Tag Archives: books

Finished!

A Tribute to W.B.Yeats

yeats

Every now and again I manage to complete one of my ongoing projects!  This one has been on the back burner for some time – I already have a title that includes three of this poet’s work , but I wanted to investigate the poet a little further.

I was an early fan of his poetry – the musicality within it is magical – and I really do know how much my life has been influenced by listening to the power of the written word by a genius.  I count my poet influencers amongst my friends – they have informed my thinking and feeling for the majority of my life.  I truly believe they are life savers.

What I really find out when I dig deeper about any of my literary heroes, is how human they are – how full of paradox and confusion – and that endears me more. They above all others have shown me how truly miraculous it is to be human and alive and suffering as well as exalting. I lead a secular existence – and I am no apologist about that – but the spiritual exists within and poets help me to embrace that side of my nature.

 

A deep gratitude to artists everywhere, for the attempt to connect.  And to Mr W. B Yeats – the everlasting love of the listener and the reader.

 

‘Like along-legged fly upon the stream

His mind moves upon the silence’

 

If you are interested in seeing more of my finished tribute, it is going to be available here    Tribute hand made book at Etsy

 

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Spells of shivelight and shadowtackle

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Beyond hyperbole,’ The Lost Words’ is a book that demands attention.  It is a classic in it’s infancy – an about to be great. A spell book that weaves it’s magic with immediacy , like shivelight and shadowtackle – Gerard Manley Hopkin’s term not mine, it reminds me of those feelings when I am immersed in nature. Fleeting moments of lightness, beingness, the commonplace miracle.

“We must look a long time before we can see….’ Thoreau told us, exhorting the value of feeling ‘the marrow of nature. As a close observer he wanted to bridge the apparent gap between science and art,  valuing the poetic in the endeavours of the scientific classification of plants and animals prevalent in his age.  “Facts fall from the poetic observer as ripe seeds.”

This is genuinely a gift of a book from a joint venture between wordsmith Robert MacFarlane and the stunning illustrations by Jackie Morris. To share this book with anyone is to share in the joy of being alive

If you are near  you may want to try this –  The Lost Words Exhibition at Compton Verney

From <http://www.comptonverney.org.uk/thing-to-do/lost-words/2017-10-21/>

Alternatively , to get more of a close look at this joint endeavour and to find out about the author and artist , this link is a fabulous introduction, I hope it inspires you to find the book out. Penguin books Q and A

Bitten by the Moth bug

I don’t always get round to sharing my handmade books which I make on Etsy – but this time I thought I would .  The book came about from a conversation with a wonderful customer, who often orders from me to gift to her ( numerous) grandchildren and friends.  One grandson had recently graduated and specialised in moths, and she was curious whether I could make a book to celebrate his interest.  That is always a great starting off point for me – someone else’s interest. It stimulates and challenges me to research a subject that I wouldn’t have necessarily considered.  This was going to test me, because I could not possibly tell this young man anything he didn’t know about his special interest.  But I decided that coming to it from the angle of art history may be a way in.  And it was.  I was blown away by the fine work that Wencelaus Hollar produced in 1646 in Flanders . I found the drawings in a collection by Gothard Monrad at Te Papa.

Gothard Monrad (1811–1887) was a prominent figure in nineteenth-century Denmark: a bishop in the Lutheran church, he was also a noted scholar and politician. Privately, he was a connoisseur of art, collecting fine prints by numerous European old masters and paintings by contemporary Danish artists.
Monrad’s collection includes engravings, etchings, and woodcuts, beginning with two engravings from the 1470s by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna. The collection’s sixteenth-century German engravings form a significant group, and include works by Albrecht Altdorfer, Albrecht Dürer, and the brothers Hans and Sebald Beham.
The collection has now been reassembled at Te Papa according to Bishop Monrad’s own catalogue of 1869.

Two facts I discovered about the Moth world that I will share – moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth and scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species. Wowzer!

