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“…a liquid chorus…” @saltpublishing @HaslerPoet @RebTamas #ReadIndies

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In contrast to my recent post on a fascinating novel in translation from Verso, today I want to focus on an independent publisher closer to home – Salt Publishing, who hail from the East of England. They’re an imprint I wanted to feature during #ReadIndies month as I’m a great fan of their poetry releases, and that’s what I’ll be posting about here.

I’ve previously reviewed a couple of Salt books here on the Ramblings – Marina Warner’s excellent collection of short stories, “Fly Away Home“, and an unexpectedly wonderful book of poetry, “Appearances in the Bentinck Hotel” by Tim Cockburn. I loved both of these, and today’s offerings were equally impressive. Both slim collections were issued in the Salt Modern Voices range (as, I think, was the Cockburn) and they made excellent reading.

“natural histories” by Emily Hasler

Hasler’s volume was first released in 2011, so I guess any biographical information might not be up to date. However, it seems she’s also indiginous to the East of England, and has published her poetry widely as well as winning prizes for it. Since releasing NH, she seems to have issued another collection and on the strength of the Salt volume I’d be very keen on exploring this.

The poetry featured here is very much rooted in nature; but using nature as a jumping off point to explore life and emotions more deeply. There’s an immediacy to this verse which I loved, and many of the poems resonated with me. I was particularly taken with a sequence entitled “The Safe Harbour” which explored the life of Flora McDonald, known of course for her connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie; a very moving series of verses.

She blows out the stars clumps at a time
as though a dandelion clock.

Another poem which struck home was “Snow”, focusing the mind on the changes that weather condition brings, in just a few lines. Nature and the land runs through the words, and interestingly, Hasler uses a quote from Basil Bunting’s great “Briggflatts” as the epigraph to her collection. An impressive and thoughtful book of poetry and worth picking up from Salt if they still have copies.

“The Ophelia Letters” by Rebecca Tamás

Another older release from Salt, Tamás’ collection was issued in 2013 and at that point she was also publishing in journals as well as receiving the Grierson Verse Prize. Like Hasler she’s also released another collection since this one, again sounding most interesting.

As with Hasler’s collection, in Tamas’ work nature and landscape is often to the fore, although she explores more visceral territory – this is nature red in tooth and claw as they say. Meaning is not always obvious, but there is still an immediacy about the writing and some startling, vivid imagery.

There is no road to run down,
no tunnel that leads in or out.

Central to the collection (well, actually at the end of the book, and making up most of the page count!) is the long title poem; and this is a particularly powerful piece of work. Made up of nineteen sections, the verses explore a possible life of Shakespeare’s Ophelia – or possibly an amalgam of Ophelia and the poet herself. Obsession, frozen weather, sex in the snow and dark landscapes appear, while the narrator declares “Clarity, that’s what I keep looking for”. As rain and water begin to appear as motifs towards the end of the work, it’s impossible not to think that this may be prefiguring Ophelia’s eventual fate.

Tamás is another poet whose work I’d love to explore further, and indeed both of these writers have such strong individual voices that it’s not hard to see why Salt published them. Slightly annoyingly, I notice that both poets’ more recent books are rather lazily labelled by the Internet as their debut collections. That’s obvs not the case as these Salt volumes were around long before…

But that’s by the by. Both of these poetry collections were wonderful reads, full of beautifully composed words and vivid imagery. Salt Publishing are definitely one of the indies I’d recommend trying out if you can – they publish a wonderful array of titles and for poetry alone are definitely worth your time and money! 😀

 

2020 in Books – in which I once again fail to pick an outright winner…. ;D

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As is traditional on the Ramblings, I’m going to take a look back over my year of reading to pick out some highlights. It certainly has been a very strange and unpleasant year, unlike any I’ve known – I hope 2021 will be better, but who knows what’s to come. Books have, as always, been a comfort and my coping mechanism; and I *have* read a little more than usual, despite the strains of coping with a pandemic world. As usual, I’m not going to do any kind of countdown or top ten – let’s just look at the bookish things which have kept me going!

