Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wicked and A Night at the Apollo with Idina Menzel

Apollo Theatre 2012
I feel like I am justified in writing this post about Idina Menzel's concert because my attachment is still related to literary qualities. Wicked was, after all, a novel by Gregory Maguire and what I loved most about the production was the story, the characterisation and the song lyrics as well as the performance aspects. Most of these are fundamentally literary aspects.

I am not a musical theatre buff, most of what I know now I know in relation to Miss Menzel because of what she did for the character of Elphaba and because she is always so deeply in character when she sings.

as Elphaba
I finally got to see her live on Tuesday the 9th of October 2012, a hugely special night, partly because it was a Birthday present but also because I never dreamt I'd get the chance. My interest was born with Wicked, and I didn't even see it when she was in it but somehow I knew she was the Elphaba. Then followed her studio albums, I watched RENT, traced her career, she had a stint on Glee not too long ago but her voice and character was always so affecting whatever she did, even as her simply lovable self.

This tour was a stripped back version of the elaborate 'Barefoot at the Symphony' of 2011, and was primarily to showcase a vast catalogue of Broadway and West End work, some of her favourites, so each song belonged to a character and she slipped into them all so naturally. She also performed a new self-written song: 'God Save My Soul', some Joni Mitchell and paid tribute to her dear friend Marvin Hamlisch.

The Apollo Theatre was a suitably intimate setting, though my seat was very high up. Despite this Idina conversed with the audience so naturally that it was impossible not to be drawn in. A lot of people have remarked how surprised they were at just how effortlessly funny she is. Perhaps the best word to describe the atmosphere was inclusive, for a lot of us it was special just to be in her presence.

Marvin Hamlisch and Idina Menzel
Her tribute to Marvin Hamlisch ('The Way We Were'), the legendary composer and her tour-partner last year, was particularly moving. He passed away fairly recently and she was invited by his wife to perform his favourite of all of his songs, 'At the Ballet', at his funeral. She wasn't afraid to bare her heart on her sleeve in front of the crowd, being both emotionally vulnerable but in control. It felt like a privilege to be invited into something so private and sacred.

Things began with just the orchestra, then Idina's disembodied voice before she skipped onto stage with one chorus line of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'.  She then catapulted into the 'Wizard and I', one of her most iconic vocal performances. Her rendition of Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now', which is lyrically brilliant any day, was soft and expressive and added even more layers to the song. For me it showcased the best of her voice, even without the power she has something very raw and emotive and a stunning range.

'...Well something's lost but something's gained, 
In living every day.
I've looked at life from both sides now,
from win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all...'  

She effectively relaunched her own take on 'Don't Rain on My Parade', shedding the untouchable aura which surrounds one of Barbara Streisand's most iconic performances and another Broadway favourite, 'What I Did For Love'. 'Somewhere' from West Side Story was her final encore song, which she proclaimed to be her favourite song of all time and which she recorded on Glee with her on-screen daughter, Lea Michele.

as Maureen, RENT
One of the most enjoyable moments was 'Take Me Or Leave Me', a fan favourite from RENT, originally a duet with Tracie Thoms. Menzel eagerly invited fans to come up and duet with her. They ranged in age and gender but all rose to the occasion and the audience loved it. The casual banter with the crowd and lapse in formality was a lot of fun and showcased what a very talented and dedicated following Idina has all over the world.

The entire audience got a chance to sing back to Idina in the dying embers of 'No Day But Today', another RENT classic, which Idina has adopted as her own and moulded to her style. It acted as a paean to her whole career and to everything that the audience was feeling in that moment. A more melancholy tone to a carpe-diem lyric or perhaps a reflection on love and loss and death, all issues that RENT addresses. It was a  very nice and tender moment, but tinged with sadness because of the earlier talk about Hamlisch's passing and perhaps the audience's own knowledge that the concert was drawing to a close.

One of the more surprising covers was the chorus line of U2's 'Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' before Idina stepped away from the microphone, the orchestra stopped playing and she gave a stunning, lone rendition of 'For Good', from Wicked. As Elphaba she duetted this song with Kristin Chenoweth in their Wicked days and it has some of my favourite lyrics and meditations on friendship:

'Who can say if I've been changed for the better?...
I do believe I have been changed for the better' 

It always melts my heart and is something I hang onto in many moments in my life. I have no words to describe the majesty that is 'Defying Gravity'. This song is one of the songs that means the most to me in the world and those final notes that Idina sings, and what she does with her voice, will, I think, go on to be one of the most iconic moments in musical theatre of all time. In Wicked itself, this moment is visually stunning as she rises into the sky in defiance, but Idina can tell the story and capture it all just with her voice and eyes, without the make-up and costume, which is quite phenomenal. I feel very privileged to have now seen her sing it live. It is a once in a lifetime experience.

The penultimate song 'Learn to Live Without' (written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey) is rumoured to have been written for Idina from a new Broadway show which is in the works but we will have to wait and see on that one. I thought it was extremely effective, beautifully sung and built very steadily to its denouement. If she is initiating another role in a production I think that's fantastic. She often says she prefers to originate roles than play already established characters, partly to help new composers but I think she is one of those people who is born to make roles iconic. For me, she sets the marker.

I would have loved to have stayed behind at the stage door to try and meet her but unfortunately train-politics meant it was better for me to run. Those who got the chance to meet her are very lucky and hopefully I will get the chance one day. For now, I can say that the concert was one of the most worthwhile things I've done, a wonderful and poignant experience and I really hope she returns to London soon.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Arty Interlude

So I started painting/drawing/making a mess again this summer which was cool because I haven't written much creatively otherwise. Largely inspired by the places I've been this summer - Lake Como, particularly Villa Del Balbianello where they filmed Star Wars II scenes and is genuinely the most beautiful place I've seen. Also the south of France :) Provence etc. Always loved sketching but this time tried to add some colour.

