Every week, we shine the light on a book from our collection – one which is new to the library, which has been particularly enjoyed by a borrower, recommended by a volunteer, or which seems salient to the week’s events or happenings. This is the archive of past books of the week for your perusal, allowing you to explore books in our collection we’ve highlighted in the past.

 

2018

 

7-13 December: Christmas Lights: Ten Poems for Dark Winter Nights

 

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We are well and truly into December now and the world is starting to feel a bit smaller. Getting out of bed in the morning is an Olympic sport, you look up at 4pm and notice it’s already dark, and the drizzle. Oh, the drizzle. But whatever you celebrate this season, there can be something comforting about the end of the year. Things wind down, there is a lethargy that means you can totally get away with being in your pyjamas at 6pm, and best of all, Christmas lights. And with those Christmas lights, these Ten Poems for Dark Winter Nights, collected and published by Candlestick Press.

This little collection twinkles and charms like Christmas lights. Each poem opens like an advent calendar window on a little world, a snapshot of someone’s winter, capturing hubbub and excitement, serenity and reflection. We see glimpses of the Northern Lights, taste the sugar of gingerbread and Jamaican sugarcane, hear the almost-silent, bright scoring of an ice-skate slicing across a frozen lake, and try not to cry reading the story of a father’s love as he collects tiny things from his factory to fill a matchbox for his child’s school project: a perfect, poignant Christmas gift.

Yes, it’s cold, and we pine for long days and leaving the house without 5 layers of wool. But this collection is the ideal reminder of what is so wonderful about this time of year, bursting with heart-swelling stories which twinkle and glow, filling your chest with gratitude, peace, and the promise that we’ll survive another winter yet.

 


 

 30 November-6 December: Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson

 

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I really believe that poetry is making a resurgence these days. Running a library dedicated to poetry, I sometimes get asked why I’m bothering: isn’t poetry dusty and boring? Isn’t it just irrelevant dead men talking about daffodils? Isn’t it just obscure and indulgent? But I believe that poetry is making a resurgence and it is becoming an entirely different beast than it ever has been. Poetry that is really reaching people these days – by Rupi Kaur, Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest – is confessional and direct and raw, often by people from backgrounds who are not typically represented in the poetry world: people of colour, women, queer people. Andrea Gibson, and their new collection ‘Lord of the Butterflies‘ (published by Button Poetry), is part of this. It is poetry that reaches people, packs a punch, and feels absolutely relevant.

Poetry about love, loss, life, and death is nothing new. But these big topics are met with Gibson’s skill and delicate detail to create accounts of them which feel at once so familiar and yet very specific. “Ivy,” for instance, recounts an evening with an ex-lover spent as friends, long after the relationship has ended: the pain and discomfort and alienation of being close but not close, the grief of accepting that distance. “Tincture” describes how the soul misses the body when a human dies, sharing anecdotes with the stars about what it’s like to be embodied: “Tell us again about goosebumps. Tell us again about pain.” These are cleverly, tenderly evoked moments which touch on things quite universal.

There are no manufactured happy endings in these poems. Sadness isn’t raised to be resolved – and yet the poems are shot through with hope. The subjects are often dark, but the tone is one of shared experience, of a hand reaching out. In one poem, addressed to a suicidal friend, Gibson concludes, “what i want most is to live / the rest of my life desperately / wanting to live it. i want to give that to you.” Their poem, Living Proof (which you can see performed here) describes our veins as “strings / tied to other people’s kites.” A yearning for connection is palpable in these poems, reaching across the void to shake you and say LIVE.

A poem about the Orlando nightclub shooting describes the first responders on the scene calling out, “If you are alive, raise your hand,” while Gibson sleeps in a hotel in the Midwest: “I imagine in that exact moment / my hand twitched in my sleep, / some unconscious part of me aware / that I had a pulse, / that I was alive.” This, too, is poetry which is very, very alive.

 

 


23-29 November: Second Place Rosette: Poems About Britain

 

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that there’s been quite a lot about Britain in the news lately. With the deal for Brexit under debate, tensions running high about the country’s future, and a lot of uncertainty in the air, it’s easy to forget that we’re all just a bunch of mammalian humanoid creatures crawling about on a rock somewhere between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. This is a book about those creatures.

Whatever your politics, it’s impossible to deny that Britain is a place of vast diversity. Second Place Rosette: Poems about Britain (published by The Emma Press) is a fantastic window into that diverse and various world, the traditions, people and lives we have in this here country. It finds the realities under the cartoonish picture of Britain as land of Union Jacks, bunting, and roast beef, uncovering with meticulous attention to detail a year in the life of modern Britain.

The anthology is divided into months, with a range of poets represented, giving a rich cross-section throughout the year of British culture (and the cultures which maybe were not born in Britain, but thrive here). Vignettes range from wellie-wanging, the Mehndi ceremony the night before a wedding, a “chilly, wet July afternoon” at the seaside, workmen on a fag-break seen from a train, the almost holy ritual of blackberry-picking and its artifacts of “gritty juice and dotted-line scratches”. One poem captures this overlap of cultures, a list-poem by Maryam Hessavi consisting of the most iconic images of British childhood: “loo-roll telescopes”, “Wagon Wheels x3 (on sale)”, “channels One to Four”, “Vimto; ‘hot or cold’?”, and finishes, “we all get home for eid.”

The anthology even features a cameo from our own dear Alan Buckley, local Oxford poet, on the Abbots Bromely Horn Dance. For the uninitiated, this is ancient tradition involving dancing, reindeer horns, and a pig’s bladder, which dates back to the middle ages and still happens today in a village in Staffordshire. It’s an unusual ritual, but then so is wellie-wanging. Eccentricity is going strong in this country.

The poems collected here are dense with delightful quirkiness and mixed feelings and stiff-upper-lipism. There’s something familiar, at once comforting and unsettling about the whole collection, like sinking into a luke-warm bath. It is an anthology showcasing resilience, the affection, pride, and shame, the curious rituals which make up Britain today. But above all, the people who live here. And that’s something to celebrate.

 


 

17-22 November: Out of Range by Nick Drake

 

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With last month’s major UN climate report holding very little good news, recent local campaigns against fracking, and some environmental crisis reported every other day, it’s hard to avoid the reality of the Anthropocene. For the uninitiated, the Anthropocene is our current geological age: the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. That’s right, we’ve meddled and consumed and multiplied so much that we have indelibly shifted the geological time period into a new age.

Poetry isn’t always the first thing people think of in response to climate change and the environment. Yes, there’s nature poetry which declares the beauty of daffodils and rainbows or a rusted gate in a country field, and that has its place, but there’s something a little bit outdated about it. We need poetry for the Anthropocene. And Nick Drake brings us just that in his brand new collection Out of Range, published by Bloodaxe Books.

