What We’re Into: Staff Picks

by | October 30, 2015

Playing with the Boys is the book that I dreamt of writing as a teenager. In a straightforward style, it recounts the challenges overcome by sixteen-year-old Niamh McKevitt when playing football throughout her childhood and adolescence. From playground pettiness to artificial barriers imposed by the Football Association (FA), Niamh shows that skilled female players are still continually met with condescension and ridicule, having to prove their acumen and love for the game to be accepted by their male peers. However, with the success of the England women in the last World Cup and the inspiration of Niamh to incite the FA to change its rules so that girls can play on boys’ teams up to the age of eighteen, the outlook is optimistic for future female footballers. As the game’s profile and reach continue to grow, we can hope that such prejudice will be circumscribed to the distant past.

– Melissa Thorne

Usually when I spend the best part of a summer’s day watching my laptop Netflix takes the blame. But one day this August something more interesting turned up. As part of its ‘Greeks’ season, London’s Almeida Theatre livestreamed a full 16-hour reading of Homer’s Iliad, taking us from the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in the morning to the burial of Hector past midnight. A luminous cast of 66, ranging from Simon Russell Beale to Rory Kinnear, smoothly unfolded the wrath of Achilles. It’s only by hearing the poem this way that you can fully appreciate the balance it strikes between constantly iterated patterns and ceaseless forward movement. I ended up unable to tear myself away as we were carried past Achilles’ fateful decision to send Patroclus out to fight towards Achilles’ revenge and then on to reconciliation, with all the digressions along the way that knit together into a whole rich heroic world. They’ll be repeating the feat on 12 November, tackling the Odyssey in various locations around London from 9am to 9pm – tune into the livestream for the perfect five-minute library break, or stay longer and allow yourself to be swept up in the momentum of the poem.

– Lucy Valsamidis

My bedside read this week has been Jack Underwood’s debut collection of poems, entitled ‘Happiness’, that came out earlier this year. Describing love as someone who pauses to “move a snail somewhere safer in the rain”, Underwood engages with, and bounces off, the everyday with the same relatable wit that we might expect from a stand-up. He’s got a cheek that engages with the work of his predecessor poets, nabbing titles off the likes of John Donne but describing the type of life depicted in one of his poems as, simply, “carbohydrate”. “Carbohydrate” somehow suddenly seems like the best way to describe the mood I’m in, as I sit reading these words after a day of unproductive essay writing and one too many broken college washing machines. His ability to transform words into something deeply relatable is one that I would hedge a bet could get even the greatest cynics into poetry.”

– Ione Wells 

It’s interesting to note how often, when a reviewer is trying to denigrate the quality of a book, they draw attention to its physical properties – the image on the cover, the price, the font. The same goes for newspapers – if a paper is trashy, it’s called a “rag”. Conversely, the best texts supposedly rise above and beyond their own materiality – when Amazon head honcho Jeff Bezos launched the Kindle, he said that with great books, “the paper, glue, ink and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author’s world”. But, as poet and typesetter Gerry Cambridge of HappenStance Press argues in The Printed Snow: On Typesetting Poetry, a small, stunningly produced pamphlet, the craft of the literary book is to be celebrated, not disdained. “Argues” is perhaps too strong a word – the elegance and restraint of the prose sets his ideas before us with a minimum of fuss; and the book’s subtle beauty (printed in painstaking lithography in Trinité 2 Roman Condensed and Italic Condensed) proves its own point. The copy that I was given included an A6 letterpress poem-card, featuring a typically poised and polished poem by Cambridge himself, that I have been savouring ever since. I’ve self-indulgently quoted it in full here, but you’ll have to buy the pamphlet from HappenStance to read it as its author intended:

The Quandary

The poet sits

   attempting a poem

but must overcome,

   like a pollen grain over

a blustery hill

   seeking its home,

the tall futility

   of adding that little

bleak headstone

   to the kirkyard, vast

as the Milky Way,

   of unread works-

and must believe,

   with lightstruck nib,

in the space of a verse

   he can outwit the hearse

of oblivion

   by his puff of breath

and hang up a leaf

   on the diamond tree.

– James Waddell