Villa in France - pastel

Church in Provence - Line Drawing

Gorges Du Verdan, Provence - Watercolour and pen

Villa Del Balbianello, Como - Acrylic

St. Paul-de-Vence, France

Monday, August 6, 2012

'We accept the love we think we deserve' - The Perks Of Being a Wallflower (Read this book!)

This is a gem of a book, often labelled as the Catcher in the Rye for this generation, but it is completely unique in its own right too. It captured hearts in the USA but its slight frame has been slightly overlooked in the UK. This book has also acted like a reading list and playlist for me – since Charlie, the protagonist, has an English teacher who prescribes books for him to read, including

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"A Separate Peace" by John Knowles
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand 

I went on to read The Fountainhead, This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, A Separate Peace, Walden and The Stranger and they remain some of my favourite books of all time, especially the first. They are all philosophical in their own way and often reflect intensely on particular individuals.

The book also references my favourite film of all time, Dead Poet’s Society, and some great songs too, particularly ‘Asleep’ by The Smiths. So what’s the point of all this referencing? Surely this is more than a reference book?

Of course it is.

But it is a chronicling of someone who is deeply affected by culture and art, the possibility of self-expression and simple, pure feeling.  Each book, song or film mentioned is of intricate relevance to everything this book is about and everything Charlie himself is about.

This is most notably the case because of the epistolary format and the philosophical ambiguity over the recipient of the letters, their destination – is it the reader? The cathartic process of reading and writing? Or a God? Or someone else completely? Perhaps it doesn’t matter at all.

‘Dear Friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that... I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist… so this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.’ Pg 2

The convolution of vague allusions and mixed emotions are at their strongest in this opening page, an endearing trait of Charlie’s, underlining his existential insecurity. This is underpinned by his meditations on the suicide of one of his closest friends, seemingly a turning point in his life. The epitome of Charlie’s existential struggle, and his status as a wallflower is during an exchange with his English teacher, Bill, perhaps the most fundamentally important character in the novel:

‘“Do you always think this much, Charlie?”
“Is that bad?” I just wanted someone to tell me the truth
“Not necessarily. It’s just that sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.”
“Is that bad?”

The wallflower passively exists on the peripheries of life, watchful, ever present – even reliable, but not impactful. Charlie struggles with a form of depression which is intricately bound up in this. Perhaps it is enhanced by his intense observations of life around him, his perceptiveness, and empathy but also his isolation. His observations offer the reader some gems to meditate upon:

“I am very interested and fascinated by how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other.” 56

Bill and one of Charlie’s closest friends/love interest Sam challenge him in many interesting ways, urging him to take part, to be more noticeable – they ask him to exist meaningfully, even selfishly. To embrace the concept of acting for him-self. Sam makes this argument in the latter pages of the book:

“It’s like you’re not even there sometimes. It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder? What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.” 200

Sam her half-brother Patrick are the first, and only, friends that Charlie makes in his first year of high school. They are quirky outcasts, comfortable in their own social circle, indulging in performances of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and casual dalliances with weed at parties. Patrick has his own struggles – being in an on and off relationship with a football playing jock who’s reluctant to come out of the closet while Sam also ends up in relationships with the wrong people. Younger than both of them, they take Charlie under their wing, as does Bill, the English teacher. My favourite part of the book is this quote from Bill:

“Charlie. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not trying to make you feel uncomfortable. I just want you to know that you’re very special… and the only reason I’m telling you is that I don’t know if anyone else ever has” 181

Bill’s support has a profound effect on young Charlie, professionally and as a friend because he believes in him, actively, not passively and secretly and meaninglessly. He notices him and picks him out and makes him feel worth something and shows him how to feel that way. I think this teacher-student relationship is one of the most special and understated elements of the books. It’s professional but human, maybe even parental.
I’ve highlighted many passages from this book intensely, and these following segments are very intense, muddled thoughts of Charlie’s:
“It’s kind of like when you look at yourself in them mirror and you say your name. And it gets to a point where none of it seems real. Well, sometimes, I can do that, but I don’t need an hour in front of a mirror. It happens very fast, and things start to slip away. And I just open my eyes, and I see nothing. And then I start to breathe really hard trying to see something, but I can’t. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when It does, it scares me.” 74

“And because I don’t want to start thinking again. Not like I have this last week. I can’t think again. Not ever again. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that. I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this. That’s why I’m trying not to think. I just want it all to stop spinning. If this gets any worse, I might have to go back to the doctor. It’s getting that bad again.” 94

“I know that I brought this all on myself. I know that I deserve this. I’d do anything not to be this way. I’d do anything to make it up to everyone. And to not have to see a psychiatrist, who explains to me about being ‘passive aggressive’. And to not have to take the medicine he gives me, which is too expensive for my dad. And to not have to talk about bad memories with him. or be nostalgic about bad things. I just wish that God or my parents or Sam or my sister or someone would just tell me what’s wrong with me. Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense. To make this all go away. And disappear. I know that’s wrong because It’s my responsibility, and I know that things get worse before they get better because that’s what my psychiatrist says, but this is a worse that feels too big.” 139

Charlie shares everything, unabashedly. He is honest and holds nothing back and I think that’s what draws the reader in so drastically and makes them feel part of him. Most of all I think the things he says are basic statements that a lot of people can relate to, whoever they are and however they are. We have what we have, relative to who we are and there’s no point in feeling guilty about that or diverting from it:

“So I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them. I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have.” 211

It makes no sense to simply say that someone has it a lot worse, because you can't objectify emotion. We know nothing beyond our self.