I was delighted to send this little volume to my customer, and was thrilled to receive in return these lovely comments;

 

‘The MOTH book arrived safely and in fine time. How very astute you were for the covering of the moth pages. It is perfect for a young man, very handsome. As I look through the pages several times, I am beginning to wonder if John will appreciate this work as much as I do. Should I or should I not? Oh, I guess so, I will gift him with it with the stipulation I can view it off and on. I must quit looking through you web site, as I soon will spend all my pennies on your art. Thank you for this piece especially since I ordered it and you came through with flying colors

Appreciation is a wonderful thing!  So if you have any subject you want me to consider adding to my bookshelves over at Etsy, send me a line.  Or you could browse the items I make to order here  Coptic stitch books at Modestly at Etsy

 

The stuff of Life

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‘ It was about being true to the very stuff of life, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feel of being alive. It was about finding a language. And it was about being true to the one fact, the one thing only followed from the other, that many things in life – oh so many more than we think – can never be explained at all. ‘ Graham Swift ‘ Mothering Sunday’

This , then , is what I have to bring today. The closing sentences of the book I have just laid down. It did not disappoint. Within its narrative Graham Swift refers to one of my storytelling heroes – Joseph Conrad – who himself has an interesting comment on storytelling, whose quest was ‘ by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.’

And the overriding sense I am left with is how fiction gives us permission to be most fully ourselves. I cannot imagine being the me I am without having encountered the characters and the writers I have met throughout my days. Science is mastering many of the facts , we are illuminating the darkness, but only dimly. Science is the first to corroborate how much is still unknown. A particle acts differently dependant upon it being observed – does this strike you as prescient on the human condition? We are and simultaneously are not the person we imagine ourselves to be. The codes we observe do not rely merely on the context of our time and culture, but also on our perception of them and of the fluctuating circumstances. That is confusing, much easier to narrate to you a true account of behaviour which shows how I hold personal codes of truth and loyalty , of fidelity and duty to be central to the person I am and yet act in complete opposition to them, choosing to end one marriage to a wonderful man , and father of my two sons because I had walked blindly into a new relationship where I felt at home. Not even a choice. And reader – I married him.

I haven’t learnt enough just from the handful of people who are present in my life, or who have been there in the past – they are priceless, but they do not bring me the breadth and depth of experience which helps me to understand I can forgive myself for frailty, for impatience, for laziness, for ineptitude. Because I am not alone. Because growing up is not just trying to imitate some version of being human handed down by parents et al, it is about encountering the various selves you inhabit, and allowing yourself not to be intimidated or frightened by them. Listening to voices from elsewhere can somehow bring you closer to knowing how to be your own.

In ‘Mothering Sunday’ Graham Swift practices his alchemy – his narrative is from a woman and it has one of the most authorative voice of being woman I have encountered. He is masterly in how deftly he practices this – the small sentences slipped in that are the ‘tell’ of what it feels like to be 22, free, single, and enjoyably bruised by sexual encounter ( not in a violent, abusive way). On removing from the scene, she mounts her bicycle ‘ slightly sore where she met the saddle’ .

I imagine the novelist’s challenge to himself – inhabiting not only the woman’s pysche at 22, but also later on – in her nineties and remembering. I imagine him imagining the reader – me – enjoying his playfulness, his zest for finding the right word, the correct tone, the piercing stab of the dramatic.

The point I am making, albeit clumsily is this – we need stories to remind us not how to live, but that life is mystery. Inexplicable paradox is what exists around us and about us, and the navigation around this mortal coil is facilitated by the storytellers, the magicians, the soothsayers, the lyric writers, the graffiti artists, the dramatists, the teachers.

There is now such a thing as a bibliotherapy – the art of listening to someone’s personal dilemnas and furnishing them with appropriate bookwear. (bookware?) . Such a stance should please me, but I am contrary enough to find something unsettling in it. Something proscribed – but then why not – we go to doctors, why not book doctors? I have a healthy disposition to challenge anything that is ‘good for me’ , and have only just discovered the heady delight of sucking up oranges. Now I evangelise about oranges. And for me they are the only fruit. I still have a long way to go.

