If I could steal anything…

I’d steal a library. Yep, how sad is that? Not the crown jewels, not enough money to live for ever, not the heart of the one I love, I want a library. Every book ever written. I want that library from Beauty and the Beast, ever nook and cranny of my house filled with pages of words, stair cases lined with them, shelf after shelf of classics. Its sad I am aware but I do love my books. I love the escapism. I love the way a new book smells, I love reading a book and not breaking the spine. I love seeing a full bookcase of books I’ve read, of those I’m about too, full of little gems.

There are so many books we never get to read, so many great writers that remain obscure, lost in a vast collection that we don’t appreciate. They could be our new favourite, they could have written that book that we read over and over and over. I’d read every spine, every blurb. If I liked it, read a chapter and if I get into it – keep it. I’d make my library stocked with the books I love, with the stuff I want to read, with the things I find interesting.

From poetry, to fact, from fiction to novella, from romantics to Augustine, Victorian to Georgian, from modernism to american, to Gothic and graphic. Erotica, horror, thriller… I’d want them all. To read and read and read. I sat down and read, for Uni, Rasselas, a novel of Augustine Literature. it was about a man trying to to escape paradise in a hope to discover what life was, what made people happy. They went in search of the rich, the poor, the middle ground, the critics, the philosophers, the poets and the leaders, and they all came to some conclusion.

The overall outcome? we can’t all be happy all the time, but we must try to pursue what does make us happy. I’d want knowledge, to learn, eternally, to not work but sit and learn, read, research, reiterate, rediscover – love. There is nothing more exciting and fulfilling than knowledge that of experience or facts or understanding. Of ancient histories and arts, of society and psychology, of art and science.

I know I sound like a massive English toff. I am no academic, I am not the smartest of my classes nor the most profound. I do not write ground-breaking essays of understand things as well as I should, but I do love to learn, to ponder, to think, to muse, to wonder. It’s in my nature to be inquisitive. I get obsessive over a subject I discover for the first time, I want to know everything, to read everything, to understand, to penetrate its core. I’ve been obsessed with researching serial killers and then psychology behind murders, to suddenly being obsessed with epistemology, the theory of knowledge of how we learn, to the life of 1950’s women post war and then to learning about astronomy.

If I could steal anything, I’d steal a library and lend books forever, share my passion with others, decorate my surroundings with the pages, and submerge myself in a world of poetry and prose.

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Who said Literature students didn’t read…

See now, despite seemingly reading forever at University and yet at the same time, never seeming to complete a book, I”ve been surprised just how many books I’ve read throughout my University Career. Including those for the up and coming term. Reading has always been a passion of mine but to be honest, I always thought I’d slacked off a bit recently, no quite so apparently.

When recalling books I have read, I’ve been amazed at the list, astounded some might say. Not because i’ve read hundreds and fancy a good boast, but how lucky I’ve been to be forced (yes it is forced, however much you like reading) to rattle through some of the greatest books considered ever written, without thinking about it. most of them appear on lists like, Books you must read before you die, and I’ve kinda done most. Cool.

So I thought, I’d share my recent reading with you, I say recent meaning that of the novels and plays I have read since starting University and so far for my third and final (whoopee) year. Why, I don’t know. I guess so if any of you think, I really wanted to read that, well I could say, do, don’t or possibly with caution!

