The inevitability of the arrival of new books…


Let’s make no bones about it – I’m a book addict. Have been since I learned to read, really, and I can’t say I’ve ever denied it. So despite the bulging nature of my shelves, there have inevitably been books arriving recently (and those of you on social media may have seen some of these already). They’re a fairly eclectic bunch as usual, with a lot of nice Russians in there, and in the spirit of sharing I thought I would post some images here! 😀

So, what have we here? Well, from top to bottom:

Penguin Modern Poets #17 – yes, I know I’ve got completely behind with my reading of this series, but I hardly ever see them second-hand, and it was 49p in the Oxfam and it has Kathleen Raine. I’ll get back to this series eventually – honest!

The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter – why, you may ask, have I picked up another copy of this when I had such a bad experience before?????? Well – for a start it’s an original green Virago in great condition for only 99p and the one I have is a nasty modern version. But mainly, my fiercely feminist Middle Child insists that it’s a work of genius, and so I fear I should pay attention to her and give it another try with an open (and in the right frame!) mind. We shall see…

Pulse by Julian Barnes – I’ve loved my recent reads of Barnes’ work, and this is short stories. I’ve not read any of  his shorter works so for £1.49 I’m happy to have a go!

(Incidentally, the three above were all from the local Oxfam which seems to have calmed down a little with its prices and I can’t help but scream “bargain”!!!)

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees – all I know about Mirrlees is that she has a Woolfian connection, so when I saw this lurking in the local BookCrossing location (Caffe Nero) I figured it should come home with me.

Letters: Summer 1926 by Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, Rilke – a nice NYRB edition at Full Price! (Eeek) There is a story attached to this which will come in a later post rambling on about Russians and poetry…

Orphic Paris by Henri Cole – another NYRB I bought at full price because I just loved the sound of it. I’m currently reading it and it’s stunning and I will write about it eventually but I am a bit behind with reviews at the moment, alas…

The Wives by Alexandra Popoff – I read about this online somewhere, and for the life of me I don’t know where. It’s about the wives of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov etc etc and how they were literary partners and support to their husbands. Sounds just fascinating and this is a lovely second-hand-but-in-wonderful-condition-and-very-cheap copy. Result!

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed a couple of spines with no writing and these are they:

This little lovely has been on my radar for a while, and as I’m having a bit of a Russian poetry binge at the moment and want to read a range of different translations, I thought “WTF! I work for a living, I shall buy books!” and sent off for it. More of the Russians in a later post, as I hinted above!

The other arrival is one I was ridiculously excited about:

Again, a lovely little chapbook I’ve been aware of for a while which is stuffed with Mayakovsky (amongst others) and translated by Boris Dralyuk! The cover image is from a Mayakovsky agitprop poster, and the inside is equally beautifully illustrated as well as containing an interview with the translator. Why have I never bought a copy before? Possibly because I’ve been trying to be good about book purchases (and, frankly, failing) and also because the price is not low as it’s from a small press. However, for some unknown reason to do with the weird vagaries of book pricing, I happened upon it the other day with the price slashed. So I ordered it, and even more weirdly the next day it had returned to full price. No, I don’t understand it either.

Fortunately, I have managed a fair amount of reading over the summer, and another purge is looming. However, it won’t necessarily be so easy to get rid of the extra books, as will be revealed in the forthcoming post about Russians and poetry…

(Oh, the mug? Fancy you asking! I saw it online – possibly Twitter or Instagram – and how could I resist? It’s Penguin orange, from M&S and yes, it describes me perfectly. It’s so beautiful I can hardly bear to use it…)

More good reading from Shiny New Books!


Hopefully you’re all now devouring the loveliness that is Shiny New Books 11 with all its wonderful book recommendations – very bad for the bank balance and wishlist, I know!

I thought I would link in to another of my reviews there – well, actually, a review and a Bookbuzz piece. As you might have noticed, I was rather excited to hear that the Penguin Modern Poets imprint was being relaunched and I was even more excited to be asked to review the first two books in the series.

The first volume, entitled “If I’m Scared We Can’t Win” is now out, and the second, “Controlled Explosions”, will be available in October.

PMP new

As you can see, they look very lovely and will make a wonderful collection sitting on any shelf…

To read my review of the books you can go here and to read my Bookbuzz piece with a history of the imprint click here. Hopefully the books will do much to spread the love of poetry, particularly from new poets, to a wider readership!


Goodbye, July – and August reading plans!


I’m really not sorry to see the back of July – it was a long and busy month, and I spent a lot of it reading one book, Dostoevsky’s “The Adolescent” (the review for which will be appearing in the next Shiny New Books). It wouldn’t normally take me so long to read 600 pages, but I *was* busy and I *was* tired! The minute I finished work for the summer, I raced through the rest of the book….!

So, with July out of the way, do I have plans for August? Well, yes – there are a number of challenges up this month and I’d like to take part if I can.

hudson river

First of all there’s All Virago/All August, which the LibraryThing Virago group organise. I never go for reading nothing but Viragos for the month, because I would fail – like Jane at Beyond Eden Rock, I prefer the approach of “Very Virago/All August” and just read the ones that fall in with my mood. This month, I hope to catch up with the Dorothy Richardsons I’m behind on, and also read a large and interesting-looking Edith Wharton, “Hudson River Bracketed”.


I’d also like to keep up the impetus with the Penguin Modern Poets project; the next one is volume 6 and it features two poets I know of (and at least one I’ve read) so it should be an interesting experience.


August is also Women in Translation month. Goodness knows I have a ton of books by translated women, but choosing will be hard! There are two lovely Irmgard Keun titles lurking on the shelves so I may pick one of them.

baum colette

There’s also “Grand Hotel” which I’m doing for Shiny. Plus I may well re-read my favourite Colette, “Break of Day”, as I picked up the Capuchin edition in a charity shop!

woolf orlando recollections

Last, but most definitely not least, I want to dip into HeavenAli’s #Woolfalong; the current phase is biography of all sorts and I’m considering “Orlando” or possibly “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”. Knowing me, I may end up reading neither of these, but I do want to read something Woolfish soon!

So those are the plans for August as they stand on the first day of the month – watch this space to see what materialises! 🙂

Some newbies hit the shelves…


It’s a busy time of year for me at work, and I’ve been struggling a little to keep up with the reading; and so I’ve tried to stem the amount of books coming into the house. But that usually fails a bit, and there *are* a few new arrivals I’d like to share with you! 🙂

I’m still taking donations to the local charity stores and doing quite well at not bringing replacements home. However, these two slipped into my bag somehow – well, they really couldn’t be left behind…

simenon st exupery

The Saint-Exupery is a title I’ve wanted to read for a long time, and such a beautiful Penguin edition in lovely condition couldn’t be ignored. As for the Simenon, well I’m intrigued – it’s one of his non-Maigret titles and is set in a Soviet port in the 1930s, where the new Turkish Consul has an affair with a local woman and has to deal with the consequences. I’m really keen to read this one soon!

The other arrivals are all new books, which is rather fab! First up, a prize in a giveaway from the lovely Pushkin Press:


Again, this one sounds really good and I can’t wait to read it. The other books are all review ones, planned for forthcoming editions of Shiny New Books:

PMP new

New Penguin Modern Poets – what more can I say????


Grand Hotel – very excited about this one too, as it’s being raved about.

