Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Poet Laureate at the Edinburgh Fringe

A storm erupted shortly after I sat my English GCSE back in 2008: the examining board AQA had decided to remove a poem by Carol Ann Duffy because one exam invigilator thought it would incite knife crime amongst youths. 

On learning this, the first thing I did was pick up my AQA text book and turn to the poetry section we hadn’t had to study, and I read the offending poem. My immediate thought was ‘I wish we could have studied this group of poems instead of the other group’, soon followed by, ‘that’s such a surface reading, even I can see that’s not the point’. 

‘Surely,’ I thought, with all the smugness of a 16 year old who had just attained a decent grade in my GCSE, ’surely if the invigilator had sat the exam, they would have failed.’

Carol Ann Duffy
The offending poem, as it appeared in the AQA text book
On Wednesday, sitting in a small theatre in Edinburgh, I was transported back to that moment when I read Carol Ann Duffy’s work for the first time. But on that afternoon I had the privilege of hearing the Poet Laureate read her work aloud, including her scathing response to that absurd move by AQA.

After discovering her writing that day I continued to read Duffy’s poetry, and it was especially wonderful to hear her read two of my favourites from her World’s Wife collection, Mrs Aesop and Mrs Faust.

She was a captivating speaker, accompanied by John Sampson with musical interludes that neatly segmented the performance and underscored various poems (Danny Boy softly played underneath Carol Ann’s reading of Premonitions very nearly reduced me to tears). 

This poem is from her collection, The Bees. Sometimes the synchronicity in my life astounds me.

If you missed Carol Ann Duffy’s show in the Fringe, you can still see her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival where she is appearing with Jackie Kay on the 17th and Gillian Clarke on the 18th. (The book festival is amazing and I highly recommend it! I had the good fortune to see Marina Warner speak last year!)

Monday, 8 August 2016

Literary Synaesthesia: The Honey Month

I have recently finished reading The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar, and I am ashamed to say it has been on my To Be Read list ever since it was first published…six years ago. Well, I can hand on heart say that if it has been sitting in your wish list, TBR list, whatever-you-want-to-call-it list, this is the book you need to jump straight to the top and pick up next.

They say
she likes to suck peaches. Not eat them, suck them,
tilt her head back and let the juice drip
sticky down her chin, before licking, sucking,
swallowing the sunshine of it down… 
From Day 2 ~ Peach Creamed Honey

Early followers of my blog will recall it used to go by a different name: the honey coloured view. At the time I never went into too much detail as to why I called it this, but suffice it to say it was a nod to my intrigue of and deep respect for the great pollinators of the world and the truly magical product of their work. 

My aunt is a beekeeper, as was her father, my grandfather, and although I never did learn the ins and outs of the practical work involved, I still seemed to learn something of the bees' magic from the very way she spoke about them, their lives, the drama in her hives. And when we tasted her honey…it was like tasting the stories she had told in a sweet, crystalline form. 

We are not the closest of families - growing up, and even now, an entire year or more can go by without seeing aunts and uncles and cousins - and yet, somehow, when I think of bees and honey it calls up a nostalgic sense of family to me. Whether that is a family I know, or one I imagine, I do not know.

When [the bees] surround her, she breathes in the vibration of their bodies, exhales music, breathes it in again. They crown and armour her, they hide her while she dissolves into a joy too keen for eyes that come in simple pairs, eyes that could not possibly appreciate the peace, the thrill, the trembling, the way those thousand bodies do. They sing her aching silence out, they chime their wings like champagne flutes, they pat her cheeks and lashes with more love than is commonly thought to be possible… 
From Day 24 ~ Apricot Creamed Honey

And I sense the same feeling radiating off the pages of The Honey Month; the words both scream and whisper of the complexity of relationships and a deep sense of longing. El-Mohtar enlivens all the senses in her short stories and poems after sharing her practical, sensory evaluation of the honey she is sampling; taste, smell, texture. There isn't a single word in this book that isn't deeply evocative and stirs you at your core.

