Friday, 30 October 2009

University of the ghetto

Back again to the East End, London's East End, joining in a tour. Not for the first time. Five Leaves has published a few books on the East End so it was a well beaten path. Nevertheless it was valuable to stand again outside Ikey Solomon's house (Fagin as fictionalised) and to hear again the story of Two Gun Cohen (look him up) and others. The bookish part ends up of course at Whitechapel Gallery - where Isaac Rosenberg wrote his poems, Mark Gertler and David Bomberg borrowed art books, Jacob Bronowski (The Ascent of Man) learned English and Arnold Wesker wept over Wind in the Willows. Those were the days when Whitechapel Library was known as the University of the Ghetto. Now the building is part of the Art Gallery, complete with a hugely popular exhibition of Sophie Calle's work and a hugely empty overpriced restaurant.

The exhibition about the "Whitechapel Boys" has been taken down - shame, it would have been an important permanent exhibition with its signed copies of Rosenberg's work and other fascinating bits and pieces. But the book room at the top of the building gives a nod to the past with part of Bernard Kops' elegiac "Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East" stencilled on a window.

Together with "Shalom Bomb" this is Kops' most popular poem. Some of it is printed below. You can find both in our Bernard Kops' East End, or wait a while as David Paul is publishing a collection of new and old poetry by the man. Here's a picture of Bernard reading the poem outside the library. And here's a bit of the poem

I emerged out of childhood with nowhere to hide

when a door called my name

and pulled me inside.

And being so hungry I fell on the feast.

Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.

And Rosenberg also came to get out of the cold

to write poems of fire, but he never grew old.

And here I met Chekhov, Tolstoy, Meyerhold.

I entered their words, dark visions of gold.

And Lorca and Shelley said "Come to the feast"

Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East

Thursday, 29 October 2009

King Dido book launch

Bethnall Green Library had a pretty full house for the launch of a new edition of Alexander Baron's King Dido, the first of the Five Leaves' grand(iose) sounding New London Editions. We were pleased that Alexander Baron's widow, Dolores, was present. The evening was introduced by Nick Baron, his son (and occasionally interrupted by the author's six week old grandson, attending his first book launch) and Ken Worpole, who wrote the introduction to the book. Ken did a lot to bring attention back to Alexander Baron by writing about him in Dockers and Detectives -also now published by Five Leaves. Nick and Ken are pictured.

Ken read a short extract from King Dido, but his talk also included part of a home recording of Alexander Baron being interviewed by Ken some years back.

There is a modest renewal of interest in Baron, once one of this country's best-selling writers. Five Leaves is publishing Rosie Hogarth next year in New London Editions, with an introduction by Andrew Whitehead while Black Spring is due to republish From the City, From the Plough and The Lowlife.

Many people there were curious to see wall carvings in the library of William Morris, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and... Richard Wagner. But nobody knew why the unlikely composer was included. Maybe the chair of the then library committee was a fan?

Bethnal Green - since you ask - was the setting for King Dido, the story taking place in the criminal underworld of 1911 in "Rabbit Marsh".

The Russians are coming

Poets Andy Croft and Bill Herbert, two of Five Leaves Three Men on the Metro can be heard talking about their adventures in Moscow on the latest edition of The Strand, the daily arts bulletin on the BBC World Service.
To listen to the broadcast click on The Russian version is on
Three Men on the Metro brings together the weird and wonderful exploits of poets Andy Croft, W.N. Herbert and Paul Summers as they journey from the Newcastle Metro to its Moscow counterpart. With only a tatty copy of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat – a cult classic in the Soviet Union – for company, the trio soon become the typical idealists abroad: lost underground and going in circles. The poetry that followd is inspired by their two weeks adrift in a foreign land, in a Metro system as renowned for its stunning artwork and architecture as it is for its trains.