  • Atkinson, Kate Behind the Scenes at the Museum
  • Beckett, S., Waiting for Godot, Endgame
  • Braddon, Elizabeth Mary, Lady Audley’s Secret
  • Brecht, B., Mother Courage
  • Bronte, Charlottte, Jane Eyre
  • Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights
  • Brown, Dan The Da Vinci Code
  • Browning, Robert, Selected Poetry
  • Burney Frances Evelina
  • Burgess, Anthony Clockwork Orange
  • Carroll, Lewis, Alice in Wonderland
  • Chekhov, A., The Cherry Orchard
  • Chopin, Kate, The Awakening.
  • Collins, Wilkie, The Woman in White
  • Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness
  • DefoeDaniel  Moll Flanders
  • Dickens, Charles, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations
  • Ellison, Ralph, Invisible Man
  • Ensler, Eve The Vagina Monologues
  • Equiano, Olaudah  The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
  • Fielding Henry  Tom Jones
  • Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby.
  • Forster, E.M.  A Passage to India
  • Gaskell, Elizabeth, Mary Barton
  • Gay, John Beggar’s Opera
  • Eliot, George, Silas Marner
  • Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land
  • Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, The Yellow Wallpaper
  • Haddon, Mark The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time
  • Haggard, H. R., King Solomon’s Mines
  • Hardy, Thomas, Jude the Obscure
  • Handke, Peter Offending the Audience
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel, The Scarlet Letter.
  • Heller, Joseph, Catch-22.
  • Himes , Chester Cotton Comes to Harlem 
  • Hurston, Zora Neale, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Ibsen, H., Ghosts, A Doll’s House
  • Joyce, J.  Ulysses
  • Kane, Sarah 4.48 Psychosis
  • Kerouac, Jack, On The Road.
  • Kesey, Ken, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  • Kipling, Rudyard  Kim
  • Kureishi,Hanif Intimacy
  • Lanchester, John Mr Phillips
  • Lawrence, D. H. The Rainbow
  • Lee, Harper, To Kill A Mockingbird.
  • McEwan,Ian Atonement
  • Melville, Herman, Moby-Dick.
  • Miller, Arthur; Death of a Salesman, The Crucible; A View from the Bridge,
  • Moore, S.,  In the Cut
  • Morrison, Toni, Beloved.
  • Mosley , Walter Devil in a Blue Dress
  • Nabokov, Vladmir Vladmimirovich Lolita
  • Orwell, George  Burmese Days
  • Pirandello, L., Six Characters in Search of an Author
  • Plath, Sylvia, The Bell Jar.
  • Roth, P.,  Portnoy’s Complaint
  • Shakespeare, William Richard III, Henry V, Othello 
  • Smith,Ali The Accidental
  • Steinbeck, John  Grapes of Wrath
  • Stevenson, Robert L. The Strange Case of  Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Thackeray, William M., Vanity Fair
  • Twain, Mark  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 
  • Walker, Alice Color Purple 
  • Wharton, Edith, The Age of Innocence.
  • Welsh,Irvine Trainspotting
  • Williams, Tennessee; A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Wilson, August; The Piano Lesson
  • Winterson,Jeanette Oranges are not the Only Fruit
  • Woolf, V.  Mrs Dalloway
  • Wilde, Oscar, The Picture of Dorian

The best bit about looking at that is seeing progress. Studying an English degree most of the time, you don’t feel like you’re doing alot. You read alot, you write an essay on some of the stuff you’ve read, you move on, you forget all that is talked about in reference to text, the history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and theoretical concept that are referenced, and discussed in depth within each seminar. Then there’s the secondary reading, the textbooks, journals, the resources, the essays, that you plough on through, its all seemingly forgotten when you move onto your next topic or task. As with everything, its stored somewhere in the back of your minds, and at the end of the year all your have is 8 essays and a piece of paper with your grades.

It does seem a little strange for a degree, the amount of marked work, but it is the same wherever you go. Looking at that makes me insanely happy, I’ve done something these three years, even if its only having read 15,000 pages of primary print.

Someone once said to me, I had a path…

I must’ve been fifteen or sixteen, my brothers girlfriend came around with him bringing a friend. This woman unknown to all the family, came in the house, stood in the hallway for two minutes, promptly started hyperventilating and walked out the front door.

I looked at my brother, my mother at me, to my father, back to me and then we all stared at my brother with a look of wonderment and shock. Who on earth was this and what was she doing in our house. Finally he proceeded to tell the tale of how once he had said, his partners friend, a psychic, yes you heard me right, wanted  to come round, read us all and remove the evil she believed lived in our house.

I could hardly contain my laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation. How could anyone perceive that our house was evil, or we were, because after all, we live in it and I wax pretty sure no one was hiding in the garage, attic or back of the loft space. We asked him what had been said and it would appear nothing, she knew not our names, our jobs, what we did, our ages, education or any minor detail of our life.