I leave the last words to a woman author of impeccable skills, Marilynne Robinson, author of ‘Housekeeping’, ‘Gilead’ and others you may want to discover.

“While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been.”

‘let life take it’s course.’

“But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.”

 

nightingale

I have sons and stepsons- five young adults – and I am vexed about the same concerns for all of them.  How can I help them to live well in the world?  And every time I ask myself this question I come to the conclusion that I can’t. I am still struggling with the question myself as we all do.  I know in the rational part of my mind that each individual must ask their own questions, find their own path to some sort of equilibrium.  That said, there is the other part of me, the spark of optimistic longing that wants to share that wealth of experience from authors and artists that have resonated with me, moved me, performed some magical alchemy that has allowed me to feel some sort of transcendent moment which makes life worthwhile, meaningful, exciting. It’s also why I write a blog, a catharsis of sharing what I have found valuable to my living. A howl into the wilderness to connect with other lives, belong to a tribe where I am accepted, nourished, nurtured.

Thus I come to the nub of today’s post – the illuminating writing from Rainer Maria Rilke in ‘Letters to a young poet’.  The words of that hopeful young man  preface the Penguin Little Black Classics version, as an older version of himself  speak for themselves.

‘And where a great and unique person speaks, the rest of us should be silent’

-Franz Xaver Kappus , Berlin , 1929.

I will choose some of the text of the letters and share it here, but recommend the book to be read in its entirety,

On being asked to give criticism to the poets verses, Rilke writes to him ;

‘You ask whether your verses are good.  You ask me that. You have asked others, before, You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you worry…let me ask you to give up all that.  You are looking to  the outside, and that above all you should not be doing now.  Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself.’

‘…read as little as possible in the way of aesthetics and criticism (of works of art) – it will either be partisan views, fossilized..or neat wordplay, where one opinion will triumph one day and the opposite the next. Works of art are infinitely solitary…. Only love can grasp them and hold them and do them justice. – With regard to any such disquisition, review or introduction, trust yourself and your instincts; even if you go wrong in your judgement, the natural growth of your inner life will gradually, over time, lead you to other insights.  Allow your verdicts their own quiet untroubled development which like all progress must come from deep within and cannot be forced or accelerated. Everything must  be carried to term before it is born. To let every impression and the germ of every feeling come to completion inside, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, in what is unattainable to one’s own intellect, and to wait with deep humility and patience for the hour when a new clarity is delivered. ‘

Rilke doesn’t just advise the young man about art – it is fuller than that – but expresses his views on sexuality too – ideas about how to take deep pleasure in mature love, acknowledging that man often gets it wrong when  ‘he loves only as  a man, not as a human being’. If I could just take that line and impress it on my progeny, that would be enough.

More to follow!!

 

 

 

For the sake of a life.

                              The Layers   by Stanley Kunitz

 

layers

I am repeating myself because I sent this poem out into the ether earlier in my blogging life.  It bears repeating. I remind myself from time to time about what I want from this one and precious life.  Nowadays the buzz word is mindfulness, but the concept behind mindfulness is as ancient as time. At least as ancient as man’s consciousness began to reflect upon its self-awareness.  Our lives are different to those that were lived by the peoples of ancient civilizations, but in the perspective of the brain evolution, that span of time is just a nano second, so it is worth reflecting upon how humans in the past have reconciled themselves to the parodoxes that appear in all our lives.  You can choose from the philosophers who all have a different take , or the religious men who all have their differing stories they want to share, or you can listen to the poets.  The poets assume nothing of the reader, do not desire any allegiances, demand no tithes.  They write about the human experience because they are stuck in it. And in that attempt to soothe themselves a line of energy transmits from them to the reader. Sometimes it simply vaporises and never arrives anywhere, it just disappears as a coil of smoke will disappear into the air. Other times it sends an electric current through the reader and the reader is changed forever. As all the food that we eat, the sights that we see, the people we meet all impact on the messages our brains control our minds with, so with words.

