Comic-book Keats – a new way to prevent the ‘end of poetry’?

labelledame11I may be coming late to the work of Julian Peters. It is possible his illustrative work has been bringing young people to poetry for some time without me realising it. However, there may be some others out there, like myself, who have not yet come across an artist who, in my opinion, has found a way to ‘re-package’ the poetry of the 19th and 20th century in a way that might just convince  the cynical that there is life in poetry yet.

Julian Peters is based in Montreal and has translated a number of familiar poems into comic-book recreations so striking that they have been widely exhibited. However, even though I am a member of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, I missed Peters’ inclusion in the 2012 exhibition ‘Illustrating Keats’ at the House in Rome. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is wonderful, with a young man  (looking, purposely I am sure, rather Keatsian) recounting his seduction by the beautiful woman – ‘La belle dame’ – who casts her chilling spell over him, as she has done many another ‘pale knight’. See the whole piece here on Peters’ website.

couverture1On that site you will also find his other work, which includes Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe,  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot and a terrific manga-style presentation of  When You Are Old by W B Yeats.

I read an article recently in The Skinny, in which Bruce Sterling & Jon Lebkowsky discussed the apparent ‘death of poetry’.  Bruce Sterling said:

“If you’d asked John Keats if there was any ‘truth’ in the journalism of his day, Keats would have said no, that all the newspapers were organs of party faction, and that the ‘truth,’ and also the beauty, was in poetry. Our own society doesn’t have ‘Poetry.’ Poetry is already gone. We don’t miss it any more than those un-novelled societies miss novels.”

That statement feels like a punch in the stomach to me. I disagree so forcefully that I could shake Sterling (although in the article he is really expressing his views on the future of the mass-media and there is at least some recognition that poetry is older, and more ‘needed’ than journalism as it is practised at the moment). There is much to be enjoyed and gained from reading poetry, even if poets are no longer the Byronic celebrity super-heroes of the 19th century.

I really enjoyed browsing Julian Peters’ website and seeing some of my favourite poems in a new light. The comic strip versions are utterly different from the Pre-Raphaelite representations of Keats’ work but they are striking nonetheless. What do you think?

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Back to blogging with a big, fat bang….

dv1554019I have been subject to a ‘blogging malaise’ over the past few weeks. Trying to think of a subject to cover; a poem to recommend; a book to discuss etc has seemed too much trouble. No more wriggling out of writing was the title I chose for this blog three and a half years ago now, before I could really call myself a professional writer. Now I am one. So why need I blog?

Well today I thought, at last, of a reason to get on here and say something and it struck me that perhaps I had forgotten how important it is, even as someone lucky enough to have commissions to work on, to simply WRITE. No wonder I am feeling low – I haven’t been writing much at all. I have been reading a lot, but as an escape and as procrastination. So I am grateful that Radio 4 and Any Questions actually got me sufficiently riled to put finger to keypad once more. Here is why.

2013 was not a good year for my insides. I started suffering acute stomach pains and was sent for all manner of scary tests at the hospital. Many of you will know that as someone who has been treated, successfully, for breast cancer, I find the words ‘because of your medical history we just need to check’ are words that strike the fear of the Almighty in me. I had a few of those moments in 2013, but eventually it was discovered that my gallbladder was as a bulging bag of lead shot, overflowing and requiring urgent removal. The stress here is on ‘urgent’ as I had narrowly avoided one hospitalisation and was fearing another at any moment. So the surgeon saying ‘we should have you in here in a month’ seemed like good news. Our local NHS hospital, Musgrove Park in Taunton, has always seen me right. Saved my life even. But as one month went to two, and then to three, I was getting worried. But a strict low-fat diet and regular, gentle exercise was seeing a weight loss of 2lb a week. By the time I was called in, I was two stone lighter and although still suffering from the shot in the gut, I felt much better for it.

As is so common, I have struggled with my weight for years. I have been slim, fat and somewhere in between. It IS hard for me to lose the flab; I have lymphoedema in my legs that makes them heavy and prone to serious swelling and I am on cancer and anti-depressant drugs that make it even more difficult to shed the pounds. But never was it more obvious to me that I had been using these things as an excuse than when I was waiting for my gall bladder op. I could do it if I tried, and I did because I knew my health could be seriously compromised if I didn’t. I took control.

Andy Burnham-of-the-lovely-brown-eyes - on the Any Questions panel

Andy Burnham-of-the-lovely-brown-eyes – on the Any Questions panel

Over the past few days, and on aforesaid Any Questions, the subject of the obesity epidemic in the UK came up again. Last week it was said that some 2 million people in the UK could be eligible for NHS gastric band operations in the next few years. Should we regulate the food industry? Teach kids what a vegetable is?

Now, at last, I get to the point. When I did at last get my appointment, after weeks of nice phone calls with helpful appointments staff, I found myself on the ‘gastric band’ list and was told that they often ‘squeezed’  a gall bladder removal (or choleocystectomy) on to that list. I was surprised, not least because I had no idea there was a ‘list’ for NHS gastric band surgery but also because those who were in the waiting room had not struck me as very different from your regular ‘Taunton tummy’ type, in which classification I would, two months before, have had to include myself. Overweight, possibly obese, but still a pretty common shape.

bandAs I slid down the day’s operating list to accommodate those with Type 2 diabetes who had to go before me to ensure their blood sugars didn’t spiral out of control, I had one of those wicked thoughts that creep up on us occasionally and cause us to judge others more harshly than we might otherwise do. Why had that woman just gone in front of me to have her gastric band, accompanied by her two sons who had had the same operation eight weeks before? She was no more overweight than I had been. Why couldn’t she, and her two sons, have done what I did and controlled their diet and exercised a bit more? Wasn’t that gastric band fitting a dangerous operation to control appetites that simply needed more self-control? If they needed it, then half the UK would qualify surely?

Perhaps. What worries me most is that since I had the gallbladder operation, for all my good intentions, the surgeons words ‘well you can go back to a normal diet now’ have inveigled themselves into my subconscious and eaten away at that very self-control I bemoaned the lack of in the woman and her family in the hospital. I must have put half a stone on since Christmas. Being overweight, for me, means a long hard road to fitness but it can be done. Surely I have no right to expect the NHS to sort me out just because I can’t pass a chocolate bar or a bun without cramming it in my mouth? Surely, if an NHS doctor can’t find it possible to tell me that, without my gall bladder, I still have to eat carefully, he is making work for himself and our cash-strapped health service?

I am a greedy pig and I know it. But it seems I have long term medical conditions that could qualify me for this radical  surgery. Why should we offer gastric bands as apparently ‘preventative’ medicine? Diabetes may be a silent killer, but tell us about it, have us in to your office and tell us we will die if we don’t cut out the pies and walk round the block. Tell us we are neglecting our kids if we encourage them to eat in the same way. Take adverts for McDonalds and KFC off the telly and sod corporate anger. Anything, but DON’T fit us with something that could kill us and will certainly not teach us how to live our lives in a healthy way. Who knows, is it far-fetched to think that we may end up fitting young girls with gastric bands just to help them achieve some ridiculous idea of ‘body-image’ that the madness of the media and big business would have us believe is the only way to be?

Put the money into treating those with life-threatening illnesses unrelated to gluttony.

There, said it. And perhaps you wish I had kept this bile to my duct, where it belongs….

Posted in Breast cancer, Food, Mental health, Random musings on family life, love the universe and everything, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Poetry for Mindfulness – I go among trees and sit still…..

keatsbabe:

I love this poem by Wendell Berry. If it wasn’t STILL raining here in Somerset I would take myself off and ‘go among the trees and sit still’ to calm my rather tangled and fraught though processes….

Originally posted on let's talk!:

treesOn ‘let’s talk’ we occasionally like to post a favourite quote,  a poem that strikes us as relevant to the work we are focusing on or simply words that mean something to us at a particular moment, on which we can focus our minds and enjoy ‘quieting’ our mind.

Today we thought our readers (and thank you – all those who follow us) might enjoy the following poem, by American poet, environmental activist and author Wendell Berry. Berry is a man often quoted by those who practice ‘mindfulness’, a subject we have discussed in recent blog posts. He is a man who believes in many things that relate specifically to living what he considers to be a ‘good’ life. He is a farmer, and supports rural communities, sustainable farming and the wonder of feeding our bodies with healthy food.  He is anti-war,, concerned about globalisation and the ever-growing industrialisation…

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A Very Poetic Happy Christmas from No Wriggling & Talking Books!

Merry-Christmas-EveWell – just two more sleeps till Christmas Day – why does the time pass so quickly when you are an adult, yet Christmas seems to take forever to arrive when you are a child? Even though our children are now at University there is still an Advent Calendar pinned to the door and it seems barely a week since I opened the first door – yet here we are – on the Eve of Christmas Eve….

My final Talking Books show for 2013 was on 10Radio on Friday and it was a very festive edition, with other presenters chiming in with a reading. There was music too, and I got a request in, at last (I usually offer my guest the opportunity to choose the track we play out with). I chose ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ by Jon and Vangelis, which was a Christmas record back in 1981, although it is rarely played as one. It certainly makes me feel wonderfully Christmassy, as does ‘Gaudate’ by Steeleye Span and ‘Stop the Cavalry’ by Jona Lewie, which we also played. With poems by Carol Ann Duffy and John Betjemen and readings from A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens we linked through the music to the last reading. I chose a piece by Elizabeth Bowen, from Home for Christmas, and read it just before we played the Jon and Vangelis. Home is somewhere we all seek at Christmas, whether physically or metaphorically and the reading offered a wonderful (a word I use too often on my show, I realise – I must get the thesaurus out…) message.

We also got a little bit political when the piece from A Christmas Carol – where Scrooge is approached for money for the poor at the start of the book – was resonant of recent Government policies and the proliferation of food banks. Alongside the Carol Ann Duffy poem about war it became clear that the very nature of our humanity can be reflected upon at this time of year, and should be.

