first quarter reading list 2013

sex drugs & madness

Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil

Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis: not my book of the quarter


Albert Camus, Exile and the Kingdom
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
William Burroughs, Naked Lunch
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis


David Sandison & Graham Vickers, Neal Cassady: Fast Life of a Beat Hero
Antonio Melechi, Fugitive Minds
Hermann Hesse, The Prodigy


D. H. Lawrence, Sons & Lovers
Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

Sex, drugs, and madness was how I began the year. Literary wise, if not otherwise, but probably a little otherwise too. But in reality, it probably was more literary than any of the other three (or the other three combined).

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world poetry day / crow

Matt Collier, Crow Country

Matt Collier – Crow Country, April 10

Today is World Poetry Day – whatever that means. If, like me, you only know about it because you spotted it on Twitter, or maybe just now while you’re reading this, and maybe you’re reading it in the future and it isn’t World Poetry Day any longer anyway, that probably ain’t a whole lot. I’m just guessing that there’s a ‘national poetry day’ and an ‘international poetry day’ &c. like there is for short stories, long stories, and just about every author the art institution/general public ever really LOVED (or hated).

This particular day was declared by UNESCO according to Wikipedia. That doesn’t mean a whole lot to me either, although I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the name UNESCO on the TV so I guess today being World Poetry Day is pretty legit. More to the point, I actually happen to be reading a book of poetry at the moment, which despite my literary pretensions is a fairy rare occasion because as I frequently mention, poetry makes me a little uncomfortable. This book is Ted Hughes’ Crow, and I bought it because the quote from the Observer on the back said ‘Each fresh encounter with despair becomes the occasion for a separate, almost funny story…’ Despair being one of my favourite themes, obviously. I was not disappointed and found the quote to be almost accurate, except for the  word ‘almost’. The poems in Crow are not almost but frequently funny; full of black humour. This is one of my favourites; I think it’s terribly good, and it’s for my mother because she likes birds.


Crow and the Birds

When the eagle soared clear through a dawn distilling of
When the curlew trawled in seadusk through a chime of
When the swallow swooped through a woman’s song in a
And the swift flicked through the breath of a violet

When the owl sailed clear of tomorrow’s conscience
And the sparrow preened himself of yesterday’s promise
And the heron laboured clear of the Bessemer upglare
And the bluetit zipped clear of lace panties
And the woodpecker drummed clear of the rotorvator and
the rose farm
And the peewit tumbled clear of  the laundromat

While the bullfinch plumped in the apple bud
And the goldfinch bulbed in the sun
And the wryneck crooked in the moon
And the dipper peered from the dewball

Crow spraddled head-down in the beach-garbage, guzzling
a dropped ice-cream.


The image in this post is by Matt Collier.



Hermann Hesse & the idea of Woman

the eternal woman

‘There is much that is immortal in this medieval lady. The dragons have gone, and so have the knights, but still she lingers in our midst. She reigned in many an early Victorian castle, and was Queen of much early Victorian song. It is sweet to protest her in the intervals of business, sweet to pay her honour when she has cooked our dinner well. But alas! the creature grows degenerate. n her heart there are also springing up strange desires. She too is enamoured of heavy winds, and vast panoramas, and green expanses of the sea. She has marked the kingdom of this world, how full it is of wealth, and beauty, and war – a radiant crust, built around the central fires, spinning towards the receding heavens. Men, declaring that she inspires them to do it, move joyfully over the surface, having the most delightful meetings with other men, happy not because they are masculine, but because they are alive. Before the show breaks up she would like to drop the august title of the Eternal Woman, and go there as her transitory self.’

– E.M. Forster, A Room With A View

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letters of prodigious length

to N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver

ImageIt’s gonna be a short one I’m afraid on account of being unplanned and I’ve been away for a while so let’s consider this a warm-up of sorts.

The day before yesterday, February 8th, was the birthday of one Neal Cassady, whose biography, by some kind of serendipity, I happened to be reading – else I would never have known.

Neal Cassady more a myth than anything. His star’s a kind of literary penumbra. In a previous post I mentioned how he was a figure who haunted. in the book, Aquarius Revisited, which I reviewed, he did not feature as one of the Seven who Created the Sixties Counter-Culture that Changed America but he haunts its pages as its muse and hero, one whose energy was so great he was the star of the show even when given a cameo role.

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on the doorstep of the moon

October 15th is the birthday of one of the most important thinkers in the history of philosophy, possibly the most influential philosopher in my personal history.

I discovered the work of Friedrich Nietzsche in the first year of my undergraduate degree in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. I was drawn to the beautiful, frightening titles of his books, particularly The Birth of Tragedy, and his enormous, almost threatening, and nearly unspoken reputation. Before I’d ever read or heard anything of Nietzsche I understood that he, that his work, was monolithic. In my second and third years at Cardiff I got to know his work, in particular The Birth of Tragedy, which lived up to everything I’d imagined from the name. What marked Nietzsche out for me was that among a pantheon of dry, dogmatic, and severely logical thinkers, this was a philosopher whose writing was literary, sublime, spiralling in a grand chaotic challenge; it struck me at the core from the beginning and has remained burning unforgettably inside me ever since. Today I’ve no doubt that everything I write and think is somehow inspired by my discovery of Nietzsche. This might not entirely be a good thing. But nevertheless.

Nietzsche was my Copernicus.

In his honour I’m presenting a short story? –  more like prose poetry – that came to me from I’m not sure where, somewhere mad, influenced by the wisdom of Silenus:

“There is an old legend that king Midas for a long time hunted the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, in the forests, without catching him. When Silenus finally fell into the king’s hands, the king asked what was the best thing of all for men, the very finest.  The daemon remained silent, motionless and inflexible, until, compelled by the king, he finally broke out into shrill laughter and said these words,  “Suffering creature, born for a day, child of accident and toil, why are you forcing me to say what would give you the greatest pleasure not to hear?  The very best thing for you is totally unreachable: not to have been born, not to exist,
to be nothing.
The second best thing for you, however, is this—to die soon.”

From The Birth of Tragedy

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a poem about being a writer


Smoking at my desk,
I ash into the whale.
I have a cup of tea
And a glass of water,
And the whale is in between
In a ceramic sea of filth
Where the cigarette points at me
Filter up, and I pause,
To smoke it; it glows,
And then I put it back
And write again (like now).

Sometimes I write and smoke at the same time
The cigarette dangling out the corner of my mouth,
This makes me feel like a real writer
I’m doing it now, (but not now.)
It’s hard though.



E.M. Forster, A Room With A View
Anaïs Nin, The Diary of AnaïsNin Vol. III
Jerry Hopkins & Danny Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive

Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses
D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Peter O. Whitmer, Aquarius Revisited: Seven Who Created The Sixties Counter-Culture That Changed America

D.H. Lawrence, Women In Love
S.E. Hinton, Rumble Fish
Natasha Soobramanien, Genie and Paul
Max Ernst, Une Semaine de Bonté

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