Saturday, 26 February 2011

Dust Covers

I love books. I love reading, the total immersion of adventure, fantasy, thriller, firecracker action scenes and literary excellence. However, I also love the acquisition of books and I love hoarding these little treasures of my own. I very rarely go a month without buying a book, meaning my personal collection is quite impressive and wide-ranging.

In spite of this, though, my reading pace has slowed a little as I've grown. Pesky obstacles like jobs, essays and people have severed the white cord of time quite disproportionately, so that when, in the twilight time still reserved for reading, I can barely keep my eyes open past a few pages. I read as much as I can in the days off from this and that but essentially I have dozens of books on my selves, in the garage and at my Mum's that have never been read. A total crime!

So what I wanted to do with this post was to invite a little discussion. Here's a list of the top ten books I already own but still need to read. I encourage you to leave your own examples in the comments section; first of all because you might be inspired to go on and read those books but mainly because I might not feel so lazy if you do!

  1. A Clockwork Orange - A. Burgess
  2. A Farewell To Arms - E. Hemingway
  3. The House Of The Spirits - I. Allende
  4. Through The Looking Glass - L. Carroll
  5. A Portrait of The Artist... - J. Joyce
  6. The Diary Of A Young Girl - A. Frank
  7. The Social Contract - J.J. Rousseau
  8. The Finkler Question - H. Jacobson
  9. Metamorphoses - Ovid
  10. The Great Shark Hunt - H. S. Thompson
Just a short one today, then. Hope you enjoyed my list and/or found some little stimulation amongst those titles. I certainly did. I'm going to redouble my reading efforts on Hilary Mantel's Booker-prize winning Wolf Hall and get ploughing through that delightful lot asap!

Happy weekend.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

DM Stith Concert Review—Tucson, AZ

The desert is a strange place to call home. We who live here measure our lives by rattlesnakes, by the sloughing off of serpents’ skins, saguaros and monsoon seasons. This summer the rain has stayed stagnant in the clouds. The monsoons keep holding their tongues, and we’ve had to stay stuck in the humid heat, spending the day watching heaving clouds pass us by. We can’t help but feel forgotten.

I stumbled into Solar Culture, a small, unpretentious venue, right smack dab in the middle of Tucson, AZ, hoping to find respite from the humid summer heat, but having hoped in vain. The temperature of the interior matched the exterior: There was no air conditioning, and the boiling energy of an excited audience only increased the degrees of Fahrenheit. Art lined the walls—a collage of independent, modern pieces. The venue was perfect in its dark simplicity. I was sweaty, sure, but completely at ease.

The setting and scene fit the upcoming performer: DM Stith is desert-like in nature, serpentine and haunting. His art is the skin he sheds, perfect in its dark simplicity.

Before his performance started DM Stith was so kind as to engage me in a little small talk. He told me a little about himself, his past. He had taught sculpture before, he said. It didn’t surprise me. His music is a physical medium more than anything. We, the audience, feel like putty in his hands.

When DM Stith took the stage, quietness enveloped the room. The crowd of soul-searching college students and contemplative adults seemed to understand that a force of nature, quite like the monsoons hovering overhead, had begun to work its magic. David sat down on a small, unpretentious rolling-chair, acting as if he were completely oblivious to his sacred charms. Not for one second did I believe that he was unaware of his powers.

What ensued was an entrancing musical manipulation of the mind. At the end of