Sunday, 31 December 2017

Best Reads of the Year 2017


Glasgow Review of Books

Dalila by Jason Donald, about a Kenyan asylum seeker and her treatment in Glasgow and other parts of the UK,  is brilliantly written – spare but heart-stopping. Dalila’s experiences are based on those of many asylum seekers that Donald met whilst teaching adults in Glasgow. This is no political rant – it will make you laugh at times and Donald has an ear for Glaswegian demotic. Dalila, as a fully realized character, comes alive and will draw you into her frightening predicament, the victim of people traffickers, the cold reception of both weather and immigration officers, bewildering UK bureaucracy, detention centres, the spiralling horrors she undergoes and her eventual devastating fate. I wept for her. Ultimately this novel will make you angry and ashamed of our British system and how insensitively we treat asylum seekers. 

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, a young American of Vietnamese parentage. This is an extraordinary debut, with electrifying vitality and originality, violence, tenderness, and honesty recreating his grandparents’ experience of the Vietnam War, and about his own gay sexuality. After so many recommendations from other poets, I knew I had to read him and was blown away.

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst is a delight. This beautifully crafted novel, which enjoys withholding information only to wrong foot the reader with surprise reveals, is both witty and sad, charting the change in attitudes in the UK before and after the legalization of homosexuality in 1967. Starting with the excitement of a group of Oxford students during WW2 caused by ‘the Greek god’ Drum Sparsholt, he is first seen with bare torso lifting weights in a lit window across a darkening quad at the House (Christchurch). This momentary vision is then wiped out by the blackout curtains, a striking metaphor for the scandal to come.  As the novel jumps to the 1970s, ironically what was considered scandalous in the father, his son Johnny, who is also gay, can now openly practice. Johnny, a would-be artist, has an aesthete’s eye for visual detail, in particular how light falls and creates an atmosphere. At a soirée of the now elderly Oxonions, a blackout and the need for candles due to Heath’s 3-day week is another brilliant set piece. Throughout the novel, a play of light and shadows is a counterpoint to the theme: a study in shadows and ambiguities, undercurrents of unexpressed desire, what is said and not said and a precise analysis of emotion, particularly when it is paradoxically a mixture of opposites. Thankfully, there’s not too much of the latter (unlike in Henry James whom Hollinghurst emulates) and the novel proceeds with a dramatic pace and moments of hilarious irony. ‘And there was light,’ says one of the characters at the soirée. ‘Ah, but will there be drinks?’ responds another.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

St Kilda poems

Delighted to have 3 more of my St Kilda poems published, this time in the

Glasgow Review of Books

Friday, 1 December 2017

Give me Your Hand: My Time poem

So pleased to have a poem chosen for the 'My Time' project organized by Voluntary Arts and the Scottish Poetry Library - poems inspired by your hobby or other creative activity.  My passion is dancing.  (Although I work as a dance reviewer, my dancing ability is very much at an amateur level now.)
The poem 'Give me Your Hand' takes its title from the Irish tune and came about after a dance therapy workshop, in particular a trust-building exercise,  given by students at Queen Margaret's University held at Dance Base, Edinburgh.
I am delighted to have been able to  also use this poem as a springboard to poetry writing at one of my own creative writing workshops for a group of hearing impaired adults. We sat in a circle,  held hands and acted out these movements in silence. It is a wonderful experience. Do try it!

Give me Your Hand
Touch finger tip to finger tip,
thumbs, index to index,
tall man to tall man,
ring to ring, pinkie to pinkie.
Take this invisible gift
in the cradle of your hands
shield it, as it flickers in the draught
of all our cold, dreich days.
Here is a word without vowel or consonant.
It is a language you have never heard before
but understand immediately.
We will never be the same again.

Pinkie: (Scots) for the little finger.
Dreich: (Scots) drear, miserable weather

You can hear the tune that inspired the title 'Give Me Your Hand' (Tabhair dom do Lámh in Irish) a tune from the early 17th century by Ruaidri Dáll Ó Catháin, the blind harpist (c.1570-c.1650) via You Tube Listen to it Here.

The story behind the song is a charming one of reconciliation between Ruaidri and Lady Eglington after a quarrel and this tune is his plea for forgiveness. I haven't used the story literally - only its spirit. See
Full story

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