Comfort reading

A favourite from this year’s BLCC’s releases!

2020 has most definitely been year when there’s been a need for comfort reading. My go-to books are Golden Age crime and once again the British Library Crime Classics have been a source of great joy. I’ve read a good number, and not a dud amongst them! I’ve also felt the urge to do a sudden bit of re-reading – for example, at one point needing pick up Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and revisit the wonderfully perfect ending. Longing for less complex times, I guess.

Indie Presses and Subscriptions

Some of the treats from my Renard Press sub.

If this year has been anything for me, it’s been the year of indie presses and subscriptions! Despite the lockdowns and restrictions, it’s been a joy to see independent publishers flourishing, supported by the love of serious readers and booklovers. I have spent happy hours with many wonderful indie imprints, authors and books, including Notting Hill Editions, Little Toller, Fum d’Estampa, Salt, Galley Beggar, Sublunary Editions and Renard Press; in fact, I did a nice little Q&A with Will Dady, the man behind the latter, for Shiny New Books. And of course it’s been lovely to keep up with Fizcarraldo Editions, who’ve released some quite marvellous volumes this year.

Which leads me on to…

Challenges/Events

I tend to steer away from most of these nowadays, as I find I get all enthusiastic about joining in then instantly want to go off in another direction! However, I did get involved in a Twitter-based readalong of the marvellous Malicroix (published by NYRB Classics), thanks to the influence of Dorian Stuber! A wonderful book and a great joy to take part in this! I’ve managed to reboot some of my personal reading projects, and even expand their scope – let’s see how that works out then…

Fitzcarraldos – I love Fitzcarraldos…

I also ended up co-hosting a two week celebration of the aforementioned Fitzcarraldo with Lizzy – Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight. Not only was this great fun, but it also got me reading quite a bit of my TBR – result! 😀

Which leads me on to…

Reading Weeks

As usual, Simon and I co-hosted two Reading Club Weeks this year, focused on 1920 and 1956. These are always such fun – if you haven’t encountered them, we basically read whatever we want from the year in question, review, post on blogs and other social media and share ideas of great books from the year. We’ll be hosting another in April 2021 so do join in! 😀

Social Media

Social media of all kinds has become pretty much a lifeline over 2020 and it’s been great to be able to keep in touch over the various platforms. Book Twitter is particularly lovely and I have been lucky enough to interact with some wonderful people on there. There have been postcards going around the world and moral support offered to our online friends who have suffered losses over the year. It is a lovely place to visit. Of course, there are always so many reading events to tempt me there, but mostly I manage to hold back because I know I will fail… I didn’t with Malicroix though, so result!

A little pile of my Harvill Leopards!

Twitter was also responsible for the Harvill Leopard Hunt, as it shall be titled, where a number of interested bookish people contributed to a wonderful master list of books issued in that imprint by Tim at Half Print Press. It was huge fun being involved in the detective work, and the resulting checklist is a thing of great beauty and use – you can check it out here! (Do take a look at Half Pint Press too – they produce some gorgeous things!)

Roland Barthes, a documentary and another interview!

Although I was often looking for comfort reads, it hasn’t all been lightweight this year. In particular, I seem to have been haunted by the spirit of Roland Barthes! I first read his Mythologies back at the end of 2019, reviewing it in January this year, and have revisited his work at various points over the year. He’s not always an easy read, but certainly fascinating, stimulating and thought-provoking!

Professor Richard Clay with Dr. Lonnie Bunch (c. Clearstory/BBC)

This also tied in with my Documentary of Year (and Decade!) 21st Century Mythologies with Richard Clay – it was quite superb, and I was delighted to welcome Richard back onto the Ramblings for a return interview. He’s always such an interesting interviewee, brimming with ideas! No doubt I shall continue to return to Barthes – there are several titles I have lurking on the TBR…

Shiny New Books

I continued to provide some reviews for Shiny New Books, the wonderful independent recommendations website. I always enjoy reading other people’s contributions and SNB covers such a wide range of books. Always worth checking out if you’re not sure what to read next, or want to find out what’s come out recently and is worth reading!

