Seamus Heaney describes poetry as, feeling into words; Don Paterson talks of it as, language under pressure - both formal and emotional pressure.
Now, it seems, scientists are on to poetry as some kind of bodily heat transfer.
Last week, while away, a piece on The Guardian's science blog came to my attention - read here how our reaction to poetry, especially love poetry, can be recorded by means of thermal imaging tracking the heat in our cheeks and around our eyes.
Eagerly awaited after the triumph of Small Island, The
Long Songwas a book that initially, Levy says, she was reluctant to write.
After finishing Small Island, having explored the lives of those, like
her father, who arrived in England on the Windrush, she found herself
wondering, "What were my parents doing in the Caribbean in the first place?"
This line of inquiry, lead inevitably, to slavery. Could
she face the research?
What set The Long Song going was trying to imagine beyond the
horrors of slavery, trying to imagine the "chatter and clatter of people
building their lives, families and communities..." Levy wanted to tell a
story that would engage the reader.
Last night, with three short extracts, and a bold, embodied reading Levy certainly engaged the Goldsmiths audience. Narrator July, has a voice and story that makes you sit up and listen.
Levy's gift is not simply finding the story to tell but
finding the angle and particular voice to carry the story. I can still hear July's voice calling me back to come and listen to the rest of her life.
With Levy's unique mix of a searching
intelligence, wit, warmth, and patient crafting she has slid between the pages of official records and imagined the story that history didn't tell. July's is a story that needed to be told. The way Levy tells it the world can't help but listen.
She was candid about her writing habits - working in
short sections; the first draft done in long hand in the local library. This
gets put on the computer then worked up. She writes in the afternoon having
dealt with the rest of life in the morning. "I don't trust myself to write
more than two hours a day."
Here's part of what he said: Instead of narrowing our
view of the world poetry broadens and deepens our understanding, recognises the
diversity and richness of our experience, and where power can be blind to human
needs, poetry can cleanse and inspire. [So rare to hear a politician talking about poetry - you can read the rest of his address here.]
Christopher Reid was in Saturday's line-up. Quite a week
for him as last Tuesday he won Costa Book of The Year prize for A Scattering. A
work of that certainly deepens our understanding of the process of grief, when faced with
untimely death. In Reid's case the death of his wife of 30+ years, the actress
In A Scattering, Reid both brings her vividly to life and
yet reveals what it feels like to accommodate the permanence of her
absence. Reid has explained that
the book was written out of his need to clarify his own thoughts and emotions.
In being so honest and specific about his situation he has created a startling and
universal book. It reads like a memoir and demands to be read cover to cover.
The Costa judges praised it as work "anyone could
Given its subject matter it seems strange to say that it
is a satisfying, uplifting read. Maybe that's because it's a book we know we're
all likely to need at some point.
I notice that in several reports of the Costa Award
journalists remark that, to date, A Scattering has sold only 1000 copies. [That
Only? That's highly respectable. Most poets would be thrilled
to have sales of 1000 within months of publishing a collection. I'm sure Reid will now sell a few thousand more copies.
Sales and money aside, in sharing these conversations
with his grieving self and with his absent wife, Reid has offered a priceless
Margaret Atwood was presented with the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week. The award is given annually to a creative practitioner who has used their art to try to make the world a better place.
Interviewed on the Today programme on Saturday, Atwood was asked how the recession was affecting writers - are novelists more pessimistic?
Her usual dry self Atwood was quick to point out that even if what you are writing about is gloomy, "Writing a book is an optimistic act." Here's why:
You have to finish it, against all odds
You have to get it published, against all odds
You have to believe someone will read it
You have to believe that readers will like it.
She ended the interview by saying: "The arts are a lot older than money and they’re way older
than economics. It’s not a question of whether you’re going to have art or not
have art – it’s part of being human. And that’s why, scratch one of these
financial people and you’ll find that what they really want to do is write a
novel – Lord Bless them!"