Amal El-Mohtar/Papaveria Press

The morning, she would say, always tastes of spring, no matter what the season. The winter sun tastes of wet bark and sticky buds when it first rises; at noon it tastes of spun sugar, at evening it tastes of bay leaves and soup. The fall morning tastes of wet grass remembering the sun, the summer morning tastes of lilacs and the waking of bees. And spring mornings taste of honeydew honey, and spring. 
From Day 19 ~ Honeydew Honey 

The Honey Month is published by Papaveria Press and available to buy online from various stores.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Stepping forth from the Moon Hut

Last week I joined hundreds of women for WILDE Tribe 2016, an online gathering hosted by India Rose Mariamne for 'remembering and returning to the women's circle, reuniting with this body-temple, reclaiming our blood rites, reviving the heartbeat of home, and rediscovering women's medicine' through feminine embodiment practices, rituals, and a wealth of inspiring discussions and creative sharing.

This was, in it's entirety, a renewing and nourishing experience for me, and it felt empowering in a profoundly spiritual way. I was moved and motivated by every woman who offered a piece of herself with the tribe, but I wanted to share a particular work that resonated deeply with me at the beginning of the week: a poem by Dominique Youkhehpaz, entitled, There Have Always Been Women's Hips.

Through centuries of sunrises and sunsets,
There have always been women’s hips.

Hips swaying under the stars,
dancing to the rhythm of the wind,
singing the songs of our ancestors,
worshiping the very life they create.

Before man discovered fire and electricity,
There have always been women’s hips.

Hips beaming with fire and light,
exuding aliveness.
Source of renewable energy,
The reason for evolution
and incentive for revolutions,
The birthplace of desire,
Hips blossoming, seducing, inviting, receiving.
Wild, innocent hips.

Waves of change ripple across the planet
Like earthquakes,
Every time a woman shakes her hips.
Before the invention of the telescope or Einstein’s theory of relativity,
There have always been women’s hips.

Hips navigating new territories and opening to unknown places,
Hips throbbing with creativity,
Hips that invented inventors.
Hips that ruled countries,
And hips that ruled the rulers of countries.

Hips held captive by ideas
And hips that could not be contained.
hips that carried us home.

Before there was tantra,
Before there was pornography and prostitution,
There have always been women’s hips...

You can read the full poem on Dominique's blog, here. Thank you to India and all the women who participated and shared their voices, work, and positive energy. I'm already excited for next year's gathering, and I hope you will join me there too!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Timeless Tales: Psyche and Cupid

The latest issue of Timeless Tales Magazine has been released, and each of the wonderful stories and poems contained within is based on the myth of Psyche and Cupid.

It's a favourite tale-type of mine, with a heroine who travels across the world performing arduous and seemingly impossible tasks in order to save/reclaim her lost love. Sometimes she makes stupid mistakes, sometimes she makes selfish choices, but nevertheless she carries on undeterred until, finally, through a combination of her skill, determination and acceptance of help from others, she succeeds in her mission.

Anthony Van Dyck
Cupid and Psyche, by Anthony Van Dyck {Source}
I started reading mythology long after fairytales, but the stories are instantly recognisable, especially if you read around and outside the Disney canon. Reading Psyche and Cupid your mind will no doubt jump to all sorts of familiar stories; mine took me to Donkeyskin, The Six Swans, and Nix Naught Nothing

Editor Tahlia Merrill has ensured Timeless Tales is completely free to read online, however if you make a donation you are able to listen to the audio edition, too. This issue, I am narrating The River God's Bride by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt, who reimagines the myth in ancient Japan. So check it out, enjoy, and please consider donating to Timeless Tales so that Tahlia can keep on putting together this wonderful magazine and supporting her writers!

