Monthly Archives: March 2012

Val

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A few months ago I visited an amazing jewel of a city on the coast of Chile. Valparaiso is South America’s version of Lisbon, but on even more of an incline. In fact, it’s almost completely vertical. It is a city of poets, where Pablo Neruda, among others, spent many years of his life.

 

I

Val wakes up at reality rise

And realises she’s still outside.

The empty bottle of wine beside her

Says What? It wasn’t me.

A black rag dog beelines toward her

Sniffs the ground and goes by

Easy hopping downhill.

Val drags her tired eyes up to where she needs to go

And knows it will take some time.

She re-adjusts her dust-coloured dreadlocks

Bundles in a bunch the rough tendrils

And kicks the mud caked on her shoes.

The vertical city looms like a tsunami

Carrying its ramshackle driftwood wreckage.

II

This city has stopped in time

Touched by so many

But stands unaffected

Chapped and chafed

And red and raw

Kissed half to death,

This city of poets.

Crumbling and stifling,

Eyes blood-shot and sunk

She dances naked

Mumbling and drunk.

Callused, unpolished

Table for a stage

She dances naked

Unashamed of her age.

Tattooed skin translucent and thin

She dances naked

Glowing from within

She dances and stumbles—

Occasionally tripping—

To music of brass

That pulses and slithers

Sides into hips and rippling breasts

Cradled in the damp warmth of everyone’s sweat

Yes, this is the city that stops in time;

This is the city neglected by time.

This city, that, on the brink of collapse,

Dances for an audience that never ceases to clap.

Why I Will Never Be a Book Snob

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Photo credits: matchbookclub, bookshelfbanter, eunhyeseo

I’ve been waiting for a book like The Night Circus since I read The Book of Lost Things. In my happy place I am a child and magic exists.

I cannot clearly describe the longing that sometimes grips me when I read a very good book or have a particularly vivid dream. It is a longing for childhood, which was too short and too fleeting and before I had a chance to make sense of its significance, it was gone. Looking back, it was always books about escaping to other worlds that gripped me the most. The Magic Treehouse series was my first solo venture into chapter books, and I found it hard to tear myself away from them when the bell at the end or recess called me back to the mundane. Later on, it was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The idea of the wardrobe itself still enthralls me when I teach the book to my students. What an ingenious idea! Step into a musty wardrobe smelling of mothballs, walk through fur coats that transform into trees, and step out again into a new land. I always found this particular imagery easy to visualize, maybe because of C.S. Lewis’s masterful manipulation of the imagination, or maybe because we once had such a wardrobe (albeit not a magic one, sadly) in my childhood home in Poland; one full of smelly, heavy brown fur coats, the owners of which still remain a mystery to me.

In high school I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy and lost myself in it almost to the point of pathological obsession. Never mind the stereotypes associated with Tolkien. It’s amazing how many sardonic remarks I have heard over the years upon telling people that The Fellowship of the Ring is one of my favourite books. What snobbery. What lack of imagination!

As I got older, the literature that filled up my time became somewhat more “sophisticated”, though I hesitate to use such a word. Kundera, Nabokov, Carter, Conrad, Shakespeare, Chekov, Woolf. Though this was an extremely enriching voyage into the art of fiction, I did not come across a book that really swept me away again until much later, when a friend recommended The Book of Lost Things . Despite all the depth of Kundera’s existentialism, Nabokov’s verbosity, Woolf’s complex feminism, none could capture my imagination the way Connolly did with such childish simplicity. There is something about fairy tales that will never cease to captivate those who don’t object to being captivated. You can choose, for any given fragment of your life, to believe that other, magical worlds can exist. Magic becomes real and it is possible to shut your eyes and be transported to another place.

Lately I find that it’s more difficult to do this. There are too many intrusions on my inner life; too many knocks on the door; too many demanding voices. But at least I can shut out the morning rush hour for 30 minutes every day, as my train leaves the platform and I leave the world behind and disappear into The Night Circus. 

My Orange Prize Top 5

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The Orange Prize longlist was announced today. Here are the top five I’m itching to read: