Need a good title? Try Shakespeare..

Everyone else does, apparently, especially crime novelists. I wonder if it’s because so many of Shakespeare’s expressions sound sinister these days. Maybe it’s because there’s so much death in his plays, most of it violent. But I’m sure you can recognize a Shakespeare title without thinking twice. When I search just for Murder Most Foul on Goodreads, I gave up counting after I got to 38 books.

Here’s an article by Moira Redmond of Clothes in Books, published in the Guardian this week. And she’s only restricted herself to titles from Hamlet, so heaven knows how many others there are. All suggestions welcome.

If you’d like to read more about Moira’s blog, see my previous entry about her.

Favorite Poems – Ten of the best

My friend Sally Allen at BoooksInK challenged her readers recently to produce a list of their ten favorite poems. I thought this would be simple, but when it came right down to it, I found it hard to choose. Still, I did, and this post explains my choices, since I notice that I chose them for various reasons that include: if I ever learned one by heart, if it says something about a certain time in my life, if it makes me laugh, if it makes me cry…so many reasons. Anyway here they are:

1.      Some one by Walter de la Mare

This may be the first poem I learned as a little girl. It’s a great poem for kids, because the metre, repetition and rhyme make it easy to remember. And it tells a story with a mystery at its heart. It’s got everything.

2.      The Lady of Shallott by Alfred, Lord Tennysonshalottcircle

This poem I love because it reminds me of my mother, who knew parts of it by heart and would recite it in lieu of a bedtime story. It’s very visual and the parts she remembered were about how the Lady, imprisoned in the Tower of Shallott, becomes desperate. Good stuff.

3.      Morning has broken by Eleanor Farjeon

Who couldn’t like this one? I know it’s a hymn, but it’s also a poem, and it makes me happy to recite it to myself. Or sing it, Or listen to Cat Stevens sing it. All good.

4.      I remember, I remember by Thomas Hood

006_2We had a wonderful cleaning lady who used to teach me poems as I followed her around while she tidied the house. I must have been a pest, but she never complained. This is a very sentimental poem, but it meant something to me when my grandparents’ house by the sea (see left), where I was born and spent my summer holidays, was sold. Mrs Ryder taught me another one but I can only remember the title and the first 4 lines. Harry and the Cake: Run off to school, Harry/Why do you wait?/ Nine o’clock striking/And you will be late.

5.      When icicles hang by the wall by William Shakespeare (from Love’s Labours Lost)

This I learned in high school, and it’s so very evocative of the perishing cold winters we’ve been having recently that I’ve remembered it again. It cheers me (somewhat) to know that winters were hard four hundred years ago, too.

6.      The Conway Stewart by Seamus Heaney

This is a poem about a pen, the brand name – Conway Stewart. I had a fountain pen in high school, because we had to write everything by hand. I think my favorite was a Waterman, because they were also my mother’s favorite, but I went through more than one including Parker and the eponymous Conway Stewart. Hopeless show-off, I used turquoise ink, which if it ever leaked, was a disaster because it wouldn’t wash out, unlike the Royal blue washable used by sensible people.

7.      Granchester by Rupert Brooker brooke

Another sentimental poem. Written just before World War 1, in which the poet died (unsentimentally, of dysentery). Rupert Brooke was beautiful to look at, and I read him at an age when romance was all. The poem ends with the famous lines: Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea? In the late sixties, British comedian Peter Sellars wrote and performed a fake travelogue: Balham  – Gateway to the South. (Balham was a very boring suburb of London.) The final lines are: Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea? To which a waitress replies: Sorry honey’s off, dear. (Meaning there wasn’t any.) Perhaps you had to be there…

8.      Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

On a much more serious note, this poem, written by Wilfred Owen was a devastating indictment of World War 1. Owen was killed just before the end of this war, and we studied the war poets in High school. The impact on me was extraordinary. When I won a prize for English they asked me which book I’d like and I chose Men Who March Away. At about the same time, the BBC was showing a 26 part series called The Great War. Using archival film footage and interviews with the survivors, they retold the story. As a child in the fifties, my sisters and I would see the veterans sitting in wheelchairs outside the Star and Garter Home in Richmond. My mother would explain that they had been gassed in World War 1 and would have to live there all their lives. I have never been able to look at war with any shred of romanticism since then.

9.      The Lanyard Billy Collins

Back to the cheerful. When I first heard Billy Collins reciting his poem, I was entranced by the deadpan way he managed to capture a relationship between a boy and his mother. It’s funny and serious. Just listen to it.

10.  Mrs Icarus by Carol Ann Duffy


As for this, it’s only five lines, but it makes me laugh out loud. A pillock, for my American readers, is a fool. Surely I’m too young to be cynical? Helena Bonham Carter reads it with aplomb.

Which are your favorite poems?