And finally, the reason I’m not reading much else at the moment:


600 pages of Dostoevskian loveliness! So if my reviews are not so frequent for a while, you’ll know why! 🙂

Penguin Modern Poets 3 – George Barker, Martin Bell, Charles Causley


And so I reach volume 3 in my mammoth (well, it will be when I’ve finished it!) read of the Penguin Modern Poets books. The third book sees three more male scribes, and two of them complete strangers to me, so that should be interesting…

mod poets 3

The three in question are George Barker (1913-1991), Martin Bell (1918-1978) and Charles Causley (1917-2003). I read the book without researching the writers in advance, so I was fascinated to find out that Barker had had a long-term affair with Elizabeth Smart, author of “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept”, as I remember this from when I read her book. Anyway, Barker seems to have quite a lively life… Bell, by contrast, was a member of The Group, a an informal band of London poets who met from the 1950s to the 1960s, and apparently specialised in satire. As for Causley, the poet I had heard of, he was a Cornish-based bard, who seems to have ended up the best known of the three, was best buddies with Ted Hughes and was also made a CBE.

george barker

So, let’s start with Barker, and we’re back to dense poetry, laden with complex imagery. Don’t get me wrong, I like poetry with complex imagery, but it has to speak to me and I’m not honestly sure Barker did. The subject matter wasn’t always clear, although there were several poems informed by the Second World War and its losses – I guess the poets I’m reading here are the generation that went through that war and survived – and these were very moving. However, one work did strike me very strongly – “Resolution of Dependence”, which tells of an imaginary encounter with Wiliam Wordsworth. For the rest, I can confess to being relatively untouched….

martin bell

Next up was the satirical Bell, and I must admit I found his verse much more to my liking. Again, there were bitter poems about the war, but his viewpoint was a little wider-ranging. “Reason for Refusal” was a very powerful piece about not buying a poppy, listing all the war lost amonst his family and friends, which would have chimed in well with the 1960s anti-war movements. Other poems covered the death of Ken Russell, hypochondria and there’s even a verse poem to Rimbaud! All in all, I enjoyed Bell’s work a lot more than Barker’s – accessible, but thought-provoking.

Charles Causley CBE

Finally, then, Charles Causley. I’d heard of him back in the day (I possibly even studied him at school) and of course have read of him on Jane’s Beyond Eden Rock blog (which takes its name from one of his poems); I also recognised “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” straight away and I suspect it’s one of his most famous. Wikipedia says of him: His work is noted for its simplicity and directness and for its associations with folklore, especially when linked to his native Cornwall, which I’d tend to agree with – I liked the directness of his verse very much. Many of his works take a ballad form, and his subject is often the sea. The War is again an ever-present influence, but Causley doesn’t restrict himself as a poet – he deals with a wide range, from religious imagery through tales of misfit youngsters to the perils of life without love.

Of the three poets, it was definitely Causley that spoke most strongly to me, but I’m not going to quote a whole poem this time – I think I would recommend searching out Causley’s work and reading more, which I intend to do, but I’ll leave you with a few lines from “A Ballad for Katharine of Aragon”:

O war is a casual mistress
And the world is her double bed
She has a few charms in her mechanized arms
But you wake up and find yourself dead.

It seems that those arms of the war were long ones, which cast a shadow over the next generation for a long time – it will be interesting to see if the next batch of poets are so affected by it!

Penguin Modern Poets 2 – Kingsley Amis, Dom Moraes, Peter Porter


Yes, the poetry reading is speeding up, and I have successfully read through book 2 of the Penguin Modern Poets. This time, yet another three male versifiers – as one commentator pointed out, there aren’t a lot of women poets in the series.

modern poets 1

The second book from Penguin again picked at least two hard-hitters: Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) of course is best known for prose (Lucky Jim was his breakthrough title) but I’m not sure if I even knew he was a poet too; Dom Moraes (1938-2004) was a name new to me completely so this would be a voyage of discovery; and Peter Porter (1929-2010) is a poet I was aware of but I couldn’t have named any of his work.

So the book opens with Amis, and wow! I was actually quite stunned by the opening poem “They Only Travel” – one of the best poems I’ve read in a long time. It’s a striking verse where Amis demands to be taken “where the good times are” and with repeated motifs really lodges in the brain. In fact, I liked all of Amis’s poetry which I really wasn’t expecting; he writers about love, life, books, travel, and all in a direct and yet poetic way. This is pretty much the kind of verse I like and I really took to Amis in a big way – maybe I should read some of his fiction now!


