Saturday, 29 August 2009

Book Fair Junkie: THE MAGIC CIRCLE

(by Katherine Neville, 1998)

I'm still trying to figure out how it is that this book hasn't had the success of the Da Vinci Code. It's an absolutely brilliant intriguing thriller, and is much richer in content. If I had to compare the two, I'd say that the Da Vinci Code was eau de toilette, while this book is essential oil - thick with historical and mythical detail, rich and overpowering and overwhelming .. I LOVED it. I liked Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code too, don't get me wrong (although I preferred Angels and Demons) but as a person who really loves stories and words, I found this book far more satisfying.

It gave me glimpses into the lives and stories of so many historic figures - Jesus, Nero, Alexander, Genghis Khan, Hitler - to name just a few. It took me through times and cultures - ancient Greek mythology, ancient Greek history, early Christianity, the Roman Empire, Nordic legend, the Anglo Saxons, Nazism, the Cold War .. I went to Russia, Jerusalem, Rome, Scotland, Vienna, Paris, London, Syria .. so many little delicious side dishes. And through it all there was a story of adventure and intrigue, romance, treasure hunting, code breaking. It was like one of those really good chocolate chip cookies where the cookie part is delicious and chewy, and every bite has just the right amount of chocolate chips. Hell, it was more than just one cookie. It was a FEAST. It's been a while since I read such a satiating book! Which is probably why I keep comparing it to food: I felt very well fed by the time I finished it!

So how come there is no storm about this book? I think one reason it hasn't had the same commercial success is that it would be harder to make a movie of. And also that the print is smaller .. DVC is like fast food, this book is a nice satisfying meal for people who really like to read. Then there's the hero - it's a girl. And perhaps the touchy subjects it touches - or rather, prods - all the religions and "isms". And finally, the name: The Magic Circle. I'm not sure why, but I feel this is the wrong title for this book! But if you come across it, don't judge it by its cover, pick it up and take it home! I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Friday, 7 August 2009

I happen to write

Last night, while reading a book on writing poetry, I discovered that in this beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, he had placed exactly five stressed words per line. I checked it for myself, and was amazed. It had never struck me before, the difference it makes, and I now want to go back to my old poems and see if what I consider my better ones, have a similar discipline in the stressed words. I have a feeling they will.

After reading two chapters of the book, I felt almost obliged to do some writing, and this is what I came up with.

I happen to write poetry for unsuspecting hearts
and tug them quite unknowingly down half forgotten roads.

Will my words remind you of what you were and weren't?
What you left behind you, or what you left unsaid?

(written on 6 August 2009, 11.20 p.m.)

Another thing I learnt yesterday from this book, was that in English, words tend to be either Latinate (e.g. residence, embrace) or Germanic (e.g. house, hug) and that there is a different flavour to each: the Latinate can sound more philosophical or highbrow, the Germanic more familiar and comfortable. Looking at my poem now, I'm wondering now if the first part is more Latinate and the second part Germanic.

I've never studied poetry this way before - as in looking at form, technique, metre. I find it fascinating. Perhaps good poetry needs to be more than personal expression and fancy words, to be an art form. A lot of my earlier poems - and perhaps most people's early poems - are an outpouring of teenage angst: all expression, but very little technique, that keeps them from becoming really good poems.

I used to think that a poem was a poem and that once you wrote it down, that was it. Then a friend and fellow writer shared this gem with me: poems, like any other form of writing, do need need editing and refining. That made a difference in the quality of the poems I presented (thank you, Rory!) and now, with this new book and what I learn from it, I hope to go further. Could it be that the challenge of structure, of fitting the rights words into the right places - without sacrificing expression - is perhaps what makes some poems stand out, and others remain in the pages of a teenager's diary?

I'm excited by all this! So you may see some of my older poetry reworked and re-presented here on the blog. And, I hope, more and more new poetry. If you like what you read, send your friends this way, share my work with others. That's the whole point.

And if you have written poetry, scrawled in an old school notebook, dig it out! You may find that an old, possibly somewhat embarrassing piece of poetry is really just the seed of something greater. And write on, write on .. keep writing. You don't need to wait for angst before you pick up your pen.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Silver linings.

I've been cooped up at home, dealing with the side-effects of my new medicines, one of which is feeling totally spaced out. As a result, I haven't driven my dear little car for about a month. So for yesterday's visit to the doctor, I travelled by auto-rickshaw, and that gave me the opportunity to look around me as I went to the doctor's and back. Not just see, but LOOK. And that gave me a lovely little bunch of snippets. Kind of like picking wildflowers, except that this is India, and the pickings are, well, Indian.

I read some interesting signs and graffiti:
"Waterproofing the nation since 1955" (proudly displayed above a small and rather nondescript establishment)
"MINDBLOGGING OFFER!" (on a shop that sold car accessories)
"We needs a republic in Nepal" (a thin sad scrawl on a wall)

I smelt some interesting smells:
The sweetness of pastries as I passed a bakery.
Somewhat disturbing and hugely overpowering odour of alcohol as I sat in the doctor's waiting room. Brought back memories of vodka.
Cigarette smoke (always delicious but not so pleasing when I am stuck in a waiting room and daren't pop out for a fag in case my turn comes up while I'm out).
Stale urine as I walked down to a bookshop after I finished with the doctor (pretty standard in this nation of men with small bladders and bad toilet training. I'm learning not to walk too close to the wall-end of pavements. )

I saw some interesting people:
A little old lady seated pillion on a scooter, resting her head on the broad shoulders of her brawny son, at a traffic light.
A Hindu priest, robed in brilliant saffron, beard, beads and all, with a nice suede pair of loafers on his feet (no socks).
Children (well, they're just plain interesting no matter what they do).

Why I am sharing this on my blog, I'm not sure. Perhaps to point out that life, even the mundane parts of it, doesn't have to be boring. And to remind myself that inspite of the inconvenience, bumpiness and pollution I encounter in an auto rickshaw - as opposed to driving myself comfortably in an air-conditioned car) - there are silver linings everywhere.

The side effects of my medicines should wear off in a few more days, and I'll soon be back to zipping around everywhere in my car. Or will I? Perhaps I should be taking an auto rickshaw once in a while, just to capture some of what I'd miss when I'm at the wheel.

I've just realised why I'm putting all this on my blog. If I'd been out picking wildflowers, I'd have come home and put them in a bowl of water, to enjoy for longer.