There’s something so poetic about this book, it reaches into every recess of the mind and soul, prompting you to ask questions. There is the issue of his Aunt Helen, the only person who was openly affectionate with him is particularly intriguing. The reader gathers she died in a car accident on Charlie's birthday, something which has deeply affected Charlie but also that he is repressing some memories of the way she has treated, or mistreated him (slightly ambiguous but it is implied she treated him inappropriately). A lot of this is Charlie coming to terms both with her death and his feelings about her and the fact that they can’t be straightforward. Then there is his love and idolisation of Sam, who initially rebuffs him friendlily, his attempts to be a good friend to Patrick and day-to-day family life. This is a book about an individual. We don’t need to know any descriptions of his hair, his weight, his home-town or even his real names – all we need to know is his self and everything that entails – tangible or not.

So I don’t know if the film will aptly express all this – maybe it will lack the subtlety and ambiguity of the book, a cult classic, but as long as it tries to do it in its own way I don’t mind. I’m intrigued, and slightly apprehensive, about the casting and just hope that characters like Bill get the attention they deserve. If the guy playing Charlie talks in a really obvious, serious, unemotive, socially awkward way I'll be mildly irritated because it defeats the object. And I sincerely hope Emma Watson's accent is not terrible. But anyway here's a link to the trailer:

This is a book not just about finding a way to exist, but find a way – or a moment in a paroxysm of emotion and music and literature, an affirmation – a moment in which you can swear you are ‘infinite’.

‘When we hit the tunnel, all the sound got scooped up into a vacuum, and it was replaced by a song on the tape player. A beautiful song called “Landslide”. When we got out of the tunnel, Sam screamed this really fun scream, and there it was. Downtown. Lights on buildings and everything that makes you wonder. Sam sat down and started laughing. Patrick started laughing. I started laughing. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

Love always,

Charlie’ 39

(n.b – my ‘feeling infinite’ song right now is Curtain Call by Aiden Grimshaw – there’s something about the soaring chorus! A beautiful song if you want to check it out.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

In Cold Blood - an analysis

Capote’s In Cold Blood is an astonishing journalistic insight into instances surrounding the murder of a farm-dwelling family in America in the mid-20th century. The psychological depth into which the book goes is unparalleled in most books – fact or fiction. As Capote himself said: ‘No one will ever know what ‘In Cold Blood’ took out of me. It scraped me right down to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me.'

It’s not an easy book to read. But for the right reasons I think, the extraordinary attention to detail, the harrowing effect of insights into each characters psyche, the subject matter itself. 

The first time we meet Perry and Dick, the killers, their humanity is emphasised, they are even equated with the victims: ‘Like Mr Clutter, the young man breakfasting in a café called the Little Jewel never drank coffee.’ (12). Their similarities are played upon in a very straightforward domestic way with something as simple as a distaste for coffee. There is a reduction to the plane of the ordinary that sets the stage for the rest of Capote’s chronicling of events. 

My interest in this book stemmed from a philosophical interest in issues of determinism, free will and responsibility and a lot of the quotes I have selected try to situate Perry and Dick in this kind of context. Clearly, sociological and psychological influences are things that interested Capote too as there are many references throughout the book. Perry Smith is perhaps the most pitiable and intriguing of the two and is portrayed as one who demands a degree of empathy, however slight. Perry’s attitude is clearly fatalistic and he is said to be superstitious as well. Both these qualities are evidenced on page 88, where he says:  ‘Because once a thing is set to happen, all you can do is hope it won’t. Or will – depending. As long as you live, there’s always something waiting, and even if it’s bad and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living’. This gives a sense of a fixed course with definitive points, where choice is irrelevant and the human being is powerless. This may be a convenient way to shed the burden of responsibility but Perry’s musings and self-pity actually suggest a deeper confusion over the state of things. 

There is no denying that his history is deeply troubled: ‘After all, it was ‘painful’ to imagine that one might be ‘not just right’ – particularly if whatever was wrong was not your own fault but ‘maybe a thing you were born with.’ Look at his family! Look at what had happened there! His mother, an alcoholic, had strangled to death on her own vomit.’ (106), two of his siblings had committed suicide. Perry had ended up a ‘hated, hating half-breed child living in a California orphanage run by nuns – shrouded disciplinarians who whipped him for wetting his bed.’ (89). His treatment at the hands of these religious figures certainly embittered him, as he reflects when asked before his hanging if he’d like to speak to anyone: ‘Priests and nuns have had their chance with me. I’m still wearing the scars to prove it.’ (280). At intervals he recounts his time in the orphanage, referring to it as a ‘nightmare’, recalling how one nurse used to hold him under water every night to the point of drowning, and put burning ointment on his penis for her own amusement. Perry’s underlying rage and animosity surfaces during these times: ‘what I wished I could have done to her and all the people who made fun of me’ (267). 