With poems about the fatberg which festered under London, recounting the life-cycle of a plastic bottle, homelessness on the fringes of urban life, you might think this collection could make for anxious reading.  But Drake’s lyricism and dexterity weaves together the whole complex tapestry of emotions surrounding modern life. Yes, there is frustration and despair, but there is also a delight in the strangeness and  flux of the modern world. There is joy taken in watching a bicycle courier zooming through red lights (shout out to friends of the library Pedal & Post!), the dark mystery and curiosity as a new fatberg coalesces under London streets, the alienation of losing phone signal on a remote hilltop.

This is absolutely modern poetry, at once haunting and unsettling, but in other places funny and moving. It weaves together these various strands of wonder and horror and in so doing, captures the confusion we all live with as we navigate the planet as human animals in the 21st century.

 


 

9-16 November: Onyx Magazine I: Dawn

 

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Okay so it’s not a ‘book,’ exactly, but did you know our collection also contains a whole range of magazines, zines and periodicals? They are often beautifully crafted, often ultra-local collections of poetry and more, often a cross-section of delights for a certain audience, season, theme, type of poetry… – and they are often the most interesting way to get a snapshot of the poetry world as it currently exists.

Onyx Magazine is no exception. Yes, it ticks the boxes of being ultra local and beautifully crafted, but it is also a much-needed response to the widespread coverage of how Oxford University engages with race. And it is an answer that comes from the students themselves. The first issue of Onyx, a publication which showcases the voices of British students with African and Caribbean heritage masterminded by poets Theophina Gabriel and Serena Arthur, is gorgeous – from its sleek, minimalist cover, to the explosion of colour and multiple strong voices between its pages. The first piece in the issue, a sort of epigram, proclaims with almost biblical gravitas: “We put our ears to the ground; heard the unheard voices, saw the unseen eyes, felt the hearts beating with stories untold.” What follows is the exuberance and strength of those many hearts and voices.

The issue is split into three sections: astornomical, nautical, and civil dawn, and the poetry, art, essays, and short stories throughout interpret and reinterpret what this means: discovery, birth, creation, love, rebellion, courage, hope, memory, vulnerability… There are brave steps to sharing intimate experiences, unapologetic expression and exploration of Black history and culture (including an interview with Pamela Roberts), there is beauty and craft and the 88 pages overflow with vibrant words and image.

This is the dawning of a new and important platform, an inspiration which bears out the founder’s words in her opening editorial: “If you can’t find a space, make one.”

 


 

2-8 November: Wild Beauty by Ntozake Shange

 

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Last week, the playwright and poet and Ntozake Shange died at the age of 70. We celebrate her work this week with the final collection she released before her death, Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems of Ntozake Shange. The collection includes some of her early work written in the 70s, and some new – her poetry exploring race, feminism, evoking moments from her childhood cooking greens with her grandma, to reflecting on her own gay daughter in the context of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

Her style is shot through with a confidence of expression – the poems very much in her own voice, often with irregular, phonetic spellings, often in conversational style. Born ‘Paulette Williams’, Shange changed her name following a severe bout of depression to Ntozake (“she who has her own things” in Xhosa) and Shange (“who walks with lions” in Zulu). Her poetry bears this out in her work which is powerfully feminist, with a profound ownership of her own self-expression. Reading her poems is often a visceral experience: as she says in her preface “Writing is so physical. Words pummel or caress.”

Importantly, each poem is accompanied with a Spanish translation by Alejandro Alvarez Nieves, which is fascinatingly and sensitively done. The text contains a preface in which Nieves talks of how he deals with Shange’s irregularities and experimentations with language, slang nuances, capturing how language can communicate class, race, culture as well as her use of informal spelling to reproduce phonetics. This has all been taken into account in the Spanish, and having the Spanish and English side by side leads to an interesting reading experience. Shange’s singular voice is amplified and multiplied by seeing her writing laid out in another language.

And it is the clarity of that voice which is most striking. Powerful and unapologetically vernacular, it also manages to be consistently accessible. The language is simple and direct, the ideas (even if unfamiliar) are laid out in a way that builds empathy and understanding. Shange was a woman who fought long and hard, dreamt and believed and insisted. In the poem ‘five’ she implores ‘whoever ya wanna be take it/ in yourself / & rock/ rock/ rrrrockkkk / yr own baby”. Shange did just that. She was a self-made woman, making herself who she wanted to be – the woman who has her own things, who walks with lions.

She addresses her preface to “the colored people on the face of the earth”: ‘Here our voices and lyric are made clear. Our mothers’ stretch marks, merely memories of our beginnings. Please come with me now and know our worlds, as I know them. We can do it. We are remarkable.”

Amen to that.

 


 

26 October – 1 November: If I Talked Everything My Eyes Saw

 

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October is Black History Month here in the UK so this month we will be featuring some of the most amazing black poets in our collection…

Natacha Bryan’s If I Talked Everything My Eyes Saw, published by Gatehouse Press is a slim but incredibly rich collection, a dense snapshot of Bryan’s world which weaves together her upbringing in south London, her Jamaican ancestry, and captures Black experiences beyond her own – from jazz musicians like Christian Scott, to the Black Americans who were committed to Crownsville, an early 20th century American mental institution.

She writes in the vernacular – Jamaican dialect and phonetic spellings which immerse the reader immediately in her world – and embeds in each poem so much history and culture. “Salt”, for instance, draws on the storytelling of a figure named ‘Sister Dixon’ who relates the development of the Rastafari movement. The poem uses the folktale’s vignettes and turns of phrase, woven together, chopped and changed so that while the essence remains, the poem also becomes something quite different: an exploration of trauma and communication.

The bravery and varied energies of this collection makes Natacha Bryan an exciting emerging voice, one full of magic, healing, and memory.

 


 

20 – 25 October: The Essential Etheridge Knight

 

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October is Black History Month here in the UK so this month we will be featuring some of the most amazing black poets in our collection…

 

Our second poet is Etheridge Knight, and this collection from University of Pittsburgh Press which selects his work from his first three books, plus some newer works, The Essential Etheridge Knight. His poetry is embedded in the African-American oral tradition, is vernacular and rhythmic, soaked in bluesy subject matter and the very real suffering of black people in America. Often uncomfortable reading, Knight pulls no punches in writing from his own experiences. As a teenager, he joined the army and fought in Korea. He was wounded by shrapnel and was sent home with an injury that led to drug addiction. He was eventually imprisoned for robbery, and it was in prison where he started writing poetry. He says, “I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound, and narcotics resurrected me. I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life.”

Knight’s poetry is deft in drawing oblique (and not-so-oblique) parallels between imprisonment and slavery, and his poetry is highly evocative of the desperation and boredom and frustration of that environment. But what is most affecting in his poetry is the honesty. The bitter, cathartic misery of ‘Feeling Fucked Up,’ the suffocating depression of the “sea in me” in ‘Belly Song’, a poem which “is a song / I sing / I sing / to you / from the bottom / of the sea / in my belly”. These are raw expressions of the darkest corners of human experience.

But there is also love, gentleness, and tenderness: ‘Green Grass and Yellow Balloons’ is a poem for Alexandria Keller, a four year old, about her poem about “green grass / and yellow ballons.” “As You Leave Me” describes fondly an evening with a lover, “the beer foam making mustaches on your lips”…”You / hum along with Mathis – how you love Mathis!” and then the sharp pain of parting.

Whether evoking slave songs, love poems, or story-telling, this is poetry which speaks very truthfully in its own voice, and it’s a raw, painful, but important voice to listen to.

 


 

Where River Meets Ocean: 13 – 19 October 2018

 

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October is Black History Month here in the UK so this month we will be featuring some of the most amazing black poets in our collection…

First up is Devorah Major, third poet laureate of San Francisco, and her collection where river meets ocean, printed by City Lights Foundation. I fell in love with this collection when a friend showed me a poem from it called ‘writing workshops with the homeless’. The premise sets the reader up for a worthy, self-conscious show of do-goodery, but the poem itself is shockingly raw and honest, profoundly intimate, respectful, colourful, capturing snapshots of Rose who “says she never can write / in a workshop setting / and then fills pages and pages”, of Marvelle who “makes up words / as she writes her fragmented thoughts,” of Steve who “writes ‘i want to write / i want to write / i want to write'”. The poem escalates, turns in on itself to analyze the act of writing and what it means to those who teach it and learn it, then reaches out, at the end coming to a poignantly simple conclusion. This is a poem about poetry, but it is so much more about human connection and the ways we can relate to one another.

Her poetry is striking because it is strong and sometimes angry, sometimes explicitly political, but also because it is sensuous and clear-hearted. The poetry pleases the senses as much as it strengthens the soul and she has a real ear for rhythm and texture. Even on the page, the poems read like jazz, the rhythm carefully paced, repetition giving it a heartbeat.

In the inaugural address as San Francisco Poet Laureate which begins the book, Major describes “poetry’s capacity to heal, to give vision, to provide clarity, and to offer love.” Here is a collection which does all those things.

 


 

See How I Land: 6 – 12 October 2018

 

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In autumn of 2008, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre and Asylum Welcome began an initiative which paired refugee and exiled writers with established UK poets to create an anthology of new writing. The established writers worked one-to-one with the refugee/exiled writers, some of whom had only limited English, to create a) a poem by the exiled writer about their experiences, b) a poem by the established writer inspired by the exiled writer’s story or experience working together and c) a jointly-authored paragraph about their process and providing context for the poems. The result is this extremely insightful and moving collection, See How I Land: Oxford poets an exiled writers.

The project produced new poetry by well-known and respected poets like Gregory Leadbetter, Bernard O’Donoghue, and Lucy Newlyn – but also gives voices to those seldom heard, and an insight into experiences which are so often squashed or simplified by the media. The humanity, suffering, hope, and bravery is palpable in the exiled poets’ writing – from Dawood’s desperate plea of “maybe God’s will was unwilling / why was He not willing? Did I not pray enough?” to Normalisa Chasokela’s repeated reassurance to “Little black girl sitting on the rug”: “Be strong, little one, be strong.”

Poetry can be such a powerful forum to explore feelings of belonging, of movement and of identity – allowing a snapshot into the writer’s perception of themself and the world around them, and their relation to it. Carmen Bugan’s poem suggests “Homelands are where we are allowed to be, / Not where we are born or where we want to go.” These poems all explore that concept of home in their own way.

On October 13th we’re running our own poetry event featuring refugee and immigrant poets, called Homelands. Azfa Awad, Rukiya Khatun, and Hassan Bamyani are local voices in the poetry world who are themselves from refugee backgrounds, whose poetry explores and interrogates these ideas with precision and power. Alan Buckley is a local poet who works closely with refugees at Oxfordshire charity, Refugee Resource, and James Attlee works with Hassan Bamyani to create English versions of his Persian poems. Come hear them share their work and read their poetry at this unique event.

50% of all our profits from the event will go to Asylum Welcome‘s hardship fund which supports young people and adults who are destitute in Oxford due to their immigration status.

 


 

28 September – 5 October: The Dream of a Common Language:

 

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This month, local poet Shara Lessley implored us to seek out female writers. Her message is as follows:

 

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So this month, our books of the week have all been by women. Be sure to check them out, and on your various social media outlets, use the hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to share your own poetic discoveries.

After a September of women poets, we’d hardly be going wrong by starting October off on the same foot – with Adrienne Rich’s important collection, ‘The Dream of a Common Language.’

Rich was a leading feminist writer in the later 20th Century. After a thorough poetic education, Rich rejected the studied artifice of her training and instead used poetry as a disruptive force, challenging sexism, homophobia, and racism. As in her earlier poem ‘Diving Into The Wreck’, she came to explore ‘the thing itself and not the myth’.

The collection compiles Rich’s poetry from 1974 to 1977, when she first came out as a lesbian. The dream is a dream of understanding and solidarity, an upheaval of the power structures she and we live within – combining the personal and the political with Rich’s honed poetic skill.

In three sections, Rich explores power, love, and nature. The destruction of women by their own power under patriarchy, as in the opening poem about Marie Curie. A lesbian relationship in 21 poems, ultimately eroded by ‘forces they had ranged… within us and against us’. Finally, the creativity and solace women may find in nature.

Rich’s friendship with Audre Lorde, who we recently featured as a September Women Poet, is spun throughout both their work. Both lesbian feminist writers, their relationship pushed them to challenge power – and complicities within themselves, particularly as Rich, a white woman, had to unpick her own racial prejudices. Rich’s poem ‘Hunger’ is dedicated to Lorde. In it she writes of all women: ‘until we find each other, we are alone.’

 


 

22-28 September: Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals

 

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This month, local poet Shara Lessley is imploring us to seek out female writers. Her message is as follows:

 

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So this month, our books of the week will be by women. Be sure to check them out, and on your various social media outlets, use the hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to share your own poetic discoveries.

The fourth of our September Women Poets books of the week is Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood, published by Penguin Poets. It is hard to know where to start with this collection. The titles are poems in themselves: “He Marries the Stuffed-Owl Exhibit”. “When the World was Ten Years Old”. “The Fake Tears of Shirley Temple.” “The Feeling of Needing a Pen”. Who wouldn’t want to immediately read these poems?

And the poems do not disappoint. They sting with sharp humour, irony, frustration, poignancy and humanity. The ideas are amazing, pop and fizz from the titles and throughout the poems as they are explored, teased apart, and eviscerated. They ask if your country is a he or a she in your mouth. They meditate on newborns called Gary (how “Gary sounds to us / now the way ORVILLE must have sounded in 1950”) and becomes a reflection on her father. They follow Lockwood’s struggle to write about her brother, a soldier whose three sisters dream of him the night a roadside bomb blows up, the “family head” which collectively hears their brother’s voice, confirming that he is alive.

