Tuesday

Read Me

The Number 1 song in the UK on the day I was born, 3rd June 1958, was Who's Sorry Now by Connie Francis. In my desperation for something even slightly more celebratory I try the USA: Sheb Wooley's The Purple People Eater. Okay, one last shot, Canada: All I Have To Do Is Dream by the Everly Brothers, which also happens to be the Number 1 Country Song on that day. I'll take that.

I found myself on the This Day in Music website because of Paul Cuddihy, author of Read All About It: My Year Of Falling In Love With Literature, who proudly boasts Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks as his birth date song (some of us are luckier than others) during his year long account of reading his books rather than just buying them as literary insulation for his dining room wall.

Are writers more likely to do this than non-writers? I don't know - you tell me. I'm not as bad as I used to be: my move to France in 2006 forced me into a surgical cull rather than pay almost as much to move my books as it would cost to move the furniture I owned. I now read most novels on Kindle and no longer keep any paperbacks I buy. The same for a lot of memoir and autobiography. Although Hemingway's A Moveable Feast will live on my bookshelves as long as I breathe. Poetry and non fiction are trickier to let go of: you never know when you might need them. 

Cuddihy's book is so enjoyable because I don't feel he's trying to educate me or philosophise about how certain books might change my life. He's reading for his own pleasure and purpose and is disarmingly open about not finishing a book he isn't enjoying and about his selections: Joanne Harris's Chocolat nestles (there's a very subtle joke in that verb...) up against The Sportswriter by Richard Ford. And the best thing about the book is I'm only halfway through and already inspired to begin my own reading project. Isn't that what we all want good books to do? Affect us in some way: how we feel, how we think, how we act, however small? 


Following the aforementioned cull, and having to leave a few dozen metres of shelving in the French house, my books (almost) fit into the new shelf unit I bought when I came back in 2011. They are mostly books about writing, memoir, food and a non-fiction smattering of philosophy and history. And poetry. A lot of poetry, many of which I've only glanced through.

I started my writing life as a poet and although my first book was a novel I always thought of myself as an accidental novelist and much more of a poet. In the last four years I've published two books of prose and hardly written any poetry. And the poetry books are gathering dust. Not just literally, as the whole of my house does, but metaphorically: poetry has become something I used to read. 

So my reading project will be to reacquaint myself with poetry, reading some every day. It doesn't sound that difficult does it but poetry asks us to pay attention in a different way than a short story or novel does. It asks for a mind of concentration yet at the same time a mind that's open to the power of language, of its capacity for suggestiveness and layering of meaning. It asks us to slow down, to be still. I have lost that art and I'd like to rediscover it. 

So I've just walked over to the shelf and taken out one poetry book that caught my eye: Velocities by American poet, Stephen Dobyns. I remember using a couple of his poems when I used to teach poetry at the University of Kent. I remember being moved to thought and feeling by them. So it's a good place to start. 

By coincidence I put the book down on my desk next to a slate coaster my sister bought me. It reads, 'To be born Welsh is to be born privileged, not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but music in your blood and poetry in your soul.' 

I'm settling for 'poetry in my hand' for now.