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Perfect prose

So how bad does it have to be before you give up? Here is the opening paragraph of a thriller I picked up today: “The archbishop’s men fled into the shadows of the lower valley. Behind them, atop the winter pass, horses screamed, arrow-bit and cleaved. Men shouted, cried, and roared. The clash of steel rang as silvery as a chapel’s bells.” Can it possibly get worse? Atop the Cite de l’Ecrit I too could be arrow-bit and cleaved for suggesting that this is truly terrible. Admittedly it is from a book that sounds from the blurb as if it is another Dan Brown type yawn. Personally I blame Umberto Eco who’s Name of the Rose started the whole thing off – but he could at least write and the rest really are pale imitations.

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US author wins top French literary prize

Richard_Ford_par_Claude_Truong-Ngoc_sept_2013American author Richard Ford has been awarded the Femina Prize for best foreign novel for his book Canada about a boy whose parents rob a bank. The Femina Prize is one of France’s top literary awards and is judged by an all-woman jury. The Femina Prize is awarded in three categories – best French novel, best foreign novel and best essay. The best French novel award went to Cameroonian author Leonora Miano for Le Saison de l’ombre (The Season of Darkness) about the loss of loved ones experienced by sub-Saharan Africans during the slave trade. The best essay prize went to Jean-Paul and Raphael Enthoven for a work entitled Dictionnaire amoureux de Proust.

Prior to the publication of Canada in 2012 Ford was best known for his Frank Bascombe trilogy – The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995) and The Lay of the Land (2006).

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The Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction

DannunzioThis year’s prize has been won by Lucy Hughes-Hallett for her book The Pike (published by Fourth Estate). The £20,000 prize is the most prestigious prize for non-fiction in the UK. The Pike tells the story of Gabriele d’Annunzio an Italian poet who transformed himself into a fascist politician and national hero who helped lay the foundations for the rise of Mussolini.

The other five titles shortlisted for the prize were:

Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WW1’s War Graves by David Crane.

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple, an account of the first Afghan war which began in 1839. This war ranks as one of the most incompetently led British campaigns in history.

A Sting in the Tale a study of bumble bees by Dave Goulson.

Under Another Sky, a journey round Roman Britain by Charlotte Higgins.

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography, Volume One: Not for Turning by Charles Moore.

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Requested poems from Poetry Please number 1

Well here it is – poem number one in the most requested poems to be read on the BBC’s Poetry Please: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. Obviously Frost was heading for The Glass Key bookshop in Montmorillon when he wrote perhaps the most famous repetition in the English language. He would have found, and you still can find, a great selection of poetry books on its shelves or to be viewed at www.theglasskey.co.uk.

Whose woods are these I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
And I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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Requested poems from Poetry Please number 2

We have now reached the second most requested poem on the BBC’s Poetry Please programme and it is Sonnets from the Portuguese 43: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. A visit to The Glass Key bookshop in Montmorillon would give you a chance to catch more of her poetry and that of her husband, Robert Browning – a chance not to be missed.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

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Requested poems from Poetry Please number 3

Poem number 3 in the most requested poems to be read on the BBC’s Poetry Please is Adlestrop by Edward Thomas. Thomas enlisted in the Artists Rifles in July 1915, despite being a mature married man who could have avoided enlisting, in part after reading Frost’s The Road Not Taken. He was killed in action soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. Although he survived the actual battle, he was killed by the concussive blast wave of one of the last shells fired as he stood to light his pipe. Who says words will never hurt me? Plenty of words of comfort, solace and inspiration available at The Glass Key bookshop in Montmorillon.

Yes. I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

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Requested poems from Poetry Please number 4

Poem number 4 in the most requested poems to be read on the BBC’s Poetry Please programme is Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas. Personally, I think I would choose Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night or The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower, but a visit to The Glass Key bookshop in Montmorillon might help you decide for yourself.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
   The night above the dingle starry,
      Time let me hail and climb
   Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
      Trail with daisies and barley
   Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
   In the sun that is young once only,
      Time let me play and be
   Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
      And the sabbath rang slowly
   In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
   And playing, lovely and watery
      And fire green as grass.
   And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among the stables, the nightjars
   Flying with the ricks, and the horses
      Flashing into the dark,

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
   Shining, it was Adam and the maiden,
      The sky gathered again
   And the sun grew round that very day.
So it nust have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
   Out of the whinnying green stable
      On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
   In the sun born over and over,
      I ran my heedless ways,
   My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I card, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
   Before the children green and golden
      Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
   In the moon that is always rising,
      Nor that riding to sleep
   I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
      Time held me green and dying
   Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

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Requested poems from Poetry Please no 5

Poem number 5 in the list of most requested by listeners to Radio 4’s Poetry Please is The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy. Hardy captures the essence of birdsong with his words and the result is a poem perhaps a little more cheerful than yesterday’s Dover Beach. If you are in need of cheer then a visit to The Glass Key in Montmorillon would enable you to pick up a Thomas Hardy volume at little expense.

I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
     The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
     The bleak twigs overhead
In full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;
And aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.

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Requested poems from Poetry Please number 6

Sixth most requested poem on Radio 4’s Poetry Please is Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. I tend to think of Arnold as a rather fusty Victorian, but this poem is modern in its tone and it reverberates in the mind with a tangible sadness. You can find a bargain price edition of Dover Beach and Other Poems at The Glass Key in Montmorillon.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

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Requested poems from Poetry Please number 7

Seventh most requested poem on Radio 4’s Poetry Please is Sonnet CXVI: Let me not to the Marriage of True Minds by William Shakespeare – or perhaps, as James Joyce would have it, William Rutlandbaconsouthamptonshakespeare (or some other poet by the same name). You can, of course, buy the sonnets, or the complete works of Shakespeare at The Glass Key in Montmorillon.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.