As a celebration of the season I would also like to add a lovely poem, called ‘little tree’ by E.E. Cummings, a poet who could be controversial – in both style and subject matter. Even the printing of his name is the subject of scholarly discussion. However, here he writes so precisely that one can almost hear the child’s conversation with the tree about to grace the house and we can feel, with him, a solace in the loss of it’s natural habitat as it takes on a new role at the heart of the home. Simple and real.

LITTLE tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

I love it. It is my Christmas message to all those of you good enough to read my blog (which I admit has had less of my attention this year as I concentrated on writing Shell Shocked Britain) and to all my friends on social media. Thank you for your friendship – it means such a lot to me.

Posted in Book, Books, Christmas, Music, Poetry, Radio Show, Random musings on family life, love the universe and everything, Reading, Religion, Talking Books, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Give a book for Christmas! Talking Books does the perfect present…

booksChristmasWell we are nearly there – just a week left to do your Christmas shopping and find the gift that will really mean something to the recipient, offering pleasure that will last well after the 25th December. Okay – there may be a few electrical devices that will offer a similar sensation but in truth – what is better than a book?

On Talking Books, my show on 10Radio, last week I discussed books as gifts for Christmas with my resident book expert, Julie Munckton. Julie works tirelessly to support local bookshops through the website localbookshops.co.uk, which offers an alternative to the faceless Amazon via your own local high street bookshop (or your favourite bookshop in any part of the country) and she really knows her stuff. Twenty five minutes sped past as we offered hints and tips for presents across many subjects – from fiction to gardening and from history to biography. Whether you have a loved one fascinated by football or a fan of Dr Who, into soap stars or the natural world, Victorian gothic fiction or a cosy mystery – there was something for everyone. We even looked at incredible jolting chairs and cures for dimples via the Quackdoctor.

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‘My Black Sheep’

keatsbabe:

Today I am thrilled to be featured on The Victorian Supersleuth blog, writing about my saucy ancestor Samuel Furneaux. Angela Buckley has established this fascinating site, to examining the work of Joseph Caminada, a great Manchester detective of the 19th century and the ‘original’ Sherlock Holmes. Angela has written a book about his work for Pen & Sword History and it will be published in the spring of 2014. I can’t wait to read it and feel lucky to be writing for the same imprint. ‘Victorian Supersleuth’ is full of family stories of skeletons in closets and the trials and tribulations of fighting crime in the nineteenth century. Do take a look!

Originally posted on Victorian Supersleuth:

Wonderful writer, researcher and family historian, Suzie Grogan aka @keatsbabe has kindly agreed to share this fascinating, and highly entertaining (not for his poor wife!), story of her naughty ancestor:

Samuel Furneaux, the brother of my Great Grandfather George Furneaux, was born in the very poor area of London around St Pancras Station in 1839. The Furneaux family were generally hardworking and sober and later in the century took advantage of their proximity to the tracks to embrace lives working on the railway that carved up their neighbourhood.

As a Furneaux (I have always loved my maiden name) I felt quite glamorous. My father was convinced we came from France with the revolution, or following the persecution of the Huguenots. It was only later, after detailed analysis of the family tree that we found little blue blood and a lot of cobblers. Literally. I was disappointed. We do so love a little…

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It isn’t all about hacking….Talking Books talks journalism with Rin Hamburgh

online-journalism-296x300 (1)Last week on Talking Books, my radio show on 10Radio, I was thrilled to welcome the lovely Rin Hamburgh (nee Simpson) to talk about journalism. I wanted to discuss her life in writing, what inspired her and how she negotiates all the obstacles the editors seem to put in the way of those keen to get their point across in print.

There are a lot of reasons to be cynical about journalists at the moment. The Leveson Inquiry and court cases that, as the time of writing, are ongoing are very depressing for anyone who believes in the freedom of the press and the wonderful way in which British newspapers (well most of them) have covered key events and important issues over the years. Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, disturbingly close friends of high ranked government ministers both, face years in prison if they are found guilty of phone hacking whilst working at the News of the World. The public have, rightly been disgusted at the lengths journalists will go to in order to get a story they deem to be in the public interest.

But journalism is not all about the tabloids. Nor is it all about getting sales by telling tales. There are many people out there writing about important issues at local and national levels. They are writing about health and well being and about things that are important to us in our daily lives – child rearing, the welfare system, how we protect vulnerable elderly people, our housing, gardening, crafts, music, weddings…. the list is endless.

Rin is one of those journalists that you know will be honest and make sure a story is told with integrity. We had a great chat on air about what makes her sit up and think ‘yes – that is a great story!’ and she offered lots of hints and tips for wannabe journos to make sure any pitch gets to the top of the Editor’s list and into print. If you have ever had an idea that you thought would make a good article or want to highlight an issue of importance to you, then listen to the show and hear Rin’s views on the best way to success.

Rin now works with Jo Middleton, another writer with loads of expertise in social media. They both featured in and helped with Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, an anthology I published last year for mental health charity SANE. They now offer training and mentoring to those who want to make the most of writing and social media in their business, as a freelancer or just for interest – see Inside Scoop for more details. She had more than one new fan before she even left the 10Radio studio and I know there will be some ideas heading her way after this interview. So thanks Rin – you really are the ethical face of journalism….

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