Dom Moraes was born in India but wrote in English (I guess because of his English education) and had a fascinating life, if you have a look at his Wikipedia entry. His poems covered more exotic locations than Amis, but again dealt with love, relationships and landscape. The language was perhaps less direct and sometimes verging a little more to the longer narrative or ballad form; some poems were very beautiful, “From Tibet” and “The Visitor” springing to mind in particular. I liked Moraes’ poems and I think anything less dense that Durrell is going to be ok!

peter porter

Finally, Peter Porter – of Australian extraction, but based in Britain, he won stacks of awards and is obviously highly regarded. I read through his work enjoying it very much – there’s a sardonic edge to much of his verse which appealed, and he’s happy to critique the everyday and the quotidian – when I got to the poem “Your Attention Please”, which was like being hit on the head, wham! It’s a remarkable piece, written in 1961, about the arms race, and it took me rushing back mentally to the time a couple of decades or so later when it really did seem a possibility that there would be a nuclear war, and we were issue with survival guides that were less than useless (think Frankie Goes to Hollywood and “Two Tribes” for another angle on this). It’s a clever and chilling piece of writing and a reminder of the power a piece of poetry can have.

Another thought occurred to me when I did some research into the three poets here, particularly Porter; the biography of him mentions that his first wife tragically committed suicide in 1974, and he often explored this in his work. The Penguin book was of course published years before this, in 1962, so in many ways these books are giving us a different way to look at these poets and their work; in many cases they’re still at early stages of their careers and it’s fascinating to see what poems were considered representative at that time.

It’s really hard to pick out one poem to share here, because “They Only Travel” and “Your Attention Please” are very much completing for inclusion – but in the end I thought I would choose the Porter, with the recommendation that you also search out Amis because I found his poetry very, very good indeed!

So, with two successful poetry books under my belt, I’m looking forward to volume 3 – George Barker, Martin Bell and Charles Causley!

Your Attention Please by Peter Porter

The Polar DEW has just warned that
A nuclear rocket strike of
At least one thousand megatons
Has been launched by the enemy
Directly at our major cities.
This announcement will take
Two and a quarter minutes to make,
You therefore have a further
Eight and a quarter minutes
To comply with the shelter
Requirements published in the Civil
Defence Code – section Atomic Attack.
A specially shortened Mass
Will be broadcast at the end
Of this announcement
Protestant and Jewish services
Will begin simultaneously –
Select your wavelength immediately
According to instructions
In the Defence Code. Do not
Take well-loved pets (including birds)
Into your shelter – they will consume
Fresh air. Leave the old and bed –
ridden, you can do nothing for them.
Remember to press the sealing
Switch when everyone is in
The shelter. Set the radiation
Aerial, turn on the geiger barometer.
Turn off your television now.
Turn off your radio immediately
The Services end. At the same time
Secure explosion plugs in the ears
Of each member of your family. Take
Down your plasma flasks. Give your children
The pills marked one and two
In the C.D. green container, then put
Them to bed. Do not break
The inside airlock seals until
The radiation All Clear shows
(Watch for the cuckoo in your
perspex panel), or your District
Touring Doctor rings your bell.
If before this, your air becomes
Exhausted or if any of your family
Is critically injured, administer
The capsules marked ‘Valley Forge’
(Red pocket in No. 1 Survival Kit)
For painless death. (Catholics
Will have been instructed by their priests
What to do in this eventuality.)
This announcement is ending. Our President
Has already given orders for
Massive retaliation – it will be
Decisive. Some of us may die.
Remember, statistically
It is not likely to be you.
All flags are flying fully dressed
On Government buildings – the sun is shining.
Death is the least we have to fear.
We are all in the hands of God,
Whatever happens happens by His Will.
Now go quickly to your shelters.