As is so typical of poetry, the meaning is between the lines – and in poems like “Rape Joke”, the hissing irony and burning, urgent message is painfully clear between the lines, a story recounted through a pastiche of a discussion about ‘rape jokes’.

The poems are so vibrant and varied, masquerade as surreal, playful explorations of strange questions, but always go deeper, lighting fires in your brain as they go.

 


 

15 – 21 September: Improvise, Girl, Improvise

 

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This month, local poet Shara Lessley is imploring us to seek out female writers. Her message is as follows:

 

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So this month, our books of the week will be by women. Be sure to check them out, and on your various social media outlets, use the hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to share your own poetic discoveries.

 

The third of our September Women Poets books of the week is Improvise, Girl, Improvise by Lilith Latini. Published by Topside Press, a small New-York based publishing company founded to platform and distribute transgender narratives, Latini is a raw and powerful voice. Her poems present snapshots of the lives of transwomen, whether that’s the process of coming out, sex, visits to art museums, getting dressed, falling in love, taking a bath: simple, accessible moments which give a window into the multi-facted experiences of these women. The voices in the poems are many things: sometimes lyrical, sometimes furious, vulnerable, strong, and funny. They are also vivid, the words chosen precisely and sharp as cut glass.

 

The perspectives Latini evokes can be surprising and refreshing: one in the voice of Gloria addressing Patti Smith from her eponymous song, another pitching vivid characterizations of wild heroines Lovedog and Piranhaclaw against each other,  another exploring the body through the metaphor of cabbage soup. These are poems which encourage us to see our stories and experiences in radically different ways. And if that isn’t what poetry’s for, I don’t know what is.

 


8 – 14 September: Your Silence Will Not Protect You

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This month, local poet Shara Lessley is imploring us to seek out female writers. Her message is as follows:

 

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So this month, our books of the week will be by women. Be sure to check them out, and on your various social media outlets, use the hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to share your own poetic discoveries.

 

The second of our September Women Poets books of the week is Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde. Lorde is a an absolute keystone of female writing – a self-professed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” she epitomizes intersectionality, empowerment, and a strong voice. This collection is a great introduction to Lorde’s work – a selection of poetry and essays – and embodies so much of what we want to promote here at OPL: sharing voices, increasing empathy, empowering the marginalised, and learning to listen to each other. Her work both teaches and demonstrates the idea that poetry is a valuable, potent way to redefine one’s world – to reinterpret the world around you, and find a window in to interpreting other people’s worlds. She writes that

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

Lorde’s poetry is raw, powerful, at once tender and raging. She’s a feminist icon, a warrior, a mighty voice – but my favourite moments in her writing are the moments of vulnerability, the clarity of these simple words of wisdom from If You Come Softly, or ‘For Each Of You’:

 

When you are hungry
learn to eat
whatever sustains you
until morning
but do not misled by details
simply because you live them.

Do not let you head deny
your hands
any memory of what passes through them
not your eyes
nor your heart
everything can be used
except what is wasteful.

 

We’re also sharing this book just in time for a very exciting opportunity for BAME and LGBTQ+ artists to create a new 15 minute performance inspired by Audre Lorde. The Marlborough Theatre and Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts are commissioning 2 artists to present work as part of this event at ACCA on Wed 7th Nov 2018. You can find out more information here.

 


 

1-7 September: Alternative Beach Sports

 

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Last year we were lucky enough to have Michelle Madsen perform at our What Is Feminist Poetry? event, and she blew everyone out of the water. Charismatic, interesting, funny, and powerful, this is poetry which just feels so right. As Hollie McNish says in her review of this book, her poems are “as good on the page as it is performed” – but even in reading them on the page you find yourself performing them in your head. The voice is crystal clear. Madsen’s poetic ear is strong and the verses bristle with rhythmic internal rhyme, spat-out syllables, and the messages are clear and confident. Some tell stories of spider-refugees returning to mend their webs stripped out of bedroom corners, or of a model stitching her lips together with butcher’s string, an ode to Mary Berry when one’s own pastry is “under-baked and wet as her mascara”. This is rich, exciting, energetic writing.

 

So this month, local poet Shara Lessley is imploring us to seek out female writers. Her message is as follows:

 

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So this month, our books of the week will be by women. Be sure to check them out, and on your various social media outlets, use the hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to share your own poetic discoveries.

 


 

Book of the week is taking a well-earned rest for 24-30 August… See you in September!

 


18 – 23 August: The Emergency Poet

 

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Some people think it is an unusual idea to cycle poems around in a big purple cargo bike. Granted, it’s not how most libraries operate. But we would argue that others have had equally, if not far more creative, ways of getting literature out to the masses. One of our favourites is the Emergency Poet.

 

Deborah Alma, realizing the urgency with which some people need poetry, got her hands on a 1970s ambulance which parks up at schools, libraries, festivals and various other locations. ‘Patients’ have a free private poetic health consultation with the Emergency Poet, and she prescribes an appropriate poem, verse, or lyric. A poetry pharmacy contains pill-bottles of poems for various ailments run by the Nurse Verse or Poemedic. This collection is an anthology of some of Alma’s top prescriptions – poems to soothe the mind, ease stress, give hope, talk about grief or depression, to help feel oneself again.

 

This collection felt particularly apt to choose this week as tomorrow is Elder Stubbs Festival, a glorious festival to celebrate being outdoors and in the community, but which is also a fundraiser for Restore, a mental health charity which supports people taking control of their recovery. The work Restore does is essential to many people coping with mental illness, offering recovery groups, support, training and employment coaching. Elder Stubbs Festival is a chance to learn more about what they do, but also enjoy a day of music, food, poetry, costumes, and community fun.

 

The theme this year is RAINFORESTS and so, in the spirit of opening the door, exploring the world, and living the moment, here is a poem from The Emergency Poet by Mioroslav Holub called ‘The Door’ translated by George Theiner.

 


 

11 – 17 August: The Good Dark

 

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As I write this, it’s raining properly for the first time in weeks. Not big exciting hot-purply thunderstorm rain, but good old-fashioned Great-British-Summer drizzle. And while the heatwave has been all well and good, there is something of a relief in the rain – “a slight relax of air”, as Larkin says: “All is not dead.” Scorching bright summer sun has been wonderful in its way, but there can also be a sort of peace and comfort in the slightly greyer, slightly darker world we’re more used to here in England. Which brings me to our book of the week, Ryan Van Winkle‘s The Good Dark.

 

I’ve been meaning to celebrate Ryan’s work for ages through this here library – Ryan being not only a fantastic poet, but also probably a bit distantly responsible for how the library came into being in the first place. When I was about 14, my sibling Faith Eliott (aged about 16) moved to Edinburgh, found art and freedom and community and friends in an artspace-masquerading-as-vegetarian-cafe The Forest. They met brilliant, talented folk, doers and makers and creative souls, including Ryan Van Winkle, Rachel McCrum (whose book we featured a few weeks ago), and Hailey Beavis (who I am doing a gig at the Isis Farmhouse with later this month). I would meet them too, eventually, when I escaped the tiny village where I lived in Devon to spend summers in Edinburgh for probably an unwelcome amount of time for a little sister visiting an older sibling.

 

Sitting in my teenage bedroom scribbling poetry, I was desperate to learn how to break out of my shell, to learn how to share what I was writing. Faith suggested I give Ryan a ring and pick his brains. This was a pretty terrifying prospect, as Ryan was older, wiser, cooler, and already a pretty established poet – but eventually I did it. I remember the phone call really well: Ryan on his way to Forest to set up for an event, me sitting on my bed, nervous and feeling very young and naive. But his advice has stuck with me ever since. He said find a crowd. Don’t worry about the industry or the professional route as a priority – find people who think like you and work like you and just read your poetry out loud with them and at them every chance you get. The most important thing you can do off the bat is find (or build) a community which supports you.

 

So, a few years later, when I finally escaped my little Devonshire village for good and moved to Oxford, that was the first thing I looked for. And through Catweazle at first, then the multiple amazing activist and creative groups we have going on here, I found my people. Then I eventually built my own little corner, here with the library, which I hope will support many more people looking for a creative crowd.

 

I implore you to check out Ryan’s work: teeming with echoes of familiar places, loneliness, feelings of home and disjoint. There are reflections on childhood and longing, memory, and dark and stormy nights. There are some good rain poems in there too. So here’s to summer. Here’s to the amazing community we have here in Oxford. Here’s to the sun when we get it. But here’s also to the good dark.

 

Now get out there and dance in the rain.

 


 

4 – 10 August 2018: Love That Dog

 

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For those that didn’t know, alongside our diverse and growing selection of books for grown-ups, our collection has a healthy selection for young’uns: from picturebooks to nursery rhymes, poetry for pre-teens and teenagers… Everything to get the little ones interested in poetry right from the start! And we’re starting really young this Monday, August 6th from 11am, when we will be at Twiglets, a group for preschoolers at Barracks Lane Community Gardens. We will be doing some readings and sharing some of our books for our youngest borrowers, so if you have toddlers, preschoolers, or young children, come along! And we are reliably informed that the garden is looking gorgeous at the moment.

We’ve never featured anything from our children’s section here at Book of the Week, but Love that Dog by Sharon Creech is a pretty good place to start. Encouraged by his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, the reluctant Jack tries his hand at poetry. The whole book consists of these poems, written and dated by Jack a couple times a week and trace his journey from “I tried. / Can’t do it. / Brain’s empty.” through his explorations of William Carlos Williams, concrete poetry, and the “best best BEST  / poem / ever” by Walter Dean Myers. It’s a moving journey written very much in the voice of a child, discovering his capacity for self-expression and creativity. Readable, accessible, funny, creative, and utterly original, this is a book about the value of art and writing in confronting one’s own feelings, playing, delighting in the deliciousness of language at any age. Perfect for ages 8-12, but perfect also for adults looking to kindle or rekindle their love of poetry, reading, and writing.


28 July – 3 August: #AfterHours

 

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If you missed it, National Writing Day was exactly a month ago, on 27 June, during which the amazing local poet Kate Clanchy shared this excellent advice. She explains that poems grow from poems – that you have permission to start with a poem that resonates with you and use it as a starting point for growing your own poem. It’s a great exercise to get those creative juices flowing, but it also reminds us that nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything we write is an aggregate of our experiences, a tapestry of what we’ve ever read or seen or listened to. Inua Ellams‘s book (published by Nine Arches Press) is the perfect expression of this – the way that writing can pay tribute to its predecessors, but also be a way to build on that, to find our own unique voice amongst our influences, find a way to share our own story in our own words.

#AfterHours is a fascinating project from Ellams, the Nigerian-born writer and performer and former poet-in-residence at the National Poetry Library. It is part anthology, part journal, part poetry collection, Ellams’s aim being to write his childhood through British poetry. He takes a number of contemporary British and Irish poets – Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Sarah Maguire, Jo Shapcott, and beyond – lets their poems resonate, interrogates their essential forms and languages and themes, and then writes his own version of those poems, set in his own contexts and voice. A simple enough idea, but one that evokes a profoundly intricate web of call-and-response, echoes and contrasts. The original poems are printed alongside Ellams’s and they speak to each other, mingle and diverge, at once familiar and unfamiliar. The diary entries which also intersperse the poetry are written in a conversational way and reveal the poet’s thought processes. They show vulnerability, determination, his doubts and debates, weighing up the choice of one poem over another (Basil Bunting’s voice, though rich in musicality, is not fluid and conversational enough for Ellams’s to replicate in his own voice, Ruth Sharman’s fury at sexist abuse she faced, however, perfectly chimes with Ellams’s fury against the racism he has experienced). They discuss his thinking behind choosing what he might swap out of the original poem and replace in his own – a kestrel for an airplane, letters from dead men becoming letters to dead men.

The diary entries add a richness to the way the poems can be read, but also do a lot to demythologize poetry. They break the fourth wall, in a way, reveal the poet’s process, show what goes into considering the writing of a poem, the deliberation and choices and intentions. This evening is the first open meeting of our new women and trans* reading/writing group at 7.30pm in OARC (upstairs at the East Oxford Community Centre). We hope it will also provide inspiration, encouragement, and some starting points for new and existing writers, crack open that fourth wall and remind them that everyone has a story worth sharing.

 


 

20-27 July: The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate

 

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Here at Oxford Poetry Library, we’ve noticed that there’s a surprising dearth of spaces for women and trans folk to come together and share their writing and reading. So many poetry groups are part of the university, literacy groups are often geared towards getting published and networking – and while that’s all well and good, wouldn’t it be nice to have a space just to come together, celebrate each other’s voices, feel supported and empowered, play with language and find expression? In this spirit, we’re starting a new women and trans* reading/writing group which will have its first open meeting on 27 July at 7.30 in OARC (upstairs at the East Oxford Community Centre). Come share your voice, bring along your ideas and poetry by your favourite women and trans writers – we look forward to seeing you there.

 

This week’s book of the week encompasses this passion for being heard, for rising up, for respecting your own feelings and experiences – championing especially the often neglected female experience. The clue’s in the title really – unapologetically ‘The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate‘ (printed at first by the now defunct Freight Books, and now gratefully back in print with the amazing Stewed Rhubarb). Rachel McCrum’s poetry is equally unapologetic. Hungry, vibrant poetry bursting with powerful urgency, she wields her words with deftness and fire. These are poems that do not shy away from mess or vulnerability or shouting at the top of their lungs. They are also poems which speak strongly and tenderly about belonging, feeling in transit, family, and home. Above all, they are poems which make you want to (to quote McCrum’s ‘I lost my shoes on Rachel St’) SPEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!

 

So we’ll see you on Friday, yeah?

 


 

13-19 July: Stressed, Unstressed

 

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Our book of the week is a new acquisition to the library, the ingeniously titled ‘Stressed, Unstressed’, edited by Jonathan Bate, Paula Byrne, Sophie Ratcliffe and Andrew Schuman. Jonathan Bate and Paula Byrne have pioneered the foundation for bibliotherapy, Relit, which runs courses, workshops, and studies into the use of reading and poetry as a treatment for stress and anxiety. They believe that by reading attentively, immersively, and mindfully, poetry can restore and relieve the mind. They do valuable work with prisoners, the NHS, young people, people in palliative care, have carried out clinical trials to test the effects of bibliotherapy, and have had tangible results: poetry can indeed be a healer and soother of the troubled mind.

But we knew that already, of course, here at OPL! ‘Stressed, Unstressed’ is another gem in our collection, perfectly constructed to help calm and reassure, to help with meditation or loneliness or uncertainty, to hold your hand through those dark nights of the soul. From old classics like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost to the more modern Judith Wright, and Derek Mahon’s ‘Everything is Going to be Alright’, the poems are carefully chosen by Bate and Byrne, but also English professor Sophie Ratcliffe, and Andrew Schuman, a GP in the NHS. And with the NHS celebrating its 70th birthday this month, what better time to reflect on all the amazing people who devote their lives to healing.

 


 

7-12 July: Blame Montezuma

 

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We hear there’s a big football game on tomorrow. Which is all well and good – and you should check out Candlestick Press‘s new pamphlet Eleven Poems About Football – but tomorrow is a very important day for another reason too… World Chocolate Day 2018 is 7 July and we’ve got the perfect treat to celebrate such an occasion.

 

HappenStance Press‘s anthology Blame Montezuma is an assortment of chocolate-based poems which range from anything from the silly to the poignant. There are poems of introspection and nostalgia, cheeky limericks, thoughtful reflections and witty insights. The poems mingle and echo each other, so many different perspectives on such a seemingly simple thing! Who knew chocolate could be such a rich subject? Some of the finest moments in the collection are the sparks of association, when flavour or texture or experience evoke memories of childhood, relationships, love… With poems by contemporary voices like Alison Brackenbury, Helena Nelson, and Tom Duddy, and many others – the poems are fresh and surprising, a delightful and delicious book of treats. Just make sure you have a box of your favourite chocolatey morsels on stand-by!

 


 

30 June-6 July: Island City

 

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It’s Cowley Road Carnival this weekend – an opportunity for Oxford to show off its incredible, diverse, and vibrant culture in one gigantic, noisy, colourful street party. Of course we’ll be there – sharing poetry with you lot (while sampling some amazing street food, soaking up the vibes, and celebrating how much cool stuff is going on in this city). So we thought it would be apt this week to feature Island City, edited by local writer and historian Rip Bulkeley, an anthology of Oxford poems by living Oxford poets.

 

I love this anthology because it seems so totally necessary. Oxford is a city of two worlds. The cliché of town vs. gown is a cliché but is annoyingly true in so many ways – and this division seems true as well about the poetry written about Oxford. There is a whole deeply-rooted tradition of Arnold’s dreaming spires, long swooning lines about quads and dons and libraries and the cold stone of book-learnin’. Gets a bit repetitive. And also has very little to do with most local folks’ experience of their own city. This book is an antidote to that – each poem capturing a different aspect of Oxford: our dear old Cowley Road, Hinksey Park, Port Meadow, Seacourt Tower, the Temple Cowley swimming pool, the JR Hospital, the Canal. The poems capture familiar sights and experiences around Oxford which you won’t find in the dreaming-spires-poems: playing frisbee in Florence Park, the decapitated deer hanging outside the butchershop in the Covered Market, the Devil’s Backbone at dusk. There are big names like Bernard O’Donoghue and Tom Paulin, but also cameos from local heroes like Ed Pope, and Wendy Davies (one of our volunteers who’s been with us from the start). It is unpretentious, witty, and honest – plus it’s quite fun to recognize your local haunts set down in verse.

 

I love this anthology because it captures so much of what I dearly love about Oxford. So I hope you’ll join us in getting out there and celebrating all that on Sunday!

 

22-29 June: England: Poems from a School

 

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Refugee Week has just passed (with World Refugee Day on 20 June) and to mark this, we’ve chosen this staggering anthology, put together by local writer Kate Clanchy. It’s hard to emphasize what an achievement this book is – poems written by students of Oxford Spires Academy who come from migrant or refugee families aged between 11 and 19, from Algeria, Somalia, Kosovo, Albania, Syria, and beyond. The poems are strikingly good, written with sensitivity and clarity, and raw feeling. They introspect and rage and grieve and reflect. Some are about homesickness, nostalgia and memory, some evoke family members, or food, languages, and landscapes from home-countries. They conjure up the worlds of each voice with such honesty and tenderness, make immediate and tangible the very human reality of the mobile populations and refugee crisis which we are so used to hearing in dry news reports and statistics.

 

The poems are mature and deftly written – as Philip Pullman says, “great by any standard” – the wisdom and intelligence of each young poet shining through. This is a unique and startling collection which sticks with you long after you’ve put it down – and does exactly what poetry is supposed to do: provides a window to see the world through another’s eyes, several worlds of experience folded into this little book, shining prismatic in their many-textured, multi-faceted light. As the last line of the opening poem by 18-year-old Shukria Rezaei says: “Don’t leave without seeing all the colours.”

 

If you are in Oxford, be sure to go along to the book’s launch at Blackwell’s on 11 July.

 


 

15-21 June: The Long Haul

 

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It’s Father’s Day here in the UK on Sunday 17 June which can mean so many different things to so many people. Celebration, reflection, nostalgia… Poetry can be the perfect space to reflect on the relationships within families, and the first poem that sprung to our minds here at the library in light of Father’s Day was the below by Alan Buckley. In some ways, it is a poem about being a poet – the title nudging at Don Paterson’s line “A poem is a little machine for remembering itself” – but in most ways (to me at least), it is a poem about tracing the lines of similarity and difference that weave parents and their children together or seem to tug them apart: The way we seem absolutely related to each other, and at the same time, absolutely not. To me, it’s about looking for a way to find peace with the things we may never understand about one another, but also finding the ways in which our differences do echo and resonate with each other. Parents and children in this cross-generational tangled web of understanding and misunderstanding, love and frustration – an endless, elliptical dance.

 

The Long Haul was printed by the brilliant Happenstance Press and is written by the local poet, Alan Buckley. It is rich with poetic gems about nostalgia, love, heartbreak, grief, and sherbert lemons. Come borrow it from us – and catch Alan doing his frequent readings around the city and at The Catweazle Club.