Trends in my reading

A translated work I enjoyed very much this year, which led on to many other reading ideas…

I’ve continued to read a lot in translation, from the Russian of course but also from French, German, Portuguese, Polish…. I’ve enjoyed poetry, and also a lot of non-fiction this year. There have been times when I’ve felt that I couldn’t engage properly with fiction, and so essays, philosophy, history, nature writing, travel writing and books which don’t actually fit into any category have been there for me to turn to in times of need. I plan to continue to follow no path but my own and read what I *need* to read!

Outstanding books

I’m not going to pick a best of the year, because I can’t. The kind of books I read are so disparate that it seems unfair to measure them against each other. However, I *shall* highlight some particularly special reads from 2020.

First up, I have ended the year reading Robert Macfarlane’s Underland and it’s a stunning book. Mesmerising writing and brimming with ideas and visions, it certainly lives up to its hype and it was the perfect book with which to finish off the year.

I’m a huge fan of Paul Morley’s writing, and so was delighted to be able to review his latest book, A Sound Mind, for Shiny New Books. A wonderfully Morley-esque exploration of classic music in all its shapes and forms, I absolutely loved it.

Another author whose work I’ve loved for a long time is M. John Harrison. He’s hit the public eye a bit more than usual recently, and this year saw the release of a new novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again. It’s another stunning read, proof that Harrison’s powers only increase with the years, and I was so pleased to see it win the Goldsmiths Prize! Lovely Comma Press also released a collection of his stories, Settling the World, which was another outstanding read.

A newer discovery for me is Andrew Lees; I read his wonderful book Mentored by a Madman last year, in a lovely paperback from Notting Hill Editions; it was a marvellous read, and Lees is such a good writer – in this book proving that literature and science go together. NHE published a new book by Lees this year, Brazil That Never Was, and I absolutely loved it. I described it in my review as a “wonderful blend of travelogue, memoir and reflection”, and Lees’ storytelling skills produced an atmospheric and memorable read. I can’t wait for his next book!

I can’t finish this section without mention of Square Haunting, which I covered in February for Shiny New Books. A quite brilliant book covering the lives of five inspirational women living in the same square in London, although at different times, it was an unforgettable read as well as an amazing work of scholarship – and it deserves all the praise it’s had!

*****

Frankly, that’s probably enough for one post – if I go on any longer I shall end up reliving the whole year and with 2020, that’s not something I necessarily want to do. The books I’ve read this year have been 99.9% pure joy (with the very occasional dud…) Whatever 2021 chucks our way I shall hang onto books as a way of maintaining some kind of sanity. Here’s to a better year for us all!

….in which an unexpected volume of poetry speaks to me… @saltpublishing

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If you’re on social media, you might have noticed a recent flurry of mad book buying in support of the lovely indie publisher, Salt. I was happy to pitch in to their #justonebook initiative because I love indie publishers – they’re friendly, approachable, produce wonderful books, are happy to deal with bloggers and keep the mainstream publishers on their toes by always taking risks and publishing works that might not end up in print elsewhere.

When I whizzed onto their site, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to pick up, as there’s such a wonderful selection of works. I’m quite awash with fiction at the moment, so I had a browse through their poetry section to see if there was anything which caught my eye. For some reason, Tim Cockburn’s “Appearances in the Bentinck Hotel” (first published in 2011) appealed – I can’t remember now if it was the cover, or a quote, or what – but I like slim volumes of poetry and so this one was the one I went for.