All the year’s a stage…

It’s been quite a year for Shakespeare. I haven’t had a year like this for a long time, perhaps never. I’ve seen 6 different Shakespeare performances, with the accent on ‘different’.

I started in April with Hamlet, starring Paul Giamatti at the Yale Rep. I thought he was a little old for the part, and I found the American accent was getting in the way of my enjoyment, but he gave it the good old college try…

At the end of May it was a terrific production of Twelfth Night at the Hartford Stage. No world famous actors, but an absolutely stunning set design – the whole thing takes place in and around a maze which rose and fell as the scenes changed (see the video below). Completely original, and something I’ve come to expect from Darko Tresnjak, the Artistic Director there. (I’m thrilled to see one of his productions opening on Broadway  – he deserves it.)

midsummerI was back in New Haven appropriately enough, on June 20th , the day before midsummer, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the University Theatre. What made this production by the British company, the Bristol Old Vic, was that it incorporated puppets of varying sizes, made by the Handspring Puppet Company, who made the horses for the stage production of War Horse. It seems odd to start with, since we could see the actors as well as the puppets, but given the dreamy nature of the play, I soon suspended all disbelief and just sat back to enjoy it. You can see the mixture of live actors and puppets on the right.

There was a break until early October, when my son Fred brought home the DVD of Much Ado about Nothing, an absolutely delightful and funny version shot in modern dress and black-and-white. As a Brit, I’m always a bit skeptical about the accents used, but this time the delivery was so good that the accents didn’t matter at all. I highly recommend it as a way of easing young people into Shakespeare.

tumblr_mpdukq33xs1qzhcjro1_r1_500On the more serious side, The National Theatre in London broadcast Macbeth, starring Kenneth Branagh as the blighted lord. I love these NT Live transmissions from the NT. They’re available in movie theatres and universities around the world, so really feel I can stay in touch with London theatre. This production was staged in a former church, and I can honestly say that with mud and straw spread along the nave, and the fact that it was played without an intermission, made it a unique (not to mention messy) production.

twelfth-night-on-stage-seating1But finally – the best of the best. I saw the London Globe Theatre’s production of Twelfe Night (Shakespearean spelling) in New York. And I had a ticket to sit on the stage (first seat on the left in the photo, right behind the actor…). I was in heaven. The play is performed exactly as it would have been in Shakespeare’s time: all the parts are played by men, and all the costumes are authentic – no zips, but plenty of laces to hold things together. The cast dressed on stage and I was sitting 3 feet away. Some of them come over to chat, and during the play itself, Sir Tobe Belch came over and asked me to hold his goblet for him.malvolio Mark Rylance was stunning as Olivia, Stephen Fry was a fabulous Malvolio, and I laughed all the way through, so terrific was the acting. All in all, I had the experience of a lifetime.

From thee, Mr Shakespeare, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

Why we need to invent new words

Andrew Kaufmann of the Guardian newspaper in London has an interesting POV. He thinks that instead of criticizing new words in the language and trying to squash them, we should be welcoming and even encouraging them.  He has a point. There’s nothing more aging than constantly saying “why can’t people talk properly, the way they did in my day?” Stephen Fry reminds us that if that attitude had prevailed, we’d all still be speaking Shakespearean English. Whereas, with the evolution of language, we can use the many words Shakespeare invented and enrich the language with new ones. Here’s the beginning of Andrew Kaufmann’s article:

Why we need to invent new words

Don’t let the dictionary define what you say. Make up your own words. Here are rules you need to follow

'What a cidiot!' Country folk know how to handle snow, unlike this urban driver. Photograph: Philippe Huguen

‘What a cidiot!’ Country folk know how to handle snow, unlike this urban driver. Photograph: Philippe Huguen

Do not be afraid to make up your own words. English teachers, dictionary publishers and that uptight guy two cubicles over who always complains about the microwave being dirty, they will all tell you that you can’t. They will bring out the dictionary and show you that the word isn’t there – therefore it doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for this. The people who love dictionaries like to present these massive tomes as an unquestionable authority, just slightly less than holy. But they’re not. A dictionary is just a book, a product, no different from Fifty Shades of Grey and only slightly better written. But you must be careful. Every new word must be crafted. It has to have a purpose, a need. A new word cannot be created with a fisted bash to a keyboard. Like every other word in the language, your new word should be a mashup of pre-existing words. You can steal bits from Latin and German, like everybody else did. Or you can use contemporary English in a new way. But you must capture something that already exists, which for whatever reason has been linguistically mismanaged. Here is an example:

Blursing: noun

When an event, gift, or circumstance presents qualities and consequences that are simultaneously positive and negative: Jenny was made partner but it was a blursing because her hours were so long that her husband left her.

Why not just say “curse and blessing”? Well, for one thing that is cumbersome. But more importantly, something that is both a curse and a blessing is different from a blursing.

And he’s got more words (cidiot, oprahcide, and bironical among others) in the rest of the article. Read it here.