If anything Perry is shown to be deeply, dangerously sensitive. Humiliation is his deepest shame and mingled with anger and envy it is his deepest weakness. One of the most heart-breaking accounts is of a time when his own father raised a gun and pulled the trigger repeatedly on his own son, ‘and when he realised the gun wasn’t even loaded he started to cry.’ (132). After the loyalty Perry had shown to his father as a child, this act is the last severing of any family bonds and he is left completely alone. His father acknowledges his influence, reflecting that: ‘How well I know that Perry is goodhearted if you treat him rite’. (120-125) Perry may commit the actual murder but he is not premeditating about it, his intention is not to go in and cause harm: ‘I wasn’t kidding him. I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.’ (237). If Dick hadn’t been there would any of it have happened? No, I don’t think so. Events converged to an extreme that something in Perry slipped. 
When examining the crime scene, detectives observed that ‘at least one of the murderers was emotionally involved with the victims, and felt for them, even as he destroyed them, a certain twisted tenderness.’ (99). Perry arranged the mattresses for the Clutters’ comfort, he refused to leave Dick alone with the daughter, trying to protect her from Dick’s sexual interests. And yet somehow he murdered them all in cold blood. Dewey, the detective, goes so far as to call the crime a ‘psychological accident, virtually an impersonal act; the victims might as well have been killed by lightning. Except for one thing: they had experienced prolonged terror, they had suffered… none the less, [Dewey] found it possible to look at the man beside him without anger – with, rather, a measure of sympathy – for Perry Smith’s life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress towards one mirage and then another.’ (239). Was Perry carried along by the circumstances? He admits wondering: ‘Why don’t I walk off?’, but ‘it was like I wasn’t part of it. More as though I was reading a story and I had to know what was going to happen. The end.’ (234). More like the currents of some psychological narrative that he and Dick had fallen into. They went into the house on the false supposition of there being a safe. They left it having murdered an innocent family for no reason but perhaps their own fear and frustration. For Dick, it is suggested it is the rush of power he felt from the ‘knife in his hand’, for he was ashamed of his sexual interest in children but he does not do anything about it (194). He is carried away by it all. 

Dick had a different background to Perry but with troubles of his own. His father cites him as ‘an outstanding athelete – always on the first team at school… he wanted to go on to college… never had any money… concussed his head in a car smash-up. After that, he wasn’t the same boy… when he came out of Lansing, he was a plain stranger to me. You couldn’t talk to him. The whole world was against Dick Hickock – that’s how he figured’. (159) Dick also had a succession of troubled marriages which resulted in children at a young age, and ‘we were too young to have three kids. Maybe if we hadn’t got so deep into debt. If I could’ve earned extra money…’ (211). This arguably started his phoney cheque ruse and descent into crime. 

Perhaps it is Perry who we are drawn to because he has ambition, ambition that was quashed by his circumstances. He resents their jail-mate Andy, because he ‘was the one thing in the world Perry wants to be – educated. And Perry couldn’t forgive him for it.’ (326) Perry is also deeply jealous of the rest of his family because his father ‘wouldn’t let me go to school… every damn one of you got an education. Everybody but me. And I hate you, all of you – dad and everybody’. (179)Perry is always correcting Dick’s grammar, once dreamt of being a performer and studies meticulously: ‘Everybody always remarks what a beautiful handwriting I have. I do, and it’s because once I bought a book on the subject and practised till I could write the same as in the book.’ (131). He displays marks of tremendous drive and determination; he could have had something to offer, as he points out before he is hung. I don’t think it is a bad thing to feel sorry for Perry Smith, it’s a bad thing to not try and understand. As Perry’s friend remarks – ‘it’s easy to ignore the rain if you have a raincoat’ (140). Perry is startlingly aware and perceptive, pointing out society’s inconsistencies: ‘Soldiers don’t lose much sleep. They murder and get medals for doing it. The good people of Kansas want to murder me – and some hangman will be glad to get the work. It’s easy to kill – a lot easier than passing a bad cheque. Just remember: I only knew the Clutters maybe an hour. If I’d really know them, I guess I’d feel different. I don’t think I could live with myself. But the way it was, it was like picking off targets in a shooting gallery’ (283). Perry cares, but no one cares about him and I think that’s the tragedy of his story. 

I’m not arguing for hard determinism though I definitely recommend taking a look at the Clarence Darrow’s defence in the Leopold & Loeb trial earlier in the century. In Cold Blood bears many similarities to that case, but also many differences. The deterministic extreme holds that, as John Hospers said, it is ‘all a matter of luck’ – human beings cannot be blamed for their wrong-doings as they are determined by forces they cannot control. Darrow expressed this kind of idea in his defence of two young murderers in 1924, saying they were doomed before committing the crime: ‘nature takes this job in hand and we play our parts… what had this boy to do with it?’. But Darrow was arguing that the boys should serve life imprisonment rather than the death penalty. He did not absolve them of complete responsibility. But he showed the kind of empathy that might be useful. The boys’ ancestry and upbringing was ‘handed to him… he did not make himself and yet he is compelled to pay… if there is responsibility anywhere, it is back of him’, as a reader, it is easy to read Perry Smith in this way but it is dangerous to absolve him of responsibility for his actions. Instead it suggests a different kind of blame and punishment may be suitable. Just because people may be caused to act in a certain way, it does not necessitate or excuse it. 

Modern physics, however, maintains the most basic laws of nature are NOT deterministic but PROBABILISTIC. There is room for manoeuvrability. The other extreme is libertarianism which states that we have complete free will, highlighting our ability to choose. But if we argue against causality completely, we are left with randomness. A universe in which there are random events, is not one in which we have free will. Causality must exist because we can enforce it. Existentialists like Sartre suggest that we show our freedom in our aim to be free and act freely. Whether we are free is actually irrelevant.  
Thomas Aquinas adjusts the idea of free will, defining it as a rational operation – the fact that you are aware and can think. The more you contemplate and deliberate, the more you are choosing what you do. It could be said that Perry and Dick do not contemplate or deliberate over their actions, and are thus not making a free decision, whether this is their own failure or not.

