Saturday, October 10, 2009

Poetry Spot - Sara Teasdale

A Prayer
by Sara Teasdale

When I am dying, let me know
That I loved the blowing snow
Although it stung like whips;
That I loved all lovely things

And I tried to take their stings
With gay unembittered lips;
That I loved with all my strength,
To my soul's full depth and length,

Careless if my heart must break,
That I sang as children sing
Fitting tunes to everything,
Loving life for its own sake.

American poet Sara Teasdale (August 8, 1884 – January 29, 1933) was an extremely sickly child and only began to attend school at the age of 9. She fell in love with a fellow poet, Vachel Lindsay, and the two regularly sent one another love letters, but Teasdale married a rich businessman at the age of 30.

She won the 1918 Pulitzer Prize for poetry among other prestigious awards, but she committed suicide in 1933 by overdosing on sleeping pills, two years after Lindsay also took his life.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the youth to take up poetry - a happy career path to follow indeed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My seven reasons not to buy a book

I like to think of myself as a bit of a snob when it comes to books. There are some things I just wouldn't touch with a ten-foot barge pole, and neither should you. Here are my criteria for book rejection in no particular order:

1. Chick-lit: a so-called “bestseller” that thinly veils the writer’s previous job working for Mills and Boon. Yes, we know that sex and romance sells. It sells to vacuous people who don’t have enough sex and romance in their real lives and try to compensate for it by living vicariously through a character in a book. They usually have some kind of depiction of a half-naked woman, alcohol or both on the cover. Usually leaves you feeling like Paris Hilton after you have read a few chapters.

2. Espionage novels / thrillers: this is stuff for guys who have little or no imagination. The novel will usually have a letter of the Greek alphabet and some hard-ass noun at the end, like The Delta Conspiracy, or the Gamma Project. Usually the title is the best part of the book. There may be a hammer and sickle on the front cover, too.

3. Pop fiction: These are books that small-minded people read because they are gullible enough to believe that these books hold some kind of key to enlightenment just because everyone else is reading them. Go and live in a Buddhist retreat if you’re looking for enlightenment, because you’re sure as hell not going to find it by reading the Da Vinci Code.

4. Celeb autobiographies:
there are way too many of these shitty excuses for books out there. Usually written by a ghostwriter, plastic celebrities and their plastic boobies have jumped onto the gravy train and are selling their pitiful life stories for a buck. For example, British glamour model Jordan, aka Katie Price, is releasing her FOURTH autobiography in just FIVE years. *Snore* If you haven’t won a Nobel Prize and are under the age of 70, just don’t write it. Nobody cares.

5. Self-help and diet books: I harbour a particular kind of loathing for these books, their authors and the people who read them. There should be a special section of Hell reserved for people who write things like this – people who chew up old ideas and theories, regurgitate them and pass them off as a new fad. Add to that a murky pool of idiotic people who think books like “The Secret” holds the keys to all life’s mysteries and we have a microcosm of stupidity churning away, infecting people I previously thought were intelligent.

6. Religious books: no matter what the religion, the authors of this kind of books have obviously never been to university or even heard the word “thesis”. But then, objective, unbiased and unopinionated writing is never high up there on their list of priorities.

7. Teen reads: anything geared towards the teen market is enough to make me vomit until my intestines come out. What the hell is the fascination with bloody vampires already? Grow up and cut your hair properly.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Poetry Spot - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Tho' veiled in spires of myrtle-wreath,
Love is a sword that cuts its sheath,
And thro' the clefts, itself has made,
We spy the flashes of the Blade !

But thro' the clefts, itself has made,
We likewise see Love's flashing blade,
By rust consumed or snapt in twain :
And only Hilt and Stump remain.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was one of the founders of the Romantic Movement in England.

It is also interesting to note that he, like all the great classical poets, suffered from crippling bouts of anxiety and depression. Coleridge chose to treat these episodes with opium, becoming an addict in the process.

Kindle e-book reader now available in South Africa

The latest American craze, Amazon's e-book reader, better known as the Kindle, is now being made available in most countries, including South Africa. From October 19th, the Kindle will be available in over 100 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, and will retail for around $279, which is equivalent to roughly R2100.

The Kindle uses 3G wireless technology utilised by most mobile phones, but unlike a phone, there are no data charges, no monthly fees, no software to install and no synching required.

Although the hardware is a bit of investment, the nice thing about it is that you can shop and download e-books from Amazon at any time directly from the Kindle itself. And the e-books are decidedly cheaper than the regular paper kind. The reader is 10mm thick and weighs just over 280g. It has a six-inch screen and with 2GB of memory, can hold over 1 500 books - a neat little thing to keep in your handbag!