 

So now, without further ado, here’s Alan’s gift for his father, reproduced with his permission:

 

Little Machine by Alan Buckley

i.m. JHB

 

They say that talent skips a generaiton,
and you’d have agreed, looking at me, your son.
You who were happy grappling under a bonnet,
as deft at the wrench as the fine adjustment,
while I fumbled with a long screwdriver
trying to lever off a bicycle tyre.
The punctured inner tube was left more wounded.
The lunge of your blunt words: me, marooned
in a silence that no gauge could measure,
you with a face like a man in a seizure.
I sloped off, back to my exercise books
full of poems, long-handed in cursive loops.

I abandoned them, hid them up in the attic,
my teenage world flipped by girls and music.
You said, years later—I’d not long turned thirty—
how, as a kid, you’d wanted to write poetry,
how the tireless grip of your mother’s cold stare
stopped you dead, and I felt something stir,
a tick, or a pulse. You see, I’ve still no craft
with lathes, micrometers, drills. Here’s my gift.
Listen to these words, their fit and throw,
this little machine that is breathing you,
its chittering valves and burnished tappets,
the cams in their endless, elliptical dance.

 


 

8-14 June: RISE Zine Issue 1

 

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It’s Oxford Green Week this week, where the city uses culture, creativity and community to inspire action against climate change. We’ll be getting involved by helping kick off the week at Oxford’s Big Green Day Out on 9 June, where the city’s environmental groups come together on Broad St for a free, family-friendly festival: arts and crafts, food, music, bicycles, workshops and community groups. Come say hi and get inspired!

 

To celebrate Oxford Green Week, our book of the week is this new, hot-off-the-press collaboration between InTandem Publications and Oxford Climate Society. This is the first issue of an innovative and exciting biannual series, RISE zine, which tackles issues of the environment and climate change through art, poetry, photography, prose, and collage. There is passion, fear, awe, anger, sadness and beauty in the work in this issue, the whole spectrum of emotions which tumble around when we reflect on the demise and destruction of the planet, as well as the resilience and power of nature. The writing and imagery here is palpably driven through with feelings of sadness and frustration but also the urge to DO something about it, get active, and rise up (as the zine title suggests). Inspiring stuff – and also clearly the product of a collaborative creativity, the zine put together collage-style at a group cut-and-stick session. Make sure to get involved in the next issue!

 

You can borrow this inaugural edition from us, and we are also selling copies from the library for a mere £3 so be sure to snap one up.


 

1-7 June: Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics

 

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It’s PRIDE WEEK here in Oxford! And what better way for us to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community than by celebrating some of the LGBTQ+ poets in our collection. Troubling the Line is an incredible, pioneering collection and the first ever anthology of poetry by trans and genderqueer writers, published by Nightboat Books and edited by TC Tolbert and Trace Peterson. Some of the poetry is joyful, some angry, some reflective, celebratory, beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring – but always utterly diverse. It captures the worlds of so many writers with a range of aesthetics, identities and experiences, and is a platform for these poets to express those experiences in a powerfully insightful way. The poems explore issues of identity, embodiment, activism, family, love, and language and is a great place to start to discover new (and revisit familiar) voices from the LGBTQ+ community.

 

It goes without saying that we should also take this opportunity to celebrate the other fantastic LGBTQ+ voices in our collection including (but not limited to!) Audre LordeOscar WildeLilith LatiniRyka AokiCarol Ann DuffyJackie KayJohn GiornoMary Jean Chan

 

Now get out there and support Pride here in Oxford!

 


 

25–31 May: Ten Poems about Bicycles

 

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We are celebrating all things PEDAL-POWERED this week at Oxford Poetry Library, with this gorgeous little pamphlet from Candlestick Press called Ten Poems About Bicycles. This is to celebrate the launch of a crowdfunder for our very good pals over at Broken Spoke Bike Co-Op who are raising money to move premises at the end of June. Broken Spoke is Oxford’s very own not-for-profit community enterprise where you can learn how to fix and ride your bike. Their vision is to create an open, inclusive, and sustainable  community of cyclers and fixers through events, drop-in workshops, courses, and sessions. They are now in the final stages of moving from Pembroke St (where they’ve been for five years) to a new space at St Thomas School, but they need your help!

 

Sam Chappell, Director at Broken Spoke, said;

“We’ve always known that our current premises is going to be redeveloped, so needing to find somewhere else to base ourselves from wasn’t a shock. It’s taken us a while to find a suitable alternative to where we are now, affordable work space in this city is so hard to come by.”

 

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With over 2300 workshop visits by people learning to repair their own cycles and 240 people taking cycle training each year, the award-winning Broken Spoke has grown over the last five years to form a key part of the Oxford community. After years of uncertainty, Broken Spoke have managed to secure a new space at St Thomas School with Aspire Oxford from the end of June. This space represents an exciting future for Broken Spoke; an affordable rent and space to expand their programmes that work with marginal communities.
Sam Chappell continued;
“Finding this space with Aspire has been instrumental; it’s an incredible development in the Broken Spoke story. Aspire are an amazing organisation to be co-locating with and we’ll be able to keep our prices and costs low as we’ll have an affordable rent. But financing such a move is a huge challenge for an organisation of our size and to be able to make the most of this opportunity, we’re asking the community who we’ve come to know & love for their support.”

 

The campaign will be incredibly important to ensure Broken Spoke can keep its wheels turning.

 

Sam continued;

“We have a huge network of people connected to Broken Spoke who get so much out of the organisation: by learning stuff, hanging out with friendly people, coming to amazing events, and getting out cycling in a supportive group. We’ve got a month to raise £11k. That kind of money could make a huge difference to Broken Spoke’s future – we think we can do it with our community’s support!”

 

As a fellow pedal-powered organization in Oxford, we at the poetry library know the importance of promoting cycling in the city. Broken Spoke are an incredibly valuable asset to Oxford, both in empowering people to cycle and fix their own bikes, and in creating an inclusive and welcoming environment in which to do so. Their events, workshops, and classes are accessible and run by a diverse bunch of passionate and compassionate bike-lovers – a cause really worth supporting and celebrating. Please help them reach their goal (and get some pretty swanky gear in the process) by checking out their crowdfunder here

 

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18-24 May: The Poetry Pharmacy

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Mental Health Awareness Week was 14 – 20 May, with millions of people coming forward with their stories of how they have been affected by mental health issues. The nature of mental illness is that it has a powerful capacity to isolate – it can cut you off from the world and people around you and make you feel utterly alone. This is where art and literature steps in. Sometimes, when you can’t face seeing or talking to another human being in the flesh, only the printed word will do.

Sometimes just knowing there are other people out there who feel like you, have felt the depression or anxiety that you have felt, is enough. Sometimes it is enough to hear a song or read a poem which just verbalizes the pain of those dark nights of the soul which you have endured. And sometimes it just helps to hear hopeful words: words which tell you that everything will be alright. That you can. That there is beauty and endurance and life. This collection, gathered by William Sieghart, does all of those things. Helpfully divided into chapters with headings like “Purposelessness,” “Need for Reassurance” “Loneliness,” “Insecurity,” “Guilt at Not Living in the Moment,” “Compulsive Behaviour,” and “Social Overload”, this book has pretty much a prescription for whatever ails you. The poems are carefully and compassionately chosen, with the capacity to inspire, uplift, or just let you reflect – but certainly, and most importantly, allows you to feel your feelings and know that others have come before and felt those things too.