It sounded a bit far fetched, otherwise why would she want to come around if she knew nothing but yet, felt an evil then from my brother? He’d always been a  bit of a one but not evil, he hid my teddy as a child, he would tease and torment with friends, but evil, that was a stretch…

So she returned, taking a seat in our small study at the front of the house and demanded my father go first. she asked us not to ask questions or discuss so in and out we all went, silently, giving each other odd looks on passing and not really wanting to say or do anything to upset whatever it was we would be upsetting by conversing, her, probably. I sat and watched my friend have a reading, she talked of the usual, her life was good, what she was to e, what she had been, how her life was panning out, her good soul, good heart, all the stuff you’d expect. When she finished, she ushered the girl out of the room and turned to me.

My turn. I moved over and took her seat, she eyed me for what seems like an eternity before asking me, ‘why?’ I stare quite blankly, not knowing if I have missed something, zoned out or what not, had a I telepathically relayed to her how ridiculous this all seemed? Not a believer but not not believing the situation seemed bizarre to me.

‘Why’, she repeated again. I asked, ‘why, did I want a reading? Why, why what?’ Before she smiled, ‘why destroy yourself so?’ It struck me as an odd thing to say, and before I had time to comment she held my hands and said ‘shh’ before continuing. ‘You are torturing yourself, tormenting yourself for a life you cannot understand for ills that have been done to you and yet you blame yourself, you are choosing this path, this destruction, soon it will destroy you, you’ll stay on it as long as you feel until, well, until you fall off it or you never recover.’

I stared at her blankly, what an earth was she getting at… she changed tact. ‘You’re an old soul although you knew that, because you knew things beyond your years, things you couldn’t understand, you have a knowledge of life, a perception unknown to people of your age and yet you are so young, you know what I’m saying to you, hear me, hear me in your soul, let yourself forgive yourself, forgive your tormentors and move on, don’t destroy yourself. You have much good, much intelligence but your are mad, mad with grief, with anger, with something you cannot understand. let it go.’

With that she proceeded to fall into silence, holding my hands and humming. I have never in my life felt so ill at ease in my own home and confused. Yes so I was a little mature for my age, did that mean I was reborn into this body… yes I was a little crazed and somewhat depressed but, mad, clinically and incurably mad? And as for this path, well I had no idea I was on a path, yet now even if I am and it will destroy me, how on earth will I get off?

With that she let go of my hands, shook her head, said be careful child and ushered me out of the room. This experience has perplexed me for many years and somewhat confused me as a person who prides themselves on deep thinking and understanding, and if I don’t making sure I research it till I do.

The idea that our life is somehow preplanned by a past we can not remember nor recollect, nor understand or be influenced by in anything but a subliminal level, not only scares me but upsets me greatly. surely we are in control of our own lives, how can we be the same person as was someone else, a maid in a rich house in Victorian England, a washer woman in Georgian London, a teacher in the stuarts… How was that possible. I had a Buddhist understanding of reincarnation but in the western world, it seemed unknown, unheard of and completely unrelated to me.

I have as I said been confused by this ever since, yet it has not changed my life nor my opinions, or I think altered the route I have taken. I wish I could now, some seven years on, see if I was off my path of destruction, if I’d managed to jump onto my ‘path of enlightenment  and fulfil my role in this life’. My reason for relating all of this is simply, it interests me and perplexes me. I do not believe it, and yet I know nothing of the world that she supposedly inhibits so therefore, how can I really comment.

The idea of life being predictable, predestined and pre-written in my opinion, takes away all that life is, a journey of possibilities, of endless choices and routes that we can take. We write our own future as we do our past, we choose what profession, what educational route, who we love, who we meet, make friends with, keep, how we interact with people, whether we have a change of heart, career, whether we have a mid-life crisis. Its all up to us to some degree, its our life, its our choice. That for me is what makes life so much fun, so interesting, the endlessness of possibilities and promises, of experience and understanding.