I guess I will conclude with reference to James Rachels’ essay ‘Doing Without Free Will’. He argues that nothing is lost even if we don’t have free will. We are not robots, we have thoughts and feelings and emotions and reasons for what we do. We can still be rational agents. If we want a certain future it makes sense to act to try and bring it about. Any effort to decide presupposes actual options, we can aim at an outcome and work towards it. Crucially, people are responsible – but the justification is different – blaming must be a way to influence conduct, not simply revenge. Rachels cites two levels on which people can be held responsible:

1) Responsive Level – bad act as result of own desires/choices
2) Reflective Level – unlucky and needs to be influenced for the better because choices influenced by forces beyond his control

Truman Capote
So yes, Dick and Perry are absolutely responsible for what they did, but they are also undoubtedly influenced by many other factors which society could help to change. They were not rational agents at the time of their crime, but are still guilty if not evil. What Capote does is expose their humanity, opening up the possibilities for ethical debate and potential penal reform. The narrative style is ingenious because he removes himself from it, instead focusing completely on each character, giving the story of the family, the story of the killers, with reference to many different perspectives. The result is something real, chilling, affecting, and deeply, deeply important. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mockingjay - 'dangerous games'

It's actually been a while since I've finished Mockingjay but just haven't had time to write up my thoughts. I know a lot of 'fans' were disappointed by it but I think it is because they went into it with the wrong expectations. Like I've said before, the 'young adult' novel thing is a guise. This is quite a serious piece of dystopian literature. Look at 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World, The Road etc. all end in a bleak or ambiguous fashion - things go on, and you're not sure if they will be better or worse or merely the same. And  it's not a cop-out or anti-climax because that is the point. Credit is due to Suzanne Collins for being brave enough to take the course that made the most fundamental sense.

So any sense of a heart-breaking, emptiness is a commendable literary achievement. This third book is driven by a political binary, but it's not as simple as freedom vs state. There is no certitude over which side is better of whether both are as corrupt and manipulative as each other. And that's where Katniss and Gale fall apart I think. Because he is very single minded in the fight against the Capitol while she is always questioning it and uncomfortable at her position. Because "in some ways, District 13 is even more controlling than the Capitol". Gale's reckless tactics of war ultimately result in the death of Primm and many other innocent children. It is not that he has killed them but that his focus meant that he failed to consider how they could be used. That was possibly the most harrowing scene of the entire series: 

"A hovercraft marked with the Capitol's seal materializes directly over the barricaded children. Scores of silver parachutes rain down on them. Even in this chaos, the children know what silver parachutes contain. Food. Medicine. Gifts. They eagerly scoop them up, frozen fingers struggling with the strings. The hovercraft vanishes, five seconds pass, and then about twenty parachutes simultaneously explode."

"This is what they've been doing. Taking the fundamental ideas behind Gale's traps and adapting them into weapons against humans. Bombs mostly. It's less about the mechanics of the traps than the psychology behind them. […] Gale and Beetee left the wilderness behind and focused on more human impulses. Like compassion. A bomb explodes. Time is allowed for people to rush to the aid of the wounded. Then a second, more powerful bomb kills them as well."

Because this isn't really a series of books chronicling a love triangle. Katniss's love for her sister has always been the dominant force, and Prim would always have been her choice:

"He waits for me to deny it; I want to deny it, but it's true. Even now I can see the flash that ignites [Prim], feel the heat of the flames. And I will never be able to separate that moment from Gale. My silence is my answer."
It has always been about survival, and a way to carry on:

[…] what I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that. (27.62)

I know some critics argued that Collins failed to tie up many loose ends but isn't it quite fitting? Loose ends generally don't get tied up, nothing comes in neat packages, the Hunger Games will continue to haunt and torture them for the rest of their lives. Peeta may be the one who's left but he is no consolation, he has always been the most dependable and constant and a symbol of endurance so, for me, that ending is beautiful. With a revolution you're not sure if what's coming is better than what's been, you only know it will be different. So there's a kind of socio-political accuracy in Mockingjay as well as a literary and symbolic fortitude. This is probably why I got so much grim pleasure from it, that it stuck to its guns, it didn't lose its focus and it followed through, refusing to simply satisfy immediate appetites, it becomes something you can dwell on, and should dwell on.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Catching Fire, the searing sequel: "They hadn’t anticipated its will to live..."

"“But Mockingjays were never a weapon," said Madge. "They’re just songbirds. Right?"
"Yeah, I guess so,” I said, but it’s not true. A mockingbird is just a songbird. A mockingjay is a creature the Capitol never intended to exist. They hadn’t counted on the highly controlled jabberjay having the brains to adapt to the wild, to thrive in a new form. They hadn’t anticipated its will to live.”

Katniss Everdeen inadvertently becomes the spark that sets the world ablaze in the follow up to Suzanne Collins' best-selling book:The Hunger Games. I personally feel these books have been mis-marketed as they are found only in the young adult sections of book shops and are perhaps as a consequence less appealing or obtainable to the adult readership. I write about these books because I consider them, along with many other people I'm sure, to have intrinsic literary value above and beyond the selling strategies and market categorisation. I feel convinced that they will become classics, ones that are ever relevant in a similar way to dystopian 'fictions' like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Brave New World and more modern ones such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I would argue overlaps with many aspects of The Hunger Games.

I made many of these points previously in my review of the first book/movie so I mainly want to focus on Catching Fire as a text in its own right. If anything the writing is superior in this novel as Collins truly masters extreme insight, suspense and harrowing descriptions. There is no denying the horror of it all but it is done in a way that is deeply affecting and thought provoking, from the attacks on Cinna and Gale to the goings on in the arena. It's like a million nightmares rolled into one and yet it is so real. It's not embellished or romanticised to any great extent. And then there is the extreme sensitivity in the consideration of different kinds of resistance - the reckless fire and violent passions embodied in Gale and, to some extent, Katniss, juxtaposed with what starts to show itself as equally, if not more, valuable - the good, earnest, pure Peeta and the power of words. Remarked as being the only 'decent' person to win The Hunger Games.

"Certainly he is brave, but we have all been brave enough to survive a Games. There is that quality of goodness that's hard to overlook, but stil... and then I think of it, what Peeta can do so much better than the rest of us. He can use words. He obliterated the rest of the field at both interviews. And maybe it's because of that underlying goodness that he can move a crowd--no, a country--to his side with the turn of a simple sentence. I remember thinking that was the gift the leader of our revolution should have. Has Haymitch convinced the others of this? That Peeta's tongue would have far greater power against the Capitol than any physical strength the rest of us could claim?"

