Saturday, February 26, 2011

Broken April by Ismail Kadare

This is a haunting tale set against the blood feuds in the Albanian mountains between the First and Second World Wars. The Kanun (the code that governs the blood feuds) dictates that Gjorg must avenge his brothers death by killing a man from the family of the murderer. Once he has killed, he will be hunted down and killed in his turn. The novel is beautifully written, stark and terrifying like the mountains and the blood feuds that dominate the lives of the people who live there. There are valleys where every family are involved in the feuding, every man with a price on his head. The reader is given real insights into the area, through the eyes of Gjorg; Mark Ukacierra, the steward of the blood who keeps the records of the feuding and a couple honeymooning in the area.

Broken April by Ismail Kadare, published by Vintage

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Childhood Dreams

Christmas visits to the ballet
sitting too close to the stage,
thudding steps of second rate dancers
belying the illusion of grace
granted to those in the gods.

Ballet jigsaws, fuzzy felt ballet,
lying when asked what I wanted to be:
“I want to be a ballerina!”

Struggling through ballet class
with inflexible limbs
and no sense of grace
twisting myself into unnatural poses
forgetting to force a smile.

All those expensive books about ballet
when I wanted to learn about science.

(I love dancing, just ballet never suited me.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dean Bridge

This photo shows part of the Dean Bridge, which spans the Water of Leith. It was built in 1832 by Thomas Telford and offered a more direct route into Edinburgh from outlying areas. It bypassed Dean Village and helped to push it into economic decline, though these days it has recovered and is a popular and attractive suburb of Edinburgh.

The building in front of the bridge is a Category B listed building now occupied by offices, though used to be a former squash court. (Thanks Nemesis Republic for this piece of information!)

as ever, text in orange links to other websites where you can find out more.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Notes for a Love Song

Rain clouds gather
as we trawl market stalls
browsing jewellery
and fancy clothes.

Raindrops chase us
to a kerbside café bar
where cappuccino-warm
we spy on passers-by.

We buy ice creams
and slide in our sandals
home through the deluge
and the weather’s funny not tragic
because we’re together.

So hand me my guitar
let me song-write the day for you
in happy love lyrics
everyone will sing along to
on summer rainy days like this.

Previously published on the Sound and Image issue of Online Poetry Journal

(Yes, I know its the wrong time of year for this poem, but it seemed appropriate to link this to this month's Lets Get Lyrical campaign for Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore

We live in a society that seems to be constantly accelerating, people rush through life. Recently however the Slow Movement has gained momentum (if that doesn't seem a contradiction in terms!). Based largely in Italy, the Slow Movement advocates for a slower approach to all aspects of life, from food to human relationships. Italians take it very seriously (except when it comes to driving!) as the Slow Food, Slow Cities and Slow Sex movements all have their centres in Italy. By 2003, 28 Italian cities were officially designated Slow Cities with another 26 working towards certification.

In this book, Carl Honore, a self confessed speed addict, explores the nature of this movement. Chapter by chapter he looks at a different element of the movement and also considers the nature of Slowness in general. He outlines ways in which we can all slow down and emphasizes that the idea is not to go back to pre-industrial times but to find a balance, such that we know when to take things slowly (as in savouring our food, making time for our families etc) and when speed is useful (as I'm sure Honore found as he flew round the world to research this book, which though set largely in Italy also visits the US, UK and Japan among other countries).

I live my own life at a relatively slow pace, I work part time and enjoy walking, reading and crafting, all typically slow pastimes. I found this book interesting in tracing the devlopment of the Slow Movement, but I did find that the chapters were all quite similar in their format and this became a bit dull towards the end. However over all I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to slow down their life at all.

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore, published by Orion

as ever the text in orange contains hyperlinks that take you to websites where you can find out more

for the Italy in Books Reading Challenge

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mapping the Library Shadows

This building is the Map Library, part of the National Libraries of Scotland. I remember this building being built when I was a student in Edinburgh, 20 or so years ago. It was quite controversial back then and it certainly doesn't blend in with the surrounding buildings, but it does have a strong identity!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

My Alexandria by Mark Doty

I don't know why I've never read any of Mark Doty's poetry collections before now. I'd heard of him and enjoyed individual poems and yet had never picked up a book by him until now.

My Alexandria is beautifully written and powerful, moving and full of intensely observed detail. A lot of the poems are long, especially The Wings which is 13 pages long (that's very long to a haiku writer such as I am!). The Wings starts with 'The bored child at the auction' who is reading while his parents wander around and just as the boy's imagination is carried to different places by what he reads so is the reader of this poem taken to abandoned orchards; the AIDS quilt; Wim Wenders wonderful film Wings of Desire and a garden where the narrator is:

...making an angel,
like those Arcimboldos where the human profile
is all berry and leaf,

the specific character of bloom
assembled into an overriding form.

with a wonderful attention to detail. This attention to detail is found in all the poems, all are remarkably well observed, as in this excerpt from Difference, which compares jellyfish to the human condition:

This submarine opera's
all subterferge and disguise,

its plot an absolute tangle
of hiding and recognition:
nothing but trope

I have often said that nature is too valuable in itself to be used in poetry purely as metaphor for the human condition. However Doty is one of those writers who seems to feel deeply for nature itself but at the same time cleverly use it in insightful and valuable metaphors for life, death and the impermanence of existence. This is a book to read and re-read and I'll be looking out for more books by the same poet!

My Alexandria by Mark Doty, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993; London: Jonathan Cape, 1995

for the LGBT Reading Challenge

Friday, February 04, 2011

Well Court, Dean Village

This Category A listed building was built in 1883-86 in the Dean Village as housing for local workers. The building was commissioned by Sir John Findlay, who at one time was the proprietor of The Scotsman. He bought the land and had the old tenements cleared away so his new model housing could be built.

Well Court is a quadrangle of small flats around a central courtyard, built with distinctive red sandstone dressings. An advertisement of the period described Well Court as “providing homes of two and three rooms with conveniences, let to a respectable class of working men at rentals of £7 to £12 per annum”. There was also a meeting house where weddings, parties and functions were held. There was a resident factor, who lived in the clock tower block.

The building was extensively renovated in 2007/08.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

This novel is the story of a mission to find a sheep with a star on its back, a sheep that may or may not be in fact running the world. In other words a typical eccentric, entertaining, surreal and odd offering from Haruki Murakami.

The unnamed narrator of the story is chosen to find this rather special sheep, which involves him travelling across Japan and meeting some very odd people along the way, including an ordinary looking woman who becomes extraordinarily beautiful when she shows her ears, a sheep obsessed academic who hides in a hotel room by himself and an odd man dressed as a sheep. Let's not forget the cat, Kipper, either, and the trials of trying to find a cat sitter while the hero goes off on his wild sheep chase!

It's difficult to describe any Murakami novel, but if you've read anything by him before, you'll probably feel at home immediately!

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami translated by Alfred Birnbaum published by The Harvill Press

For the Haruki Murakami Challenge