Recommended Reading (3)

Here are 2 non-fiction pieces written this month: a blog post by my good writer and editor friend Seymour Jacklin, and an insightful article by poet Sarah Fletcher. (Previous: ‘Recommended Reading (1)‘, ‘Recommended Reading (2)‘)

1. ‘The Secret Language of Twigs‘ by Seymour Jacklin (12 December 2014 / non-fiction)

Seymour’s impressive depth of knowledge is at work here; yet he deftly combines it with a creative playfulness that results in a profound, fascinating and entertaining examination of what mere sticks can tell you, the stories they reveal. His post takes the act (or art) of observation to the next level, finding twigs and branches typically ignored and stepped upon when walking in the woods, and prescribing various interpretations to their unique forms.

Beech, elder, ash, hazel—each species is special, each suggests new ways of viewing life. Interspersed with appropriate quotations from Herbert, Kierkegaard, the Bible and Shakespeare, there are also references to YouTube, Bantu cosmology, Scandinavian runes, the Greek and Hebrew alphabets, and Saint Francis. There’s much to take away from Seymour’s beautifully-written post.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes:

The Third Way

lomogram_2014-12-12_06-42-57-pm— lest we forget that choices are not always ‘either/or’. If I find myself trying to decide between two things, the question I often forget to ask is: “Is there a third way?”

Other people often present us with an either/or, forestalling our capacity to step back and think creatively whether there’s a potential we’ve missed. That third way may even be to do nothing.


waw– the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, whose pictographic meaning is ‘hook’ or peg.

As the very simplest single stroke of a pen or brush, this letter shape has been associated with one-ness and, as a sinuous curve from top to bottom, it has also been taken to represent the flow of revelation from heaven to earth.

I think the idea of ‘unity’ encompasses its meaning very well: flowing together, once again, between air and earth, my feet of clay and my wings of aether. All that I do belongs to flying or digging and the art of living is to do both at once: to pray as I work.

Isn’t that beautiful? I love that line.

All that I do belongs to flying or digging and the art of living is to do both at once: to pray as I work.

There are many more gems to be found, so have a read. There’s bound to be something you can take away. I only have one qualm with the last sentence of this passage:

a rainbow is never just a rainbow. It has to mean something. Stories are fables, and planets are gods and goddesses, and homes are castles, and every picture tells a story, and a girl tucking a wisp of hair behind her ear actually fancies you. (emphasis mine)

Every girl I take a fancy to seems to do this very gesture yet nothing further ever materialises…

This is Seymour. Look at that magnificent beard.

About the author: I owe it to Seymour for instigating me to begin this blog with his ‘blog hop’ post which then resulted in my own ‘Blog Hop‘ post. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Seymour over this past year while in Durham, UK. A massively talented writer and editor, his creative mind, his caring heart and sincerity have all served as inspirations. His main project is a podcast called Stories from the Borders of Sleep, which is a delightful collection of ‘curious tales and fantastical fables’. He has also been involved in compiling and editing two children’s books (There’s Something In The Water and Mr Minotaur’s Minor Tour) written by 300 & 200 children from 10 & 8 primary schools in Durham city, respectively, as part of a project called One Big Story. Check him out at his website where he blogs regularly, Twitter (he links to the most interesting articles) and Goodreads. Oh, and he’s a mean tin whistle player, have a listen: SoundCloud.

2. ‘He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss: Sarah Fletcher on the dark poetics of Lana Del Rey‘ by Sarah Fletcher (22 December 2014 / non-fiction)

Sarah Fletcher’s post is about feminism, but not in the way you might expect. It is ultimately about (in her own words) ‘ethics when adopting voices in art, the artist’s right to depict taboo emotions and situations, and the problems that come with imposing reductive politics positions on to art.‘ It will make you ponder the issues of creative licences and artistic freedom, and the extent to which an artist has (or not) the responsibility for the influence of one’s work. And she does this by examining the controversial responses to Lana Del Rey’s album Ultraviolence and her own poem ‘Kraut Girl‘.

UltraviolenceLDRShe describes the backlash against Ultraviolence and poses an important question and statement:

The album was deemed as disempowering, as promoting regressive gender roles, and even as misogynistic by some. It all sparked the question: what is art for anyway if we interpret it as a public service announcement? Viewing art in these narrow terms takes away the purposes of art: to express oneself, to disturb, to raise questions.

Indeed, if art, as a cathartic and essential form of human expression—which no one can deny stems from lives extremely complex and much more deeply-layered than we often wish it to be—is easily suppressed by a society who thinks they have it all figured out, something is very, very wrong.

She further addresses the issue of adopting a voice not particularly your own, defending artists (including herself) who are brave enough to cover unfamiliar ground, who give voices to those unable to speak:

To make good art, one should not need to show a CV of personal credentials proving they have the relevant experience and hence the right to talk about certain taboo subjects. Having the empathy, depth, and pathos to bring life to a voice that’s not your own is a sign of talent.

To confine an artist’s stretch of narrative work to their own life is to dismiss entire vaults of inspiration, to restrict their own abilities as an author.

I’ll admit, a lot of my work is influenced by personal experiences, but I would hate to think I couldn’t write anything that deviated even slightly from actual events and emotions I underwent. If such a thing is tragically enforced and implemented (hmm, this could make an interesting premise for a story…), we might as well all write autobiographies and memoirs. But what if your life is offensive to others? A never-ending cycle. The conclusion is all too apparent: we can’t please everybody, so there’s no point in trying. (But understand, I do highly value respecting others—but people-pleasing does not equate with showing respect.)

She also cheekily adds in a plug (which I too will help publicise) for her upcoming pamphlet of poems Kissing Angels which will be published by Dead Ink in March 2015—and ends on a convincing note which I wholeheartedly agree with:

Kissing Angles, like Lana Del Rey’s contentious music, like all art, is about expression. It is not a public service announcement. It is not passing judgement. And I do not wish it to be.

7f0a8b7dafd6e76fddc6651a448b589bAbout the author: (from her official biography) Sarah Fletcher is an American-British poet currently studying English Literature at Durham University. (Yes, that’s my degree and uni. No, unfortunately I haven’t met her.) She received The Christopher Tower Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2013 (placing first, and then second) and 2012 was a Foyle Young Poet of the Year. She was commended in The Stephen Spender Poetry Prize and shortlisted for The Bridport Prize. She has been published in The London Magazine (where she made her literary debut at fourteen), The Cadaverine, Ink Sweat & Tears, and other magazines, as well as anthologies from Eyewear Press and The Emma Press. She has read at Royal Festival Hall and The Institute of Contemporary Arts, lectured at The University of Kent, and had her work displayed at the Olympic Park and The Poetry Café. Sarah is most recently looking forward to an upcoming pamphlet publication. Follow her on Twitter here.


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