For surely it is words which will unhinge the Capitol because they cannot crush the intangible. They cannot kill or subdue an idea, and this is the phase that Catching Fire marks, the blossoming of an idea, the spur to action - something that cannot be undone or unsaid.  

“I can hear President Snow's voice in my head. 'On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the capital, the male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors.” 

Katniss experiences the beginnings of the consequences of her act of defiance in the first games as she returns home and must deal with being watched as the Capitol seeks to quieten whisperings of rebellion. She essentially grows into the image of the Mockingjay, a persona which she did not consciously choose but which has fallen upon her shoulders:

“The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames. I am the mockingjay. The one that survived despite the Capitol's plans. The symbol of the rebellion.” 

She is not the born rebel, like Gale, but ordinary - torn between anger and fear - devoid of hope afraid to yearn for it, still desperate to protect the ones she loves. But the odds are not in her favour. 

“At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead.The hard thing is finding the courage to do it.” 

I think the motif of the Mockingjay is such a powerful image in two ways - firstly, the crucial fact that a mockingjay imitates - it is given words/songs by other people, and secondly, more positiviely: it is the unprecedented creature which surprised the world - which we first encountered as a small good luck charm, and which grew into a symbol - that there are some things the government can't control - but most of all it embodies hope - because for me the Mockingjay is not just Katniss alone, it is her and Peeta - resistance and words - fire and light - reason and hope combined against the odds yet co-dependant - a fire that cannot exist without the hope, a resistance that cannot sustain itself without the words - a girl who needs the light she first saw in the boy with the bread. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hunger Games: Survival of the Smartest

It’s so easy to be cynical. I should know, I revert into cynicism on a daily a basis and call it reason. But The Hunger Games does not deserve the cynicism it gets JUST because it is supposedly of the ‘young adult’ market. I think it’s written in a style that makes it accessible to that market, but its subject matter is fundamentally human. Aimed at humankind. Marketing it as the ‘new Twilight’ wasn’t a great move, because it is a million times more complex, thought provoking and socially and politically relevant. I’m not just taking aim at Twilight for the sake of it, we all know it’s something of a guilty pleasure – a story that has obviously captured the hearts of many but it is in no league like The Hunger Games.

I think the movie actually makes The Hunger Games even better. It has a rational, fierce, independent heroine who cannot afford to depend on anyone and clear political undertone – an elite subduing the masses and punishing them through reality television. Yes, there’s a love story – a potential love triangle but it’s not sentimental in a soppy sense and it does take a backseat to the main drive which I prefer. It’s not so much feminism as here is a rational, intelligent human being who can be self-reliant. Essentially, survival comes first. I like Katniss in the book but actually Jennifer Lawrence made me really respect her because she plays her with such subtlety, you don’t have the inner dialogue that you have in the book which is actually kind of a positive in many respects. She is tough yet simultaneously vulnerable, fierce but loyal, and she’s not so self-righteous like many other heroines. In the film when Peeta talks about retaining his integrity and ‘dying as me’, she simply responds: ‘I can’t afford to think like that’. She doesn’t pretend that she isn’t going to kill anybody when it comes down to it, because she’s realistic.

The movie and book are both uncompromising, children hacking each other to death for sport, made more poignant through characters like Rue, the youngest, who Katniss allies herself with. But this is not meaningless violence, the Capitol manipulates all the action. Starting fires, releasing savage beasts, to control and sustain the show for the viewer’s pleasure. The element of having sponsors highlights how in modern society, it’s all about crowd-pleasing. Katniss must play the game, pretend to have feelings for Peeta – and it’s done so cleverly that you’re never really sure if she does. To give them the best chance they have to be groomed and pimped and play their roles. Survival is so much more than just staying alive. The Games is a perfect means of social control through the media –a commemoration of the Capitol’s victory over the masses – and a form of penance – where each District must offer up a boy and a girl as a Tribute and apology for the previous rebellions. To treat it as an honour – a celebration – the Capitol tries to control reason. But it will rue the day when reason fights back .
Films for this market rarely get considered for Oscars, but the camera-work and editing was sensational – really captured the grittiness, the panic – sheer realism and sensory enhancement. The acting, as I mentioned before was also brilliant and the colours and costumes captured the essence of the book very well.

The book and movie work on so many levels – it ultimately depends on the reader/viewer. Is this society of Panem really so far-fetched? Image – war – social antagonism – poverty – reality television – media manipulation – how monstrous mankind can be to each other- humiliation, suffering – all for show and cheap entertainment. To me, that sounds familiar.

“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!”
-Effie Trinket
"You don't forget the face of the person who was your last hope." - Katniss Everdeen
“Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games”
-Peeta Mellark
"And while I was talking, the idea of actually losing Peeta hit me again and I realized how much I don't want him to die. And it's not about the sponsors. And it's not about what will happen when we get home. And it's not just that I don't want to be alone. It's him. I do not want to lose the boy with the bread." 
- Katniss Everdeen
"You know what my mother said to me when she came to say goodbye... she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realised she didn't mean me - she meant you!" - Peeta Mellark

Monday, March 26, 2012

"To be trapped in an animal body is hell, if you dream of being human..."

“Grim animal living without hope, that’s how I saw myself. I asked nothing, expected less and was filled with anger at the world.” (Animal’s People, 83)
I have just finished Indra Sinha’s novel ‘Animal’s People' and enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. Sinha based the novel on the events in 1984 where a factory leaked poisonous chemical gases near Bhopal, India. The effects were catastrophic and the American owned company Union Carbide were never really brought to justice. Over 20,000 people died from the effects, others were left horribly deformed and with permanent side-effects. Various compensation agreements have been reached but there is still widespread feeling that not enough was done for the victims of this tragedy. (  Sinha himself went on hunger strike, as do some of his characters in the novel, to try and get the Indian government to act, at least to listen, – a quest for the simple right to justice.