It's not the winning that counts

Rod Madocks' No Way to Say Goodbye was shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime and Thriller Awards in the section for the John Creasey First Novels in conjunction with the Crime Writers Association. Sadly it did not win but Rod got to walk up a red carpet. He was interviewed by ITV, bankrupted himself by buying wine for his table at the glitzy venue and watched Lynda La Plante rant against crap books written by TV "personalities". Given that she was on the box and there were plenty of TV personalities in the room it was a brave act. It was a night of crime, film stars and frocks. So here's Rod - scrubbed up well - the crime writer, but sadly no frocks in this picture.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!

To the right you will see a typical view towards Dundee, just with the sea a wee bit different in colour than normal. Poetry lovers will be reminded of McGonagall's well remembered (you cannot forget how awful it is) poem. We are glad to say that McLean's Great Dundee Crime Novel volume two is now in the shops, recently reaching number eight in the Scottish Waterstone's Scottish interest top ten. The book was launched in Dundee at "Droothies". Some of you will never have attended a book launch. Those demure events where the author makes an Oscars type speech, thanks various people, before reading an accessible piece of the text then the company returns to their fare of a small glass of dry red... You can see the Dundee version of this here:

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

What I did on my holidays # 1

After a couple of hours around Arthur’s Seat (or Arthur Seaton, as my literary Nottingham-centric companion called it) we dropped down to the Scottish Parliament, sitting in its shadow. The cost overrun and the fascinating architecture of the place have been rehearsed well enough, but it is worth a guided tour by anyone visiting Edinburgh. In its first year over around a million people, mostly Scots, went round their Parliament which probably makes Edwin Morgan’s “For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004” one of the best read poems going since every tour stops in front of it.
Edwin Morgan is the current “Makar”, the Scottish equivalent of the Poet Laureate, now in his eighties, a belatedly out gay man and a terrific poet. His Scottish Parliament poem is a celebration, but also a warning to the Members of the Scottish Parliament that it should not be a “nest of fearties” and worse of all not a place where the famous Scottish phrase “it wizny me” is used. Had more British Parliamentarians assented to his line “We give your our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away” they might not be in the mess they currently are.
A hundred yards from the Scottish Parliament lies the Scottish Poetry Library ( which proudly boasts the new Edwin Morgan archive ( You can pick up some free postcards of Morgan poems like my favourite “Strawberries” or some of his sound poems, so loved by children. Morgan’s archive is not small as he, more than many, contributed to broadsheets, fugitive material of all types, as well as his main publications.
The Scottish Poetry Library is a rare calm space just off the Royal Mile, with a modest events programme, an annual small press fair and a very good broadsheet magazine, Poetry Reader. The library is well laid out with material to borrow or to examine, and some on sale. There’s a children’s area and an area for magazines. Naturally the coverage is slanted towards Scottish poetry, in all the languages of that country. On my visit there was a special exhibition of Ivor Cutler’s poetry and graphics. The same weekend there was a seminar on war poetry, with some current serving soldier poets attending and reading their work.
Without overstating the case, it felt to me that poetry plays a stronger role in Scottish life than here. Burns is never far away. And nor is haggis. I could not believe it at first but it does appear to be true that in 1984, when the Poetry Library first opened (in previous premises) the haggis manufacturer Mcsweeney’s made a vegetarian version that was so popular it went into general manufacture. I’ve bought it and enjoyed it a few times – never knowing its literary origins.
The Scottish Poetry Library produces a neat little pamphlet giving a history of the Library, on its 25th anniversary. £3 well spent.
Later, walking down a footpath by the Water of Leith we stumbled on the Dean Gallery, a building previously quite unknown to me. For the first time ever my jaw really did drop when I went into the exhibition recreating the studios of the Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. You have to see it. The literary interest is in the adjacant room, the Gabrielle Keillor Library where the work of the surrealist French poet Paul √Čluard is on display, and is broadcast, backed by artists books and illustrated books from the Dada and Surrealist tradition. The Gallery as a whole specialises in Surrealism.
The final literary call was on the new Edinburgh Bookshop in Bruntsfield, a spin off from the children’s book in the same street. The shop had been open a few days when I called, with a small but carefully chosen stock of 3,000 books, mostly displayed face out in single copies. It will not replace my favourite Edinburgh bookshop Wordpower as my first port of call, but is another sign of the welcome return of confidence to independent bookselling.