Monday, 29 September 2014

Left for the Rising Sun, review from the Morning Star

Left for the Rising Sun, Right for Swan Hunter
The Plebs League in the North East of England 1908/1926
by Robert Turnbull
Pubs. Five Leaves Publications
Pbck, £6.99

This slim booklet is a gem of historical research and provides a fascinating, if frustratingly short, insight into the role of worker education not only in the North East but in the country as whole during the latter half of the 19th into the 20th century.

As Turnbull explains in his introduction, I hope this book is a contribution to our historybut also a reminder that education is a right and not a privilege and that the struggle for liberty and equality by previous generations are built on and renewed. In the North East regionwe have seen libraries closed, the bedroom tax imposedcuts to benefits, the disabled and unemployed scapegoatedin some of the most vindictive and cruel attacks by a ruling elite, certainly in my lifetime.

So how can we fight back in the face of such ruling class onslaughts and how can examining our history help? There are no easy answers, but such books as this can still offer inspiration and unique insight.

Turnbull concentrates on the emergence of the Plebs League and a number of other working class self-education initiatives which were established by working people in order to provide them with the intellectual tools to better understand and change their own lives. Such education was instrumental in helping large sections of the working class break their ties with a paternalistic Liberalism and led to the foundation of real socialist organisations like the ILP,  the Labour and Communist parties. While the dreams and hopes of that generation were not realised, those organisations did play a key role in educating a whole generation of working class leaders and underlined the vital role of education as a means of liberation and enlightenment. And those aims are still valid, as the recent autobiography of the comedian Paul Merton reveals. Education is still today key to liberating working class children from often low self-esteem and being categorised as low achievers. Children learn social scripts early on and these can be more inhibiting than even material disadvantages, as he shows.

The author and Five Leaves should be congratulated on making this unique history once again available to us today, both as a necessary reminder and a challenge.

John Green

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dannie Abse

I am sorry to hear about the death of Dannie Abse, at the age of 91. I last  saw him at a memorable reading in Southwell Cathedral as part of Southwell Poetry Festival. I can't remember though if it was that reading when he told the joke about being introduced in his native Wales as Dannie Abs. He nudged the chair and said "call me Abse" and the chair replied saying "Yes, and you can call me Jonesy".
Dannie appeared in two Five Leaves' books. He had a couple of poems in our early anthology Poetry for the Beekeeper, celebrating fifteen years of Beeston Poets, where he had read. But we published thirty pages of his poems in Passionate Renewal: Jewish poetry in Britain since 1945, and he also read at the book launch. Was Dannie ambivalent about his Jewishness? Memory, and many of his poems say not, but his 'White Balloon" starts 'Dear love, Auschwitz made me / more of a Jew than Moses did.' He certain knew his Yiddish from his Hebrew which he wrote about in 'Of Two Languages'. The poem that remains most in my mind, however, is 'Case History' describing dealing with a rank anti-Semitic patient - Dannie was a doctor as well as a poet - who did not know he was a Jew, treating him and prescribing for him as if he was his brother.
Dannie's poetry was always intelligent, sometimes playful, but always accessible and stood repeated reading. His publisher was Hutchinson yet he was equally happy in the small press world, bringing out pamphlets with John Rety's Hearing Eye and giving an annual reading at John's Torriano Meeting House. There will be full obituaries in all the broadsheets.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Reprinted from Parkview blog, with permission, because we are not without vanity

Towns in Britain by Adrian Jones & Chris Matthews, 2014, Five Leaves Publications, B6, 324pp, illus, index, ISBN: 978 1907869822, £16.99, from Five Leaves Bookshop, 14A Long Row, Nottingham NG1 2DH,

This wonderful book, full of delights, is the work of two Nottingham residents (if you include West Bridgford in the city’s orbit), Adrian Jones, a former city planner (has a very good website called Jones the Planner), and Chris Matthews, a Nottingham local historian and graphic designer (see his excellent website, local history and art), offer readers their take on over twenty British towns and cities, from both contemporary and historical perspectives, including Nottingham (‘neither Northern nor Midland’) and much maligned Newport  (‘home of the Mole Wrench’) in Wales. I would have liked chapters on Basingstoke and Milton Keynes, if only to help with my own education, but I am pleased to say they write fondly about Coventry (‘an underrated masterpiece') and sing the praises of garden cities and some new towns.

Their chapter on Leicester (‘a totally uninteresting Midland city?') begins ‘Leicester has a bit of a problem with its image — it hasn’t really got one… it does its best to hide the fact that it is one of England’s most historic cities’. The authors then provide any would-be visitor with the most perfect of guides and all this before Richard III became the city’s crowning historical glory.

What I love about this critique cum guide is the fact that it is full of literary references. On the first page of the Nottingham chapter we get not only the obvious, D H Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe, but the blessed Ian Nairn and J B Priestley as well, all with something pertinent to say about the city in the 21st century. Somehow  Jones  and Matthews manage to throw in a good few references to housing, especially public, all too often forgotten. They do not shy away from the obvious: a truth that, in polite society, dare not speak its name. In Nottingham ‘like most cities, there is a lot of poverty alongside conspicuous wealth… (the) relentless alienation of the dispossessed is painfully captured in Shane Meadows’s films, so much so I can hardly bear to watch’.