This word is very much the epicentre of the novel. The protagonist is named ‘Animal’ because of his deformation which causes him to move on all fours but he longs to stand ‘upright’ so that he can be loved like any other human being. This internal battle emerges gradually, Animal actually tries very hard to give the impression he wants nothing of humanity and vehemently refutes it when his friends try to describe him as human. His recourse to animalism could be seen as a kind of defence -he is vulgar in his expressions of his wants and needs but also has moments of profound sincerity, compassion and emotional vulnerability. This emotional emergence coincides with the arrival of the American doctress Elli Barber, who takes an interest in his condition, and speaks of a possible cure.
There is a hint of post-colonialism in both the problems posed by the arrival of Elli, and the negotiation between Animal and the journalist/ ‘Jarnaliss’ who wants to record his story. Animal is cynical about this:
“My story you wanted, said you’d put it in a book. I did not want to talk about it… what difference will my story make? You told me that sometimes the stories of small people in this world can achieve big things, this is the way you buggers always talk. I said, many books have been written about this place, not one has changed anything for the better, how will yours be different? You will bleat like all the rest. You’ll talk of rights, law, justice...” (AP, 3)


“you were like all the others, come to suck our stories from us, so strangers in far off countries can marvel there’s so much pain in the world. Like vultures are you jarnaliss… drawn by the smell of blood. You have turned us Khaufpuris into storytellers, but always of the same story… always that fucking night” (AP, 5)

Always the same story, the story of the disaster. For really, it is a humanitarian event which prompts the West to actually take interest in the plight of others. And when they do, their interest is often too focused on one event, one story, and not the whole picture. I couldn’t help feeling this myself when watching Sport Relief. Of course Sport Relief is a positive thing - it always raises a vast sum of money for very good causes and does raise awareness but only on a very emotional level. It appeals to the heart, not the mind, and it is in fact the mind which would do more good. We get one minute video clips of children dying, but rarely the bigger picture. The notion of the ‘single story’ is brilliantly talked about by Chimamanda Adichie (the ‘danger of the single story’, TED conference,

“What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her, in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals.”

The ‘danger of the single story’ is one that Animal picks up on, especially after discovering there is already a plan for the book: ‘How can foreigners at the world’s other end, who’ve never set foot in Khaufpur, decide what’s to be said about this place?’ (AP, 9). But to analyse this book solely in the context of post-colonialism would be doing it a disservice. It is far more complex than that and has far more to say.  Animal will only tell his story on his own terms and makes this clear from the beginning:

“Eyes, I don’t know if you are a man or a woman. I’m thinking the things I am telling are not suited to a woman’s ears, but if a person leaves things unsaid so as to avoid looking bad, it’s a lie… if you feel embarrassed throw down the book in which these words are printed “ (AP, 79)

I am often put off by unnecessary and extreme passages of crude sexual or violent depiction but Animal reasons in such a way that it makes it kind of beautiful when it does occur. He sets a challenge in a very admirable way. If you don’t like it  - look away. I came to have such an immense respect for this character.  Other key players in the book are Zafar, the somewhat messianic character who attempts to lead the Khaufpuris in their struggle for justice, and Nisha, Zafar’s girlfriend and the girl Animal lusts after.
So why does Animal both consciously choose to be an ‘animal’ and also maintain that he has no choice in the matter? This is an underlying tension throughout his story. ‘I’ll never do it’, he insists, ‘if I agree to be a human being I’ll also have to agree that I’m wrong shaped and abnormal. But let me be a quatre pattes animal, four-footed and free, then I am whole, my own proper shape’ (AP, 208). Farouq, another member of their group, argues that Animal’s choice is to ‘escape the responsibility of being human’ (209), but Animal counters this by accusing everyone else of having treated him like one. He also admits that ‘to be trapped in an animal body is hell, if you dream of being human’ (210). He is essentially torn between two worlds. It takes a while to realise that a lot of what Animal professes to be is actually a façade, to mask his vulnerability. If he were to see himself as human he’d have to reconcile himself to many troubling thoughts:

“Animal mating with human female, it’s unnatural, but I’ve no choice but to be unnatural… many times I would dream that she and I were in love… in such dreams was my back straight? Did I stand upright? No and no. I was exactly as I am now and it did not matter. Such dreams! I woke from them shaking with hope. This frightened me, I despise hope” (AP, 78)

The trauma of his situation is almost too much to face and he once more rejects society when Nisha refuses to marry him. ‘It’s because I am an animal,’ he argues, ‘that’s the real reason isn’t it, that you can never marry me?... I’ll always be nothing but a fucking animal’ (AP, 333). And you cannot help but cry with him because Nisha cannot answer, she never does – that is the tragedy of his situation. Zafar claims to believe in humanity, an innate goodness, but Animal justifiably cannot, ‘because there’s no evidence for it in the world’ (AP, 207). Nevertheless, Animal comes to appreciate life, when Zafar and Farouq come to bring him back to society- he realises that there are people who love him and will forgive him no matter what.. Most important is the sense that his telling his story is a means of catharsis. It emerges that it is a means of finding the answer to whether he wants to undergo the operation in America that could make him upright, or if he wants to remain as he is. Finally convinced of his self-worth he muses:

“Is life so bad? If I’m an upright human, I would be one of millions, not even a healthy one at that. Stay four-foot, I’m the one and only Animal’” (AP, 366)

Indra Sinha
I think what he wanted most of all was to have value and it takes the length of the novel for him to realise it might mean something different than what he thought. There is so much to say about this novel – I know I’ve rambled on a bit but it is really worth a read. The struggle of the Bhopal victims is still going on and still deserves attention and Indra Sinha has done a brilliant job of writing a story that is both heart-warming and thought-provoking.