 


 

11-17 May: Poetry from the Bed: Life with ME/CFS

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ME Awareness week is 7th – 14th May, and ME Awareness Day is 12 May. To mark this, our book of the week is this amazing and insightful anthology of poems by people living with or affected by Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). From the humorous to the poignant, written by children and adults, the families of those with ME, and those with ME themselves, these poems give a window into understanding the syndrome and empathising with those affected by it. It is put together by OMEGA (Oxfordshire ME Group for Action), a self-help support group based in Oxford for those with ME and their carers, who gave us the following statement to contextualize the collection:

ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) – also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is an illness that affects an estimated 250,000 people in Britain and 2,400 in Oxfordshire. It can affect anybody – irrespective of lifestyle, age or gender. So you probably know someone with ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but do you know what it is really like?

These poems by adults and children beautifully express the reality of living with ME/CFS, both for sufferers and their families and friends: the struggle and determination, hope and despair, sadness and humour – above all the imagination and creativity of people living with this serious neurological illness. There are many symptoms of ME, including post-exertional malaise, a profound, persistent and debilitating form of fatigue, muscle pain, headaches, dizziness, digestive disorders, sensitivity to light and sound. Many people suffer memory and concentration problems (“brain fog”).

OMEGA (Oxfordshire ME Group for Action) has been supporting people with ME/CFS since 1989. In 2012 they held a poetry competition on the subject of ME/CFS. Expressing one’s experience creatively can be a great help, and also reading a poem that expresses how you are feeling can be very uplifting and comforting. OMEGA and the independent judge were impressed by the strength and variety of the poems and so OMEGA decided to publish them in this book. This also aimed to raise awareness about the illness to the general public and to reduce isolation for the many house-bound and bed-bound members. These people were too ill to write poems themselves or to attend the many poetry readings that were held at that time.

ME has often been a much-misunderstood illness, partly because people with ME often don’t “look ill”, partly because the illness can fluctuate widely between one person and the next, and from day to day. People see the person with ME out and about looking OK; but don’t realise that they may need days in bed to recover from a short walk or cup of tea with a friend. And this is for the relatively “well” person with ME. The severely ill may not be able to wash, dress or feed themselves. This book helps people understand the reality by letting you into the world of the person with ME/CFS – to see the view ‘from the bed’ through original and powerful poetry.

 


4-10 May: Disko Bay by Nancy Campbell

 

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We are incredibly lucky in Oxford to have such a diverse community of voices from all over the world. This is one of the things we aimed to celebrate in setting up the Oxford Poetry Library a year ago – stories and experiences and landscapes from every corner of the globe crafted through language. That’s exactly what Nancy Campbell’s Disko Bay does. Nancy is a writer now living and working in Oxford (and is a supportive borrower of the library!) but spent seven years working in the Arctic on residencies responding to cultural and climate change. Disko Bay emerged from this as a fascinating evocation of Greenland’s frozen shores. Centred on the worlds of hunters, whalers, shamans, and featuring words like “Ersulleraappoq” and “Oqqersuut,” this collection is truly transporting.

For lovers of language it is a rich treasure trove, the Greenlandic words almost little poems in themselves. (We recommend ‘Seven Words for Winter’ to see what we mean.) But the language is woven throughout all the poems and the voices of the Greenlandic people are powerfully evoked. This is a refreshing, surprising, and eye-opening collection.

For those who prefer landscapes slightly closer to home, Nancy is also currently working with the Canal & River Trust and The Poetry Society as the UK’s Canal Laureate, so keep track of her activity with them here.

We are also lucky enough to have Nancy reading at our first birthday party on 11 May, along with Shara Lessley and Mbalenhle Matandela, so don’t miss that!

 

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27 April-3 May: Watermarks

 

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April saw the hottest weekend of the year so far, which means just one thing in Oxford: outdoor swimming. We are spoiled in this city with rivers, canals, watering holes, and lidos galore which beckon wildly everytime the temperature reaches anything above 20.

Divided into sections about swimming in lidos, lakes, oceans, and rivers, this book is bursting with poetry to get you in the mood to tear off all your clothes and leap into the nearest body of water. We love this collection: Watermarks: Writing by Lido Lovers & Wild Swimmers, an anthology of prose and poetry to celebrate this most delightful of summery activities, created by The Frogmore Press and outdoor swimming pool in East Sussex Pells Pool. The book celebrates its first birthday this week, just in time for May Day.

It also features a poem by one of our beloved volunteers and committed wild-swimmer Jack Pritchard. We’ll leave you to borrow the book and discover it for yourselves, but to whet (wet?) your appetite, here’s another of Jack’s wonderful watery poems…

 

Beginning a Journey, Port Meadow

(May 2015)

– eye-line and water-line – eye-level and water-level – equal –
stream and bloodstream feel each other’s warmth and chill.
The liquid skin heals quickly,
and the body of water holds the body of flesh
pressing it onward
on the one-way tide of downstream flow.
Cold water awakens,
and the thump, thump, thump of front crawl
gives the river a heartbeat.


20-26 April: Prickly Poems

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Now that it’s springtime, and there’s more nature to be enjoyed around the place, we’ve been thinking a lot about British wildlife here at Oxford Poetry Library – and specifically, hedgehogs. We are blessed in our community to have a resident hedgehog-expert, ecologist Hugh Warwick, who pointed us to this delightful anthology. A colourful, adorable, often reflective, often witty collection of hedgehog-based poems, this is a must for the connossieur of our green and pleasant land. It was created in association with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, too, so has the conservationist stamp of approval.

It also chimes with the reading list just created by one of our cherished volunteers and himself a champion of local environments, Jack, which recommends much poetic hedgehoggery:

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13-19 April: Poems of Grenfell Tower

 

 

This is a new addition to the library, just published by Onslaught Press, and a powerful, engaging, crucial work. With all the rolling news coverage of the disaster of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, it can be easy to forget the individual human stories at the heart of the tragedy. These poems beautifully and painfully capture such a range of voices – residents of the tower, firefighters, family members and teachers of some of the children who were killed, and reflections on the need for social change and justice. Some of the poems are by well-known writers, and some by those directly affected by the Grenfell atrocity.

The anthology also honours and reflects the diversity of the people affected, with some poems written in the native language of the poet – including Amharic, Korean, and Italian (with facing page translations). An astonishing and profound insight into the tragedy, this collection inspires and angers in equal measure, and is an important reminder for the way in which poetry can drive you to adapt new perspectives and take action.

What’s more, royalties from the sale of the book will go to the Grenfell Foundation – more information here.

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