Poetry matters

I’m not a poetry kind of guy. I don’t curl up with a book of verses to lose myself, or quote passages to fellow aficionados. Poetry I find over-stimulating in a way that’s different from prose. For me the discipline is like solving cryptic crosswords or puzzling out brain teasers: it requires effort from what seems a specific part of the brain and, to be honest, I’m quite lazy.

Not that I’m poetically bankrupt. I appreciate a good turn of phrase, a mind-blowing metaphor, a piquant simile or log-jams of alliteration. I use them — you may have noticed — all the time in posts. It’s just that to put all that into a bag marked Poetry is somehow … just not my bag. It may be to do with it seeming pretentious. Or possibly trite. It could be that I’m put off with all the white space around carefully formatted stanzas. And certainly volumes of verse epics strike me as expeditionary excursions to be avoided.

Thus I’m embarrassed to say that I find myself to be conflicted, even compromised. Because, my dear readers, I write poetry.

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Home is where

Shelfie, Oxfam bookshop, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

“A House is Not a Home…” goes the song by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, and I think we can all agree with that. I’m sure that many of you have been in the position of having a few or even several abodes in your lifetime. Did all of them feel like home at the time?

What is it that makes a house a home? The lyrics of that song were clear: a house is not a home “when there’s no one there to hold you tight.” This is corroborated by the common saying that home is where the heart is, implying that this is where loved ones still live or even where one’s fondest memories reside. I think it’s impossible to underestimate the emotional pull that ‘home’ has over a mere dwelling place — think of a building and its associations are bound up with its actuality.

I’m occasionally asked where home is for me, and my stock response has usually been it’s here, where we live now. Certainly the four different properties we’ve lived in as owner-occupiers — where we raised a family, or worked from, or retired to — felt like, or still feels like, home at the time we were/are there.

But increasingly I find it’s not as complete an answer as I’ve glibly trotted out.

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Fellow travellers

Ideogram of lift or, if you prefer, elevator. Looks like a man has, again, assumed it’s his job to control things …

My relationship with books is a bit like that one has with passengers in a slow-moving lift, a relationship which is perfectly illustrated by a visit to my bedside table. Here, alongside reading glasses and case, watch, alarm clock, notebook and pen sit a couple of piles of books. (We won’t talk, just now, of the ones that sit out of sight in the top drawer.) I’m a rather faithless reader, picking up books that take my fancy, sometimes sticking with one for the duration but mostly flitting from one to another. I like to pretend that I do this because different titles advantageously inform each other; but it may simply be that I have a goldfish brain, unable to sustain a thought for long.

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How to spot a reader

The surefire way to identify an eager beaver young reader is to listen to them.

How do they pronounce the words they’ve seen in print but never heard?

Do they — as I remember being sniggered at for doing — say “causal” instead of casual? Does that understandably precocious child pronounce “foregin” in place of that odd-looking word foreign? And — as I heard an adult enunciate when expanding his horizons into less mundane topics — does “esoteric”sometimes emerge (by analogy with “expectorate” perhaps — with the stress on the second syllable?

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Who is the Dark Lord?

The citadel of Derkholm?

Roland Chesney has found a way to access a parallel world, a world of real fantasy and magic. For four decades he has sent Pilgrim Parties on tourist package holidays to these lands, forcing one hapless individual after another to become the Dark Lord for the duration while the tourists attempt to defeat his forces. The question is, will this be the last year that this exploitation of an innocent population happens, the year when the worm turns?

There are Dark Lords aplenty in modern fantasy: take your pick from Sauron, Darth Vader, Voldemort or any one of a multitude of evil megalomaniacs. Yet Diana Wynne Jones’ comic fantasy The Dark Lord of Derkholm is different, and an intriguing tale, full of mysteries — some of which get solved by the end of the novel, others seemingly insoluble. =Tamar Lindsay very kindly agreed to pen this guest post attempting to answer the question, “Who is the Dark Lord?”


Calmgrove has kindly offered me space to set out some ideas I have about Dark Lord of Derkholm, which is one of my favorite books. This discussion involves major spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book already, go read it.

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High five

WordPress have just informed me that it has been five years since I began this blog by registering it. Back in 2012 I had no real ambitions other than to post a few reviews and hopefully engage with a few likeminded bloggers. Now, in 2017, that remains the core ambition. I have nothing to sell, only ideas to share; I aim to receive no remuneration except informative dialogue and virtual friendship.

I’d like to thank all current followers of Calmgrove for remaining active and for sharing thoughts and adding ‘likes’ where appropriate. I myself follow sixty-odd blogs, not on a follow4follow basis but because they have interesting things to say or wonderfully crafted visual and wordy creations to share. If I am sometimes remiss in engaging it’s because of time and opportunity, not because I’m dismissive of your inspiring efforts.

I promised to rejuvenate my photoblog MyNewShy and my creating writing outlet Zenrinji — all that is ongoing and will emerge in due course — but for the moment I’m focusing on this literary blog, attempting a sensible regular schedule. I don’t intend to stop reading, so there’s every chance I shall be still here in five years’ time doing what I set out to do in a rather more optimistic era: exploring the world of ideas through books. I hope you’ll continue to join me in that exploration!

Not so young grasshopper

Credit: http://thegraphicsfairy.com/vintage-grasshopper-label-image/

I finally decided to take a long hard look at the pile of books on my bedside table. I’d just finished Marie Brennan’s rip-roaring A Natural History of Dragons and was considering what to go for next. On that pile were

  • Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, the first of those titles I’ve stalled on. Or — as I prefer to think of it — a title that I’m deliberating over. The fact is, where I’ve got to in ICHH is in many ways so close a parallel to what has occurred so far with Trump’s presidency that I find it too depressing to go on, for now at least.
  • Daphne Du Maurier’s Castle Dor. This time it’s the pedestrian pace adopted by Arthur Quiller-Couch that is fazing me. Maybe when I finally get to Du Maurier’s continuation things will pick up. At the moment it dulls the heart.
  • Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s The Storyteller of Marrakesh should be right up my street. Story-telling, mystery, a narrative about narration — I should be wallowing in the metafiction of it all. But maybe I wasn’t in the mood for it, having started in the depths (or rather mid-shallows) of the British winter. It will stay by my beside until summer is nigh.
  • After I read Emma I had a look at a commentary on it in A Brief Guide to Jane Austen, a commentary I’d avoided when I first read Charles Jennings’ discussion of all things Austen. My eye then was drawn by his section of Persuasion, but I stopped until I had too much of a preview of Austen’s last great novel. It’ll stay until I read that novel.
  • And that takes us to Persuasion itself, which I began immediately after finishing Emma, having been *ahem* persuaded it was more satisfying. But then I was distracted again, this time by a study I’d stalled on  been ‘deliberating’ over last year. This was …
  • Irene Collins’ Jane Austen and the Clergy which is a fascinating and detailed account of the author’s attitude to and treatment of clergymen in her fiction and in real life. Given that she was a clergyman’s daughter, the sister of two others and the cousin of four more, this study is already enlightening me, revealing how realistically she treats religious figures in her novels, whether Mr Collins or Mr Elton, Edmund Bertram or Mr Tilney.

And that takes me to now. Having just finished Marie Brennan’s fantasy — a wonderful romp which I shall be reviewing (soon, I hope) — I alighted on Henry James’s The Spoils of Poynton. I really wanted to read some James (any James in fact) in 2016, the centenary year of his death; but you can’t do everything, and so it is that this year will mark my first belated sniff at this author’s work.

That’s a typical snapshot of my grasshopper mind, a state that’s when it comes to reading hasn’t changed much since my childhood. Patience, young grasshopper is a injunction that could have applied to me then and, with a change of adjective, still applies now. And you? Do you have a pile of books in different stages of completion, which you’re deliberating over? Or do you finish what you start, with your equivalent of a bedside table relatively free of clutter?


April is nearly over, and like April showers it doesn’t seem to have lasted very long. In that time I’ve reviewed only three books: Jane Austen’s Emma, Joan Aiken’s A Bundle of Nerves and Glenda Leeming’s Who’s Who in Jane Austen and the Brontës (though of course I’ve only dipped into this last title, as it’s primarily a reference book). Poor show. But I have marked April Fool’s Day, Easter, St George’s Day and World Book Night — all in a bookish way — discussed Emma in a series of posts and signalled my progress on demolishing my pile of to-be-read books. So it hasn’t been too inactive a month.