Penguin Modern Poets #1 – Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings, R.S. Thomas


And so I get to the end of the first volume of the Penguin Modern Poets! I’ve been ruminating as I read about the best way to approach writing about the books, and I don’t really intend to get into heavy poetic analysis, as I’m not really qualified to do that. Instead, I think I’ll just give a personal response to each poet and pick out some of my favourites to give a flavour of the books. So here goes volume 1!

poets 1

Penguin opened the series with some big-name poets: Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) is of course known for his fictions and his books about Mediterranean islands, and I’m not actually sure if I knew he wrote poetry as well; Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001) is a poet I *was* aware of – I think I studied her at school, though I can’t actually recall which poems; and finally R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), a Welsh bard whose work I’m very familiar with, as I already own many of his books and love his verse! All would have been well-known at the time of publication, though I suspect that Thomas is possibly the name that readers would know nowadays as a poet.

Writer, Lawrence Durrell

So, to start with Durrell. Not surprisingly, his poetic style is quite dense and allusive, much like his prose work, and the subject matter is often set around myths and legends and islands. If I’m honest I didn’t always pick up all the allusions (particularly the classical ones) but some poems were very powerful despite this – “J’Est un Autre” with its hints of strangers following you in Budapest was particularly memorable. However, some of the wordplay lost me, and I think I’d prefer to stick with Durrell as a prose stylist rather than a poet.


Jennings had a much more straightforward style, but I was surprised to find that I didn’t recognise any of her works at all – not even a glimmer of familiarity. Her style is more personal, dealing directly with subjects like death and old age, family heritage and fear. Perhaps this is more traditionally what would be thought to be a woman’s subject matter, although that argument would quickly be subverted by either Plath or Sexton. Jennings’ poems are also studded with religious imagery and pretty consistently downbeat. “Ghosts” was probably my favourite, a pithy little verse about how events left undone cause a house to be haunted.


And finally to R.S. Thomas – now, there was an intriguing man! Notoriously reclusive and difficult, particularly during the latter part of his lifetime, he was an Anglican priest who was also a poet. Brought up an English speaker, he taught himself Welsh and became quite a militant supporter of the tongue, though he learned the language too late to use it in his poetry. His works are in the main about Welsh people, landscape and nature and they’re remarkably powerful. He wasn’t afraid to say what he thought and to criticise his country and fellow countrymen and women if he felt it was justified. Towards the end of his life he allowed some personal influence into his poems, and some of those written after the death of his wife, Mildred “Elsi” Eldridge, are remarkably moving.

The personal poems came later than this volume, where the verse is mainly concerned with Wales and its fate. “An Old Man” and “The Village” were two of my favourites, but I think the one I liked best, and will share with you here, is “Welsh Landscape” – my favourite in the book, I think.

So my first reading of the Penguin Modern Poets has been stimulating and rewarding. All of the poets have their strengths, though Thomas is obviously my favourite, and I’m looking forward to volume 2 very much.

Welsh Landscape by R.S. Thomas

To live in Wales is to be conscious
At dusk of the spilled blood.
That went into the making of the wild sky,
Dyeing the immaculate rivers
In all their courses.
It is to be aware,
Above the noisy tractor
And hum of the machine
Of strife in the strung woods,
Vibrant with sped arrows.
You cannot live in the present,
At least not in Wales.
There is the language for instance,
The soft consonants
Strange to the ear.
There are cries in the dark at night
As owls answer the moon,
And thick ambush of shadows,
Hushed at the fields’ corners.
There is no present in Wales,
And no future;
There is only the past,
Brittle with relics,
Wind-bitten towers and castles
With sham ghosts;
Mouldering quarries and mines;
And an impotent people,
Sick with inbreeding,
Worrying the carcase of an old song.

Big Books Update – plus some incoming….


