Friday, March 23, 2012

Poetry and Migration

London Review Bookshop

On a recent evening in Bloomsbury, a cache of like-minded souls gathered in the London review of Books Bookshop after hours. The draw-card? Poet Ruth Padel being interviewed by Scottish novelist Andrew O’Hagan, and then reading parts of her new book ‘The Mara Crossing’.

Cordon Bleu tea
There were a few other drawcards for your blogger, I must admit. For one thing, this is an excellent bookshop, full of thoughtfully-selected choices, and of course the LBR newspaper itself. The bookshop also has attached to it a cafe serving tasty teas and treats, where book-loving tea-drinkers can sit around a communal table...ah, yes. Great idea, eh?

The food has to good, right?
The bookshop also opens at the rear onto Pied Bull Yard (oh, the speculation about how it acquired that name!) which is a rear hideaway filled with outdoor tables and chairs. On this particular evening it was even mild enough to sit at them in the early evening. And a new discovery - open less than a month, a new cafe entitled ‘Le Cordon Bleu’: on further exploration, revealed to be the front of the famous cooking school. I asked - yes, they bake the breads and sweets and quiches and so on at the school.

The new publication
But back to literary matters. Andrew O’Hagan is worth hearing if only for his pronounced Glaswegian accent (the first time I encountered him, he was reading Rabbie Burns for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. It was unintelligible but very musical). The evening was, however, for Ruth Padel and her new book, which is partly poetry, partly prose, and partly -  we were warned - polemic. I sat on one of the folding chairs that the bookshop had unearthed (ah! I remember those folding-chair days at Tea In The Library!) sipping my cheap white wine (supplied) and considered Ruth’s topic: migration. An Australian ex-pat friend was with me, and we wondered if her thoughts might apply to our condition. However, Ruth’s first readings plunged with rather shocking imagery into the plight of asylum seekers and other such desperate migrants. This certainly put our petty quibbles into stark perspective. But, fascinatingly, the book ranges far and wide, and encompasses much on animals (such as the wildebeest and antelopes of the Mara crossing in Kenya, hence the title of the book); and birds (“I spent three years on the birds”, said Ruth); in fact, everything from the migration of cells to the migration of souls.

In fact, like all good bookshop talks, something for everyone.

                              An excerpt to whet your poetic appetite:

‘Time to Fly’
Ruth Padel

You go because...someone has offered you a job. You go because the dog is going too. Because the Grand Vizier sent paramilitaries to your home last night, you have to go quick and leave the dog behind.
You go because you’ve eaten the dog and that’s it, there’s nothing else.
You go because you’ve given up and might as well.
Because your love is dead - because she laughed at you. You go because she’s coming with you: it will be a big adventure and you’ll live happily ever after.
You go in hope, in faith, in haste; in high spirits, deep sorrow, deep snow, deep shit and without question....
You go from pole to pole, you go because you can, you sleep and mate on the wing. You go because you need a place to shed your skin in safety.
You go with a thousand questions but you are growing up, growing old, moving on. Say goodbye to the might-have-beens - you can’t step into the same river twice...
You go because you must.

I particularly liked that philosophic reference to the river of Heraclitus...the inevitabiity of change.

Did I buy the book? Of course I did.

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