savour

‘True Impressions’ – the essential necessity of art

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‘And art and literature – what of them? Well, there is a violent uproar but we are not absolutely dominated by it. We are still able to think, to discriminate, and to feel. The purer, subtler, higher activities have not succumbed to fury or to nonsense. Not yet. Books continue to be written and read. It may be more difficult to reach the whirling mind of a modern reader but it is possible to cut through the noise and reach the quiet zone. In the quiet zone we may find that he is devoutly waiting for us. When complications increase, the desire for essentials increases too. The unending cycle of crises that began with the First World War has formed a kind of person, one who has lived through terrible, strange things, and in whom there is an observable shrinkage of prejudices, a casting off of disappointing ideologies, an ability to live with many kinds of madness, an immense desire for certain durable human goods – truth, for instance, or freedom, or wisdom. I don’t think I am exaggerating; there is plenty of evidence for this. Disintegration? Well, yes. Much is disintegrating but we are experiencing also an odd kind of refining process.’1

 

 

This paragraph of wisdom was gleaned from Saul Bellow’s lecture in 1976, and encapsulates some of my recent thinking.  I both applaud and deplore the recent breakthrough in technology , bringing the immediate and the virtual to practically every home or person via internet and smartphone.  I am aware of the changing awareness it provides me – the gratification of satisfying curiosity quickly and easily , whilst simultaneously eroding my capacity for concentration. I am a gadfly, settling momentarily for bites of informative , entertaining distraction rather than entering into a thorough investigation of one area of interest.  That is possibly character led – I have never been the model for applied intelligence, but even within my own modest parameters I feel an unease at how I limit my attention to reading matter in particular. And yet the other side of the coin gleams attractively – the range of newly discovered channels of information is thrilling. I watch video of life on earth previously undreamt of in even my mother’s generation, introducing whole facets of human and other strands of life that can only inspire further exploration and discovery. The vast multitude of available paths is itself discombobulating – sometimes paralysing. It can be both inspiring and frightening, to be open to so much possiblility can overwhelm and freeze , halting the desire to progress. So I cheer the idea  of Bellow’s ‘quiet zone’.  I know that we are so much further on too, than when this was written- forty years is after all, a lifetime to some. We are experiencing a world in flux -it has ever been thus – and still we need to champion the Arts as a way of life, one which explores, enhances and illuminates the human condition.  It is not only in the world of the novel that the ‘individual’ is petrified – never more than now has our species depended on the interconnectedness and the application of that knowledge of interconnection in order not only to flourish, but to survive , both in a literal and a metaphorical sense.
We grow our technology at a rate that imperils our planet and ourselves. We grow our technology in order to save the planet and ourselves. Both are versions of the same reality. We choose, as individual human beings how to behave, both individually and collectively. Some of us choose our governments to act on our behalf, some are less fortunate, but all of us are responsible for the reality we choose.

Saul Bellow’s lecture discussed the value of literature in exposing the ‘true impressions’ to ourselves.  It is as prescient today as it was then;

‘The value of literature lies in these intermittent “true impressions”. A novel moves back and forth between the world of objects, of actions, of appearances, and that other world from which these “true impressions” come and which moves us to believe that the good we hang onto so tenaciously – in the face of evil, so obstinately – is no illusion.’

It is the artist’s gift to show us what is generally unnoticed by us.

The march of technology will continue to move us through different method of exploring that creative expression and I have no problem with that. When I thought about it, the popular mass of human beings on the planet have not enjoyed the easy access to books for that long, perhaps reading is only part of a creative journey to be taken by a comparative few. Perhaps the experience of being human and expressing paradox and complexity will follow different routes of expression, but express it we must. As Joseph Conrad explained, and Saul Bellow related:’ the novel tells us that for every human being there is a diversity of existences, that the single existence is itself an illusion in part, that these many existences signify something, tend to something, fulfill something; it promises us meaning, harmony and even justice. What Conrad said was true, art attempts to find in the universe, in matter as well as in the facts of life, what is fundamental, enduring, essential.’

The lecture can be read or listened to in full via the  link in the citation.

Citation:

1 ; MLA style: “Saul Bellow – Nobel Lecture”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 11 Feb 2016. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1976/bellow-lecture.html&gt;

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