Saturday, 30 January 2010

One evening, a policeman came and told him…
"So begins Charles Reznikoff’s cycle of poems, Holocaust. It could be the beginning of Kafka’s Metamorphosis (“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking…”). and what follows in Reznikoff is certainly a metamorphosis of sorts: the transformation of certain human beings into something lower than monstrous insects to whom all trace and privilege of humanity is denied. But Kafka’s world was metaphor, it was imagined. Reznikoff’s was a historical record. In fact it was quite precisely a historical record..." writes George Szirtes in his introduction to Five Leaves' edition of Reznikoff's Holocaust now in press. We'll have copies back in a couple of weeks.

The late Charles Reznikoff is not hugely known in this country, but Black Sparrow in the States kept his work in print. This book comprises verbatim witness records from the Nuremberg and Eichmanm trials turned into something like verse form. A book that is hard to read, we confess, but an important poetry documentary. We are proud to publish it here.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Finally made it to The Night Shift

"I have no idea of the statistics, but most poets who choose to write about the night seem to find their inspiration in town rather than country: the “starless and bible-black” town of Dylan Thomas; the Night Waitress of Lynda Hull “bitter with sleeplessness”; God speaking to Vernon Scannell “beyond the dark sky and its white rash of stars on a frosty night on Ealing Broadway”. But I have had another (almost) night job: milking cows on a farm in west Wales. There is real beauty in the wintry pre-dawn hour of a farm: the cows’ breath and sweat mingling in misty patches; the frost fringing trees and grass and the silence before the dogs wake and the work begins.
One day, when Today is a memory, I shall write about it. But there’s enough in this delightful anthology to last until then."

So writes John Humphrys in the introduction to our poetry collection The Night Shift which has finally made it to the printer after an age tracking down permissions. Lynda Hull, Dylan Thomas and Vernon Scannell were easy, but some stumped us. One we gave up on was a Middle English poem that had come out in a number of translations, over different editions, over different publishers. We were never quite able to work out who to ask for version we had found. Another American publisher had a long queue of people passing us on, from publisher to agent, from agent to publisher. Still, The Night Shift is in press. Thanks to all those writers who gave permission a long time back, and thanks to our patient editors Michael Baron, Andy Croft and Jenny Swann. And to anyone who has ordered the book... we get it back on Feb 12th. It has moved into a hardback, at the same price of £9.99.

Howard Zinn

Thanks to our colleagues at AK Press for this quote from Howard Zinn, American Jewish labor activist who has just died after a long and fruitful life:

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."--Howard Zinn, from "The Optimism of Uncertainty" (2004)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The names of the forgotten

Penniless Press is a literary journal appearing roughly quarterly, but so roughly quarterly that about once a year I think "Hang on, has my sub run out or has it got lost in the post?" This time, wandering through its website ( to check - and, dear reader, allow time for a wander as the route is not linear - I found The Penniless Press Reader, available for £8.18 (sic) plus postage. The book is printed on demand from Lulu and arrived in about four or five days. No ISBN so this seems the only way to obtain a copy. But well worth while. Penniless Press is produced in the most basic format, but includes excellent writing including important essays by John Lucas and that small press hero Jim Burns. The best essays and some poetry from issues 1-26, from 1995-2008 are included here, good value at over 400 pages.

I've lifted a chapter heading from the book as the subject of this post in gentle admiration not scorn that the Reader includes chapters on many people who are less well known than they once were (like Irving Howe) or the barely remembered at all (come in Maxwell Bodenheim).

Five Leaves' writers John Lucas and Andy Croft are well represented (and from our Nottinghamshire base the late Leslie Williamson writing about DH Lawrence's friend Willie Hopkin, who Les knew well in Eastwood when he was young). With the possible exception of S. Kadison and the certain exception of Elizabeth Howkins all the contributors to the book are chaps, unusual these days in a literary mag.

If I could describe Penniless in a sentence it would be (from an editorial in issue three) that "Literature should be written for enthusiasts by enthusiasts, and when someone ask you about a writer, talk about the writing and ignore the prizes."

Alan Dent, the editor, is known to have his heart on the left, which adds something to his use of as printer of the last issue of the magazine found on my shelves. And that reminds me that the late Poetry Nottingham used to be printed by the Christian Duplicating Services. I hope they only duplicated sheets of paper.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Terezin Dreams

Sunday 24 Jan 2010, 16.30
Radio 4, also on BBC Listen Again for seven days
Sybil Ruth (author of the Five Leaves' poetry collection I Could Become that Woman) tells how she came to translate a series of poems written by her great aunt in the German concentration camp of Theresienstadt in the last two years of the Second World War.
When Rose Scooler, died four years ago, Sibyl knew little about her, except that she had been an inmate at Theresienstadt, or Terezin as it was know to the Czechs. She has translated a series of poems written by Rose in the camp, which she introduces in this programme.

