Monday, 26 November 2012

Yule blog (part the first)

Today's blog launches a short but reasonably well-formed series of Christmas book recommendations, which will comprise a mixture of overtly festive titles and those which, through their beauty, shininess or similar qualities, qualify as gifts.

Many years ago, (before the Internet was discovered in a laboratory accident, and we had to discover information by asking the village elder, who would, before divulging anything, recite advertisements from the blacksmith and local shop, unless you'd paid for the Premium Service) I was a rosy-cheeked schoolboy, possessing an interest in writing poetry and a friend who was similarly inclined, (apart from lacking both rosy cheeks and boyness).  The school which we attended, being then a particularly good example of the comprehensive variety, recognised this enthusiasm and encouraged it by arranging our subsidised attendance at a residential course run by the estimable Arvon Foundation.  There are various forms of Arvon course, centred around many different creative endeavours and genres, but ours was one in which, enfolded by the bucolic tranquility of Totleigh Barton in Devon, we wrote and discussed poetry and received feedback and guidance from two professional poets.  The social aspect of these weeks is an integral and important element, although cooking (usually in pairs) for the entire ensemble can be more of a challenge for some students than the writing, and leads to many a stubborn case of Caterers Block.

Both of the tutors for this course, namely Lawrence Sail and John Mole, aside from performing their didactic duties to a very high standard, and in a winning and diplomatic fashion, went on to make positive contributions to my professional life.  John Mole would enliven the bookshop in St. Albans where I worked for many years through various events (he lived in the city and taught in one of its schools), while Lawrence Sail co-edited the subject of this blog, around to which I am finally getting, namely Light Unlocked, an anthology of poems which the writers had enclosed in Christmas cards to their friends or families.  The publisher - Enitharmon Press - was one of many whose books my then employer represented to the book trade, and handling the book would also bring me into contact with the other co-editor, Kevin Crossley-Holland, who reaffirmed my experience that not even the best-known literary figures are immune to being charming and thoroughly nice people.

This is one of those few books which, since first seeing or reading them, I have more or less continuously and with a kind of idiotic intensity and persistence evangelised about to anyone who would or - for that matter - would not listen.  Its heavy gold end-papers, exquisite restraint of design (including elegant and playful engravings by John Lawrence) and selection of poems combine into the perfect anthology.  Buy it now, in bulk, and solve your Christmas present a stroke!  If any of your recipients don't immediately swoon with gratitude, they are not, in any case,  deserving of your acquaintance, so the book will serve a useful secondary function as a friend filter.

The poets range from very well-known literary names to Rowan Willams, and the poetic styles vary accordingly.  I'll leave you with a droll piece of UA Fanthorpe.

Christmas In Envelopes

Monks are at it again, quaffing, carousing;
And stage-coaches, cantering out of Merrie England,
In a flurry of whips and fetlocks, sacks and Santas.

Raphael has been roped in, and Botticelli;
Experts predict a vintage year for Virgins.

From the theologically challenged, Richmond Bridge, 
Giverny, a lugger by moonlight, doves. Ours

Costs less than these in money, more in time;
Like them, is hopelessly irrelevant, 
But brings, like them, the essential message


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