As for my path of destruction, well yes I’ve had a rough few years for a youngster, but I’m also infinitely proud of them, for I came through the other end, with I hope the same grace I entered in with, with a bit more experience and a fuller open heart for the real things in life. So, if that was my path, to be tested and pass, well in my opinion I have.

I cant understand palmists, tarot readers, psychics, all of the other world, the supernatural, as for me, its beyond my world of comprehension. Whatever life is, however it plays out, whatever lies beneath this surface of reality and life as we understand it, if anything beyond darkness and rotting and rest, well, I hope I maintain the feeling of freedom, the same mind set, the impression of having a choice, for if not, what is the point but to trudge along mindlessly, and what a dismal world that would be.

So I say as I always do, lets find our own paths, lets carve our own route through the world, and our lives, lets choose to be the best people we can be, to have the most impact on the world and others for the positive, lets be all that we can be and lets leave the unknown to rest.

The Black Destruction of Words…

As writers we all want to create something new, something poignant, something funny, something heartfelt, something honest…We strive to find that perfect phrasing, that sentence that says more in a few words than a paragraph could. We want clarity, perfection – drama.

We strive to delete all the unnecessary words, to strip back to what’s not needed to what simply is. It’s a hard task. Then there’s the inspiration. Where to start, how to draw together an idea from the hundreds of bubbling brooding thoughts of our mind.

What if, there was a way of using another’s work, and creating something, totally unique, unrelated to what was there before, that brings life, colour and meaning to a piece of work. Well, I introduce, Black out poetry.

Created by Austin Kleon, the idea is simple. Take a newspaper, find an article. Do not read it, do not spend time working through the article, do not try to force something out of it that is already there… Find a word – A phrase – something that stands out. It could and probably should be random, something that stands out to you. Skim for related words, words that fit the idea or the topic, the mood you’ve already chosen. Get a marker pen. Heres the fun bit… Draw around your chosen words, link the words across the page, and create something ingenious.

It sounds easy, but it’s a skill, a talent and something that will take time. Everyone can do it, but its a new way of working and as we all know, it takes a little time to adjust. When your little poems formed, black out everything else. Wipe the page clean so its only your words, your work that stands out against the darkness. You’ve made your first poem.

Blackout poetry provides a great starting point for all poets, writers and those who enjoy literature in general. It gets your creative flow going, it allows in the shortest of time to create something unique from something plain, bland – the pages of a newspaper. You can use the poem as inspiration for a longer piece of writing, to adapt into an epic poem or simply, to hold on its own, as its own piece of art.

The best thing about Newspaper Blackout is simply, you can do it anywhere. Over a morning coffee, on the train to and from work, in bed when you can’t sleep, in any spare five minutes you have a day. We all know of five-minute exercises that are supposed to keep us in touch with our creativity and help our writing, but what better way to do it than to, force something from our minds and get stressed about that five minutes. Sit back, relax, and just do it.

Austin Kleon is to me, a hero in his own right. A figurehead for the generation of writers that are finding more creative ways to be, well, creative. To find art in the profoundest of places, to work with something that’s already there, to reinvent the written word and poem.

Stealing! I hear you say… How can something be creative, be individual, be unique, when you’ve stolen someone else words, when you’ve had no hand in the writing itself. If you’re still of this mind, you’ve missed the point of Blackout completely. Its recreating not reiterating. You aren’t working with something already there and condensing, your finding something new, something hidden, amongst the garble of corporate wording.

Now I’ll admit, I’m not that great. I’m hardly the next and newest Blackout poet, ready to set your minds alight and show you examples of brilliance but you know, its a new hobby. Its something exciting and more importantly, its something I enjoy. Why not give it a go, and see what you may discover, lost and found on your favourite broadsheet.

To get a better idea of what I’m talking about check out, Austin Kleon’s book “Blackout Poetry” or http://newspaperblackout.com/ for examples and ideas to inspire you all. The best thing about the website, you can post your own works, and if your lucky (such as my friend and colleague at Uni) Austin may just reblog it himself as a fine example, of just what he wanted to achieve.