Timeless Tales Magazine: Psyche and Cupid issue #6

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse

Once upon a time I thought my fairytale game was strong. Then I moved into a new flat - with a new flatmate - and discovered I was oh so wrong; I fortuitously stumbled upon a home filled with collections of fairy tales I might never have known about, along with bookshelves brimming with titles and authors that have been on my 'to be read' list for years, and now sit before me, inviting, waiting.

One of these glorious finds is The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse, translated and with an introduction by the one and only Jack Zipes.

The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse
Hesse is one of those authors I have 'been meaning to get to' for at least ten years now, ever since my dad started sharing the titles of books that made a lasting impression on him when he was in his teens and twenties. I was poised to open Steppenwolf or Siddhartha - but then The Fairytales manifested before me. Bitesized stories, small in stature but so broad in nature; is there really a better way to get to the crux of a writer and their sense of the world than through fairytales? 

As Zipes points out in his introduction, the tales address modern 'obstacles like materialism, war, alienation, philistinism', themes that are as present and relevant today as they were when Hesse was writing in the post-war era. We gain insight into Hesse's understanding and experiences of these issues, and must examine our own at the same time. 

Zipes continues to say that '...even though many of his narratives are tragic, they leave us with a sense of longing, intended to arouse us so that we might contemplate changing those conditions that bring about the degradation of humanity'. Many of Hesse's characters navigate their estrangement from society only to die at the end of their journey; they gain some knowledge of 'the truth' but the price they pay is time to actually live it. But death is just part of the cycle: birth, death, rebirth. The old self - the old beliefs - have how shall we rebirth ourselves to positively address our/humanity's obstacles? 

The protagonists' methods and attempts usually fail. They seek to dominate and reconstruct their realities with the power of cognitive thought, but this is not an act of mindfulness that can bring peace to themselves or others. Particularly in Augustus we see these characters positioned in contrast to a general population that embraces the wholeness of reality, that manages to find its happiness and accept pain and suffering at the same time. Perhaps these stories are about idealism vs dualism, or realism.

He was amazed each day to see how much misery there was in the world and yet how content people could be, and he found it splendid and inspiring to experience over and over again how sorrow could soon be followed by joyous laughter; a death knell by the song of children; every predicament and mean act, by simple kindness, a joke, a comforting word, or a smile (97/8)

Hermann Hesse

The collection contains a broad spectrum of genres; some stories read like more 'traditional' tales (The Dwarf, or The Three Linden Trees, for example) while most others deviate into other literary realms. Zipes lists science fiction, the grotesque and macabre, romantic realism and dream-time stream of consciousness, which create a fascinating mix and make it much more interesting to read because we are being challenged to think and visualise in a different way with each tale.

It took me a few weeks to get through this (relatively short) book. The stories couldn't be rushed, and each needed to be digested before moving on to the next. Fairytales are magical in their ability to hold a mirror up to society, and they endure because the reflections are pertinent beyond the time of their creation. I felt Hesse's fairytales held a mirror up directly in front of me, not just society, and I wonder how transformative this will prove to be...

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Disney images get the Tim Burton treatment

I stumbled upon this story on the BBC today: a Russian artist has reimagined classic Disney images in the haunting style of Tim Burton. The article says Burton is directing a live action remake of Dumbo, which I had no idea was in the works, but I can certainly see that coming together incredibly well; circuses have the classic creep factor about them, and I'm sure Burton will maximise on this!

Read the story above to see all the artwork. I think my favourite is the header image of Rafiki holding Simba aloft on that weird tree from A Nightmare Before Christmas - perfect!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tale Course

It has already been widely circulated in the fairy tale blogworld that Future Learn are running a free academic course on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, facilitated by The Hans Christian Andersen Centre at the University of Southern Denmark.

There's still time to sign up to the six week course; I'm playing catch up at the moment and all the indications I've had so far suggest to me it will be very interesting! There are some longer writing assignments to complete, and I will probably post them and my responses to discussion stimuli here.

If you join me, I look forward to a good old chinwag and a debate or two!

HCA reading to children. By Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann. Source.