Towns in Britain is up there with the best and will not disappoint. Ross Bradshaw hopes to eventually publish as an e-book. In the meantime buy the paperback and read at leisure. Once read you will want to keep it handy — it’s that kind of book.

By way of footnote. This year I have bought a couple of other history/planning/architecture books from Five Leaves Bookshop: Concretopia  by John Grindrod and Ian Nairn: Words in Place, a collection of essays relating to books and articles (which is also now available as an e-book). Be warned(!) Ross Bradshaw's bookshop is very difficult to leave without spending money. Also a book about mapping, which this has prompted me to write something about, so coming soon...

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The North: a magazine of poems, articles, reviews and features

I know it's nearly October, but the spring issue of The North has just come through our letterbox, a voucher copy sent because the mag contains a review of our Things of Substance by Liz Cashdan. An excellent review at that, by John Killick, who remarks "One always knows where one is with Cashdan, she is a kind of verse journalist, and you can piece together most of her life, places she has been, persons she has known, interests she has pursued, by following through this collection. And she has the journalist's quality of clarity, concision and curiosity." Killick concludes by praising Liz's 'The Names of Wool', eleven verses of names of wool, when she "achieved a tour de force which should be in all the anthologies." That would be nice.
Five Leaves is only a part-time visitor to the poetry world, but this issue also includes an article by Mahendra Solanki about his life's reading of British, American and Indian poets. Robert Lowell comes out as most returned to, but Mahendra also introduces the work of AK Ramunujan and Arun Kolatkar, new to me at least and perhaps most Western readers of the journal. His article will be useful in preparing an intro for Mahendra's reading on October 1st at our bookshop.
There are quite a few poems in the issue from that loose group of "friends of Five Leaves" - Robert Hamberger, who we used to publish; Maria Taylor, due to read in the shop next year; John Harvey, one of our irregulars; David Cooke, who read at out place recently and shared the launch of Liz Cashdan's collection in Sheffield; Bill Herbert from our new A Modern Don Juan... as well as quite a few others who we've anthologised or with whom we have loose connections.
This issue of The North was guest edited by Jonathan Davidson and Jackie Wills and is well worth buying, not least for the longer, thoughtful articles about the craft and the business. My only criticism is that four of the reviewers - Malika Booker, David Cooke , Wendy Klein and Maria Jastrezbska also have books under review in the same.
The North is normally on sale at the Five Leaves Bookshop or from and costs £8.00.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Free Verse 2014 report

This year's Free Verse poetry bookfair was - as always - a success, or so it appeared from the Five Leaves stall, one of 61 groups exhibiting this year. The number of stall holders was up slightly on last year, though I did think the number of attendees was marginally down. There was still a pile of the paperback style free programme left at the end, indicating a smaller take up than expected. On the other hand, the number of readings during the day seems to have doubled and the readings carried on well into the evening in a nearby hostelry. The event was also expertly organised by Chrissy Williams and Joey Connolly with, for example, volunteers to cover stalls to allow publishers to wander a little or to support their authors at readings.
What was also interesting was the new appearance of some of the big boys - Faber and Picador - rubbing shoulders with the groundlings. And rub shoulders they have to do as one of the major features of the bookfair is that everyone gets the same space - one table. If TS Eliot was alive today he'd be sitting behind a Faber stall on a cranky plastic seat next to a metaphorical One Person and a Dog Press with five pamphlets to its name. And every publisher putting on a reading gets the same time. Democracy in action. Thanks to Arts Council funding Free Verse can pay travel expenses from out of London presses too, which means that northern publishers can take part without bankrupting themselves.
The Five Leaves stall did better than ever, after a slow start. We only had one new poetry book - our A Modern Don Juan, which people flocked to buy in their ones, but, thanks to our bookshop, we also took poetry stock from non-exhibiting presses which (sigh) attracted more attention and sales than our own.
We were next to a much busier stall, our chums at Happenstance Press, run by the enterprising Helena Nelson, whose new anthology of choc-lit poems was supplemented by free chocolate. A good stall to be next to. Many other "friends of Five Leaves" were around, including Cathy Galvin launching her first poetry pamphlet with Melos Press and Rosie Miles, whose first pamphlet will come from Happenstance next year. Our shop worker Leah was attending her first Free Verse and was interested in reported research showing that only 1% of published poets are Black. At the time we were discussing it, she was one of only two Black people among hundreds in the Conway Hall. As organisers of poetry readings that gave us some thought, and is a subject we'll be addressing in the New Year.
Leah got to readings, while I stayed behind the stall, greeting a lot of old friends including a delighted Michael Ezra - delighted, that is, because the People's March for the NHS was rallying in Red Lion Square outside the Free Verse venue. One poor bloke was, I heard, giving his biggest ever poetry reading in the Square when joined by hundreds of marchers, a samba band and a PA with speeches and Billy Bragg. Meh, could the two events not have been merged somehow?
I mentioned before that if we were to price our labour properly - travel time, time behind the stall, preparing and unpacking the stalls, giving readings - everyone would be losing money hand over fist, but that is not important. With luck you go back with fewer books than you came with. From a Bookshop point of view it did look like we were going to make a decent profit on the day - until we found the stock of etruscan books (their choice of lower case), a lot of which was taken for the shop. We'll be back next year.