But why stop at newspapers. Think of the possibility, every old book you hate, those long-winded Victorian epics that bored you silly, wouldn’t you like to destroy the text and create something, brilliant? A journal, a pamphlet, an old novel, a horoscope… The opportunities are endless. Suddenly every word ever written can be recreated, redesigned, reinvented, recreated.

We always say how can you write something new when everything’s been written once before? Well… start with the stuff that has been done, and find your own magic within…

Every book is an artefact.

Literature. The lifeblood of a nation, one of the true representations of our life, our current economy, our society, our… reality. Its stands to represent the thoughts and feelings of a nation. From the upper classes, to the lower, with popular culture and the start of the serial press back in Victorian Era, literature has come to be something we can all appreciate and reflect upon.

So why is it so important? Well, like all the arts, it’s a way of preserving our time. Think back to the Victorians, without the emergence of the popular serialised publishing by the new middle class, we would know nothing of the strife and struggle for the lower classes, the working conditions, the sense of the time they lived in. We wouldn’t understand the emergence of the middle class, it wouldn’t be, documented by those high brow writers we cherish. Victorian Literature that’s studied now is just that sort, the sort that focuses on the sociological and economical England of the time.

Every literature tells you something, ever written piece of prose, a thought, a doodle. Think of notes from a class, they reveal the voice of that age, their issues, their humour, the individuals perspective, their worries, which relates to the bigger picture. You get a note from a thirteen year old saying they’d love to do someone, well you can tell that the younger generations are sexually active, grown up, independent. It tells you something about the people of our time.

So why are we so concerned with the canon, the literary on that is. Of the high brow critics the writers that changed our nation, of Shelley and Joyce, of Hemingway and Shakes, of Woolf and Keats – because they wrote something revolutionary, the changed the course of the literature, they made a difference to our heritage or culture in someway with its representation of it. But don’t all authors do that.

A romance novel, concerned with a young woman trying to find herself and her lovers, husband the one. It shows the emotional state, talks of romance and love, of all the clichés we’ve heard a thousand times. Yet it does something more than that, so much more. It tells you about gender, about representations of the Masculine and Feminine in our time, it represents ideologies, so engrained within our culture, we write within them without realising or thought. It  tells you about what’s popular, what our nation is reading and why, about escapism, about a world which doesn’t reflect the romantic parallel we’ve made up. It explores the idea of anyone being able to write, about women writers, about their role within Literature during our time, our representation and restraints on society.

Erotica, a genre we might not normally consider. It represents our culture, open and accepting, or sexuality and the importance of sexual desire and freedom. It shows a nation willing and participating in the voicing of certain fetishes, of difference, of individualism, of self-expression. It represents issues of self-esteem, of freedom, of wanting to escape the norm, of fantasy. It shows relationships and the way we interact with one another, as sexes, within our gender constructs. All from one titillating tale of the plumber and the girl next door… But that’s just my point.

Everything we read is having an effect on us, its transcribing and voicing all these little details that we soak up and process without realising. It helps to broaden our understanding of our world, of ourselves, our society and our individualism. It challenges us with philosophy, sociology, psychology, politics, history and theoretical concepts. It imparts knowledge and understanding, opening our minds to new prospects, ideas and vocabulary.

Literature, every literature, is valuable. It should be saved and recorded, studied or enjoyed. In an age of technology we must not lose the written word, to online uploads and computer software. Books, the smell of the them, the feel of a hard back, of soft covers, of the pages, should always remain. What if we become so advanced, we lose books? We lose reading in all sense of the word, we simply get to a time where we download a book into our brains and we’ve read it instantly. The process of reading, of time out, of learning and the enjoyment of the journey would be lost. Its far-fetched I know, but its true. Reading is a learning process and one we must sustain and encourage.

Literature and every art form, represent us. Individually, because we fit into the grander schemes of society, of women and men and gender, of sexuality, of a nation, of a species, and therefore we are engaged with it. Lets not segregate ourselves from our world and heritage. lets read and enjoy, immerse ourselves in the brilliant minds and imaginations of others, enjoy each word, syllable and phrase for what it is – a journey through someone else’s eyes, a discovery of ourselves and an experience of our culture.