Booker Prize winner announced for 2009

The winner of the 2009 Booker Prize has finally been announced after much anticipation - British-born Hilary Mantel with her intricate historical novel Wolf Hall. Fighting off stiff competition from two-time Booker Prize winner and my personal favourite to win, South African J. M. Coetzee, Mantel has picked up the prize and a lovely $80,000 cheque for her efforts.

Mantel's novel charts the chaos caused by Henry VIII's desire to marry Anne Boleyn, as seen through the eyes of the king's royal adviser, Thomas Cromwell.

The king's longing for a male heir led him to leave his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for Anne Boleyn, a woman widely regarded in court circles as a seductress and even rumoured to be a witch. The Vatican's refusal to annul the king's first marriage led the king to reject the authority of the pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

The book centers on the real-life figure of Cromwell, who was born a blacksmith's son, but rose to become one of the most powerful men in 16th-century England. He is portayed in the book as a ruthless but intelligent man straining against the restrictions placed upon him by society.

James Naughtie, chairman of the Booker prize judges, said the decision to give Wolf Hall the award was "based on the sheer bigness of the book. The boldness of its narrative, its scene setting ... The extraordinary way that Hilary Mantel has created what one of the judges has said was a contemporary novel, a modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th century."

Mantel is now working on a short non-fiction book called The Woman Who Died of Robespierre, about the Polish playwright Stanislawa Przybyszewska. She also writes reviews and essays, mainly for The Guardian, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books.

Although Mantel was a frontrunner for the prize, it is surprising in a sense as it is extremely unusual for a historical novel to win the coveted award. Congratulations to Hilary Mantel and we do hope that J.M. Coetzee will get that elusive Booker hat trick one of these days.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Poetry Spot - Old Adam, the Carrion Crow

Old Adam, the Carrion Crow
by Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Old Adam, the carrion crow,
The old crow of Cairo;
He sat in the shower, and let it flow
Under his tail and over his crest;
And through every feather
Leak'd the wet weather;
And the bough swung under his nest;
For his beak it was heavy with marrow.
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It's only two devils, that blow,
Through a murderer's bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts' moonshine.

Ho! Eve, my grey carrion wife,
When we have supped on king's marrow,
Where shall we drink and make merry our life?
Our nest it is queen Cleopatra's skull,
'Tis cloven and crack'd,
And batter'd and hack'd,
But with tears of blue eyes it is full:
Let us drink then, my raven of Cairo!
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It's only two devils, that blow
Through a murderer's bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts' moonshine.

Thomas Lovell Beddoes (b. July 20, 1803) was an English poet and dramatist. His work shows a constant preoccupation with death, and after being expelled from Bavaria due to his involvement in radical politics, he returned to England, where he became increasingly disturbed and later committed suicide by poision in 1849 at the age of 46. Nice.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My favourite children's books

In keeping with the theme of favourites, here are some of the best children’s books of all time. In no particular order. And just because you're an adult it doesn't mean you can't read kid's books. In fact, I recommend it.

The Harry Potter series (but of course) – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter is an ordinary boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs at his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon's house, which he thinks is normal for someone like him whose parents have been killed in a 'car crash'. He is bullied by them and his fat, spoilt cousin Dudley, and lives a very unremarkable life with only the odd event here and there to cause him much to think about. That is until an owl turns up with a letter addressed to Harry and all hell breaks loose! He is literally rescued by a world where nothing is as it seems and magic lessons are the order of the day.

Adventure series – Enid Blyton
The Adventure Series is a collection of eight children's novels. These books feature the same child characters: Philip, Jack, Dinah, and Lucy-Ann, along with several adult characters. Jack's pet cockatoo, Kiki, is also a standard feature in each novel. The stories show the four children off on their own, discovering and solving mysteries without much adult assistance.

The Faraway Tree Series – Enid Blyton
The stories take place in an enchanted forest in which a gigantic magical tree - the eponymous "Faraway Tree" - grows. The tree is so tall that its topmost branches reach into the clouds and it is wide enough to contain small houses carved into its trunk. The forest and the tree are discovered by three children named Jo, Bessie, and Fannie, who move into a house nearby.

What Katy Did – Susan Coolidge
Katy Carr is untidy, tall and gangling, planning for the day when she will be beautiful and beloved, and amiable as an angel . An accidental fall from a swing seems to threaten her hopes for the future, but Katy struggles to overcome her difficulties with pluck, vitality and good humour. TIP: don't bother to read this if archaic English makes you zone out.

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
One of the best-loved stories of all time, The Secret Garden is a classic tale reflecting on themes such as helping others and believing in people. Mary, a young orphaned girl, meets her bedridden cousin, Colin. She discovers an enchanting secret place, separate from the outside world. It is in this place that Colin and Mary learn lessons about overcoming obstacles. This story will captivate audiences of all ages. I read this recently for my daughter and enjoyed it just as much if not more as an adult.

Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables is a bestselling novel by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery published in 1908. It was written as fiction for readers of all ages, but in recent decades has been considered a children's book. A classic story of a young orphan who finds a family when she is adopted by a brother and sister living in the small Canadian town of Avonlea. Anne is willful, imaginative, temperamental, and loquacious. She falls in love with the town, but she will need all her charms to adjust to her new life. This is a timeless story of an impetuous girl who grows into a sensitive young woman.

Narnia series – C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia present the adventures of children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the fictional realm of Narnia, a place where animals talk, magic is common, and good battles evil. Each of the books (with the exception of The Horse and His Boy) features as its protagonists children from our world who are magically transported to Narnia, where they are called upon to help the Lion Aslan handle a crisis in the world of Narnia. Please don't just get your kids the movies - give them the books. Read them together, in fact. They are way, way better.

The William series – Richmal Crompton
The William stories are about an 11-year-old schoolboy and his band of friends, known as the Outlaws, feared and loathed by adults all over the village for their mischievous pranks which often have diastrous but hilarious consequences.

The Asterix comics – Goscinny & Uderzo
Yes, I know they are comics. But no childhood would be complete without them. The series follows the exploits of a village of ancient Gauls as they resist Roman occupation. They do so by means of a magic potion, brewed by their druid, which gives the recipient superhuman strength. Asterix, along with his friend Obelix, have various adventures. In many cases, this leads them to travel to various countries around the world, though other books are set in and around their village.

Heidi – Johanna Spyri
Heidi is an orphaned girl initially raised by her aunt Dete in Maienfeld, Switzerland. In order to get a job in Frankfurt, Dete brings 5-year-old Heidi to her grandfather, who has been at odds with the villagers for years and lives in seclusion on the alm (mountain). This has earned him the nickname "Alm-Uncle". He at first resents Heidi's arrival, but the girl manages to penetrate his harsh exterior and subsequently has a delightful stay with him and her best friend, young Peter the goat-herd. When she is taken away by Dete to live with a rich family in Frankfurt, Heidi's longing for the mountain life and her grandfather make her constantly misunderstood by her benefactors.

Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers
The books centre on a mysterious, vain and acerbic magical English nanny, Mary Poppins. She is blown by the East wind to Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London and into the Banks' household to care for their children. Encounters with chimney sweeps, shopkeepers and various adventures follow until Mary Poppins abruptly leaves.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Charlie Bucket, an intelligent boy from a poor family, lives with his parents and both sets of elderly grandparents. From these four, especially Grandpa Joe, he hears stories about the candymaker Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory he built in Charlie's hometown. As time passed, rival chocolate makers sent in spies, posing as workers, to Wonka's factory to steal his recipes. Mr Wonka was frustrated by this and fired the workers so there would be no spies left. The factory has since resumed operations with workers whose identity is a mystery, for the gates remain locked, and nobody, including Wonka, is seen going in or out of the factory anymore. Then Wonka holds a worldwide contest, in which five Golden Tickets are hidden under the wrappers of his candy bars; the prize for those who find them is a day-long tour of the factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate, and it is Charlie Bucket's greatest wish to find one. But his only chance is in the solitary bar of chocolate his parents manage to buy him for his birthday.

Matilda – Roald Dahl
The parents of five-year-old Matilda Wormwood have no interest in their daughter. Although she exhibits strong signs of being a child prodigy, they pressure her to watch television instead of her preferred activity of reading. Matilda discovers her local library and thinks up some ingenious pranks to bring her father down a peg or two. After witnessing Matilda's great intellect in the classroom, her benevolent teacher, Miss Honey, appeals to have Matilda moved up, but the eccentric and brutal headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, refuses. Matilda develops some strange powers and devises a plan to get the dreaded Trunchbull out of the school for once and for all.

The BFG – Roald Dahl
The story is about a little girl named Sophie. One night when Sophie couldn't fall asleep during the "witching hour", she sees a giant blowing something into the bedroom windows down the street. The giant notices her; although she tries to hide in her bed, he reaches through the window and carries her away to his home in giant country. Fortunately for Sophie, she has been abducted by the world's only benevolent giant, the Big Friendly Giant or BFG.

Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren
Nine-year-old Pippi is unconventional, assertive and extraordinarily strong, being able to lift her horse one-handed without difficulty. She frequently mocks and dupes adults she encounters, an attitude likely to appeal to young readers; however, Pippi usually reserves her worst behavior for the most pompous and condescending of adults.

Poetry for the eternally depressed

I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.

John Clare

This poem was written by John Clare in late 1844 or 1845 and published in 1848. It was composed when Clare was in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum (commonly Northampton County Asylum, and later renamed St Andrew's Hospital), isolated by his mental affliction from his family and friends. And it suits my mood today.