Cockburn is a completely new poet to me, and I haven’t been able to find out much about him online; in fact, this may be the only volume he’s published, although his works have featured in a number of journals, such as “Five Dials”. If that’s actually the case, it’s a great shame because I really did connect very strongly with his writing.

My tenderness has trodden on a three-pin plug.

The book contains 18 poems which range over the usual subjects such as life, love and loss; Cockburn is realistic yet romantic, and his works often touch an unexpected nerve despite what appears a deceptive simplicity.

I wondered whether I had such an empathy with the words because Cockburn often seems to be channelling his inner Philip Larkin – and of course I do love the latter’s poetry very much. Although his voice ranges far and wide (and “Immediately on Waking”,  a father’s dream about his grown-up daughters, was a particular stand-out) he often returns to Larkin as a touchstone; the last work in the book, entitled “A Girl in Winter” (after Philip’s novel) is very poignant.

So my Salty purchase turned out to be an excellent choice. Cockburn’s verses are still lodged in my brain quite a while after reading, and this collection has earned its place on my-ever growing poetry shelf. If Cockburn hasn’t published another collection I’m sorry about that, though I’m going to have a bit of an online dig – and I think I might well be exploring the Salt poetry books as well…

(I *have* managed to find a short, shaky video of Cockburn reading some of his poetry on YouTube, but nothing else really. A great shame – I like his work here a lot!)

A Glittering Collection

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Fly Away Home by Marina Warner

Why, why, WHY have I never read Marina Warner’s fiction before now??? She was a regular presence in the 1980s, appearing on TV in fascinating programmes and writing wonderful books exploring feminine and feminist history and myth-making. Warner’s a highly regarded Professor, a DBE, and yet until now I’d somehow managed to miss the fact that she writes fiction as well. However, luckily Salt Publishing have just brought out a new collection of her short stories, “Fly Away Home, and were kind enough to provide a copy for review. Salt are based in East Anglia, which is my neck of the woods, and it’s wonderful to see that they’re bringing out new short story collections – for reasons I’ll expand on later.

fly away home

“Fly Away Home” contains 20 short works, ranging from just a few pages to long pieces. And the range and variety of the stories is quite breathtaking; Warner seems capable of turning her pen to any kind of story and narrator, from an ageing drag queen to a 13th century anchorite. Many of the stories comfortably straddle the divide between fantasy and reality, bring the unusual into the everyday in a way that’s totally convincing, and every one packs a punch of some kind. So “Melusine: A Mermaid Tale” plays with our expectations of a fairy tale; “Brigit’s Cell” contrasts two voices that are centuries apart; “Sing for Me” delves into the delicate area of the differences between our private and public actions; “Forget my Fate” touches on a number of subjects, including the immigrant experience and the ability of music to transcend; and “After the Fox” looks at tricky human relationships.

And that’s just a few of them…. Each story is such a gem that I had to pause in between reading them and take a break, just to let the last one assimilate – a different approach to my normal gulping down of books, and a valuable one as I was able to appreciate just how good Warner’s tale-telling is. What’s so impressive is how she’s able to effortlessly take on the persona of whoever (or whatever!) she wants to use to tell the story, and how she does it faultlessly.

marina warner#

I mentioned earlier how pleased I was that Salt were publishing collections of contemporary short stories; and one of the interesting things about this book was looking at the list in the back of where the stories first appeared, which ranged from websites, magazines and on the BBC. Dovegreyreader had a really interesting post here recently about short stories and how difficult it must be to get them published and taken seriously nowadays. Certainly, Warner seems to have managed to find outlets for hers, but thank goodness there are publishers prepared to put out collections of work like this – the thought of these stories not finding a wide audience is unthinkable.

“Fly Away Home” is most definitely one of the best short story collections I’ve read in a long time, in fact some of the best contemporary writing (and I’m notoriously fickle about new books…) Thanks go to Salt Publishing for providing the review copy – this may be the first fiction I’ve read by Warner, but I’m certain it won’t be the last! 🙂

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