Meanwhile here are some other key quotes:

“Once you’ve seen it in someone’s face it’s always there, I won’t say beauty, but whatever you might call the thing you love” 81
“the kampani and its friends seek to wear us down with a long fight, but they don’t understand us, they’ve never come up against people like us before. However long it takes we will never give up. Whatever we had they have already taken, now we are left with nothing. Having nothing means we have nothing to lose. So you see, armed with the power of nothing we are invincible, we are bound to win” – Zafar, 54
“hope is a crutch for weaklings. The strong carry on without” 75
“I feel desolate because in the end we are condemned to lose everyone we love” 144
“Elli I don’t need a watch because I know what time it is. It’s now-o’clock. Look, over there are the roofs of the Nutcracker. Know what time it’s in there? Now o’clock, always now o’clock. In the kingdom of the poor, time doesn’t exist.” 185
“hope dies in places like this, because hope lives in the future and there’s no future here, how can you think about tomorrow when all your strength is used up trying to get through today” 185
“Elli says, ‘I mean that things work when we keep our promises to eah other and to ourselves, when we don’t keep our promises, things fall apart’” 204
“Whoever I talk to, seems the main reason for having a religion is to cheat death and live again, here or in heaven, wherever. Well, I don’t want another life, thanks, not if it’s anything like this one” 207
“A promise involves a thing that can’t be measured, which is trust and I can’t speak for rain and the sea and the moon, but I can ask why people keep their promises and maybe the answer in the end is love” 251
“friends, for a moment think what’s really going on here. What is terror? The dictionary says it’s extreme fear, violent dread, plus what causes it. on that night our people knew terror beyond what a dictionary can define. Who caused it? our people continue to feel extreme fear, violent dread, because they don’t know what horrors might yet emerge in their bodies… our people want justice in a court of law...” – Zafar, 283
“You can hurl what curses you like, but I’ve already lost my place in the human world, plenty of people already despise me, but you are dead and I am alive” 275
“While we have life we have the world” 284
“I look up and there are placid clouds drifting across the sky. This shakes me. Outside of ourselves nothing cares.” 310
“my father’s precious justice is of no use, our government’s of no use, courts are of no use, appeals to humanity are no use, because these people are not human, they’re animals” – Nisha 332
“a broken rib may mend’ says the lizard. ‘but your nature you can never change. You are human, if you were an animal you would have eaten me” 346

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Since it's World Poetry Day I thought I'd share a couple of my favourite poems at the moment and say a few things about them! I find it sad that I only remembered it was world poetry day because it trended for a couple of hours on twitter... people should know - how can they celebrate and embrace it if they aren't aware? Google didn't snazzify it's logo or anything...

Anyway the first poem I want to mention is from the Victorian era and addresses the search for spiritual consolation in the wake of religious uncertainty. This is of course the era of Charles Darwin, his theory of evolution and the 'survival of the fittest', an analysis of existence which does not necessitate God and indirectly lays bare the possibility that our lives may have no divine purpose, they may, essentially, be meaningless. Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold thus predates Camus' 'Absurdism', the notion of an indifferent universe - where human affairs are not central by any means, which makes a lot of history, our perceived notion of duty and valour and war - seem ridiculous.

Dover Beach - Matthew Arnold (

The sea is calm to-night.
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 A gaean, 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.

There's something beautifully melancholy about this poem and its elegaic lament. There's a gentle build up to the final verse, a desperation for companionship and comfort in the face of a revelation. The coupled lines of listed negations is especially effective, both as a straightforward list and as a cumulative one - 'neither joy, nor love, nor light, / nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;' It's like every previous 'certainty' is being negated in a definitive and unsettling way - a complete inversion of what had come before. Suddenly the struggles and fights of men seem absurd and 'ignorant', and the image of the 'darkling plain' connotes a great expanse, but one that is somewhat desolate and empty. Faith no longer offered the same comfort, the 'girdle' was loosed. The first verse seems comparatively tranquil but on closer inspection the lexical choices seem definitively Darwinian. The 'sea is calm tonight' is actually misleading, there is still the 'grating roar', the waves 'draw back' and 'fling' the pebbles  - nature seems innately hostile, competing for its own survival. This poem is one of my favourites because it encapsulates so beautifully a certain mood, the sense that religious certainty is withdrawing, stepping back, losing its thrown, and rather bleakly prompts the consideration of a new way of looking at existence.

The second poem I want to mention is 'As I Walked Out One Evening' by WH Auden. I won't post the whole thing because it's pretty long but here's the link:
It also concerns existential matters - particularly temporality and the human condition. At first it seems like an ode to love, its supposed capacity to endure to death and beyond - until the pivotal sixth stanza where all the clocks begin to chime, and time is personified in a distinctly eerie way, shattering the lovers' illusions:

'...O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
   Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss.

'In headaches and in worry
   Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
   To-morrow or to-day'

Time is thus portrayed as a menacing and conniving presence, a sinister figure in the fairytale which upsets our idealistic expectations. In the face of impending doom and mortality how does human nature adapt? The poem turns again in the 13th stanza:

'O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

Despite all the uncertainty and imperfections of the human condition, things which cannot be escaped, we are still here and we can still live and feel and make choices that we feel we are responsible for and make an impact on the lives of those around us. The poem, itself constrained by time, ends in the late evening, the lovers having gone and the river, perhaps reassuringly, simply running on.

There's so much to gain from just reading and experiencing these poems that right now I just can't put into ordered words - so I apologise if this has been a bit incoherent!