Surprisingly enough, I’m finding it quite enjoyable to read several big chunkies simultaneously – although perhaps I’m cheating slightly as two of them are short story collections, and I’m also reading a slim poetry volume too. Yes, that’s right – *two* short story collections, as there has been a new arrival and here is the state of the currently reading:

big books plus

The new arrival is the Aldiss collection – his short stories from the 1950s. I stumbled across this recently and managed to snag it for a *very* reasonable price online. Staggeringly, his 1960s stories will run to four volumes – what a prolific man!

This is progress so far (ignore the bottom book, the second volume of Ballard, as I obviously haven’t yet started that):

big book progress

As can be seen, I am gradually making my way into them, and I’m finding this method of reading working well. I’m reading at least a chapter of each of the big books, a short story from each of the collections and a couple of poems a day, and this has had several beneficial effects: it’s slowing down my reading, so I’m having time for each chapter to sink in; I’m not feeling I must rush to get through a book so I can pick up another one; I’m able to read a variety of things all at once!

The Dickens is proving to be excellent, and each chapter so far is introducing a new set of characters which I’m having time to get to know. I’d forgotten just how good a writer Dickens was… I’m enjoying DQ very much, though I have to admit that at the moment it reminds me very much of Pokemon: DQ and SP travel along, encounter someone or something, have a fight, get beaten to a pulp, recover, travel along, encounter…..!

As for the short stories: Ballard, of course, is masterly and each story so far is a pure gem. I’ve only read a few of the Aldiss ones so far, but I love them – so clever and so pithy and so imaginative. The poetry is coming along nicely and I’m about to start the third poet in this collection, Peter Porter.

So – thus far things are going ok with the big books – watch this space!

As for incomings, obviously the Aldiss arrived in the week, plus another couple of Modern Poets have made their way in. I hadn’t intended to do much book browsing this weekend, but things never go as planned…

finds 2

I hadn’t been into the RSPCA shop for a while, so I popped in on the off-chance to be met with a BL Crime Classic for 95p! It appears to be brand new and unread, so quite why it’s there I don’t know – but I’m not complaining! I’m trying very hard not to start a collection of these, because lovely as they are I suspect most of them are one-read books for me. But I haven’t seen this one around yet, so I figured it was worth less than a pound to try it out!

finds 22 8

The other three titles were from the Oxfam – Howard’s End is on the Landing because I’ve heard good things about it; The Man who knew Everything because it’s a Capuchin Classic; and the Vintage short story collection because it has a lovely selection of authors. All four for less than the cost of a new book, which can’t be bad…. 🙂

Books Big and Small


At the moment, there are a number of books of varying sizes jostling for my attention. I’ve just read quite a lot of smaller volumes (getting very behind with reviewing in the process); and with a slight hint of a chill in the air, I’m feeling rather like getting lost in a big book.

On the shelves there are a few choice volumes crying out to be read:


Proust has been knocking about for a while – I finished the first volume of “Remembrance” but I’ve yet to embark on the second. Also I need to catch up with my Slightly Foxed and Manchester Modernist mags.

skinny ppoetry

Then there are the skinny poetry books – volume 1 of the Penguin Modern Poets is finished! Though the review will no doubt take a while to get to as I’m a bit behind with these… Volume 2 is proving excellent so far and I’m finding myself unexpectedly positive about Kingsley Amis’s verse.

big books

And here are the chunkies! I’m a reasonable way in to Don Quixote, and I read the first chapter of Our Mutual Friend last night and loved it. Plus I’m restarting the Ballard short stories from the beginning again – the first is just marvellous, what a writer that man was…

Whether I’ll manage to read all or some of these simultaneously remains to be seen – watch this space!


A New Reading Project! (Gulp!)


Yes, I’ve set myself a new reading project, fool that I am! It’s going to be a long-term one – reading the complete Penguin Modern Poets!

modern poets

I’ve set up a new page where I’ll link the posts, and you can here about it here!

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