing, a history of his bad teeth, his relationship with his father Kingsley. To me this was a highly satisfying read, though I can’t quite say why. Martin Amis is one of those writers whose work plays on my mind afterwards.
  7. A death in the family, Karl Ove Knausgaard. This book is fascinating. It is ostensibly a novel, but is written so autobiographically with banal or hyperreal detail,  featuring the writer and his actual family that for me it transcends genre. My brother told me to read this. He said it was like inhabiting someone-else’s life. He was right. One of the few literary name-checks in it is for Proust, and I can see why.

Other

  1. The Big Book of Hell a cartoon book, Matt Groening. I’m a sucker for cartoons. And I love these drawn by the man who came up with The Simpsons and Futurama. Great stuff, and with a bleak pessimism that makes it all the funnier.
  2. Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges. A book of short stories, but annoyingly as everyone said about it, these are stories that stick with you. So for example when watching the Interstellar movie, I almost yelped, “Borges! Infinite library!” These stories are so influential on contemporary fiction, that it seemed rude not to have read them before. Marvellous stuff. One of my books of the year.
  3. The World of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. As someone who did a degree, back in the days of quill pens, in Philosophy and Literature, I like to read a bit of philosophy every now and then, and prefer a bit of what used to be called Continental Philosophy to its Anglo-American counterpart. I particularly like it when a philosopher is forced to be clear and succinct and resort to natural language. Merleau-Ponty’s book was based on a series of radio talks given on French radio. An accessible glimpse into a great philosophical mind.

I also wrote about these two last books in this post.

Next post, Poetry.

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