Theresienstadt was a ghetto town used by Nazis to hold Jews en route to extermination camps. It developed into a ‘model’ camp, where cultural activities were allowed, to disguise to the outside world the true Nazi project. In 1944 the authorities permitted a visit by the Red Cross to dispel rumours of genocide, a successful attempt to cover-up the great crime of the holocaust.

The poems speak with an singular voice: confident, ironic, often playful and never self-pitying. Although nothing in Rose Scooler’s privileged background could have prepared her for life in a Nazi concentration camp, what comes through is a strong, humorous and defiant spirit. After her liberation from Theresienstadt she went on to live a long and fulfilling life before dying at the age of 103. The poems are read by Eleanor Bron,historian David Cesarani provides the historical context.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Bookshops in Jerusalem # 3

In the last couple of postings I have mentioned (the Arab) Educational Bookshop and (the Jewish) Ludwig Mayer Bookshop. I've been writing only about shops selling English language books, and covering the few independents in the City. Most people though will come across one of the three chains, Steimatzky, Tzomet or Tamir, with modest English language sections. Steimatzky feels like a WH Smith, with an interesting exchange rate. At Ben Gurion airport I bought the second volume of the Stieg Larsson series, in the US Vintage edition, not realising it was all over the UK already. The US price was $7.99, and at Steimatzky it was the equivalent of £10. Tzomet - correct me if I am wrong - was set up by Israeli publishers concerned about the previous stranglehold Steimatzky held. This sustains in importing with Tamir buying all their English language books from Steimatzky.

Meanwhile, one further indie worth mentioning is the excellent bookshop (also with a high conversion rate) at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. The Colony is the starting point for all journalists and politicians preferring to stay on the Arab side of the divide, and it is a very luxurious hotel with high quality fiction, poetry and biography from the US, UK and the Middle East and a pretty comprehensive selection of books on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It packs a huge amount of books into a very small space and is open long hours, and open to non-hotel residents.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Bookshops in Jerusalem # 2

In the last posting I talked about the newest English-language Jerusalem bookshop, the Arab-owned Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem. The oldest is the Jewish-owned Ludwig Mayer Bookshop on Jaffa Street ( Whereas the new Educational Bookshop is bright, open and comes with a cafe, Ludwig Mayer looks not dissimilar to what it probably looked like in 1908 or when it moved to these premises in 1935. It's dusty, dark, has a multi-lingual stock and caters for the academic market. The stock includes the kind of expensive academic books on the Middle East and on Jewish history that you might see in reviews, but rarely in bookshops. Come with your credit card, but without a wheelchair as the shelves crowd in on you. This is the sort of shop to disappear into and come out a few years later, older, greyer, but wiser.

They do mail order, and a quick look at their catalogue included gems such as Hebrew Literature in North Africa Since 1381 and Development of Jewish Book Publishing in Lithuania (in Russian) and The Historical Prologue of the Hittite Vassal Treaties. No, I don't know what they are either.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Bookshops in Jerusalem #1

Congratulations to the owners of the Educational Bookshop in (Arab) East Jerusalem. For 35 years the owners have run an Arab language bookshop on Salah Ad-Din Street with a growing English language section. Now they have made the bold step of opening an entirely English language shop and cafe opposite the old premises, which will itself be renovated, reverting to Arab books and stationery only.

The shop is attractive, very "Western" in a Middle Eastern Street, but clearly Arabist. The stock concentrates on the Middle East conflict and Arab fiction but also includes English magazines as diverse as the People's Friend and the New York Review of Books. The cafe is a hybrid of West and East. The new premises opened six weeks ago, and is already busy. I asked Iyad Muna, who runs the place together with his brother Imad, who they see as their market. He said that he expects only 10-20% of the customers to be local Arabs, English students and academics, with the majority of the custom coming from the many Non-Governmental Organisations based in the area, ex-pats and tourists. The books are expensive by local standards - or indeed for us right now because of the exchange rate. Israel also charges vat on books, and there is carriage, but the Muna brothers hold down prices by ordering in quantity and getting good discounts. They've spent four or five years planning the project and deserve to succeed.

Thought the bookshop is clear on its views it also stocks books by Israeli novelists like Amos Oz and David Grossman and even books from a Zionist perspective. Given the lack of good English language bookshops "on the other side", did they expect many Jewish Jerusalemites to shop there? Iyad felt that would not happen, citing a psychological barrier preventing even liberal academics coming over. I was reminded of the late Anwar Sadat's 1977 speech to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, where he referred to "... a psychological barrier between us. A barrier of suspicion. A barrier of rejection. ... A barrier of hallucination around any deed and decision." Iyad also said that most Jewish Israeli English language readers will order through the Internet, but in East Jerusalem postcodes and in some cases street names are absent making it impossible to order on line.

I left with a substantial order for our handful of books on the Middle East, including our two Jonathan Wilson novels, and the advice from Iyad to publish more Middle Eastern books.
You can find something on the Educational Bookshop on, but at the moment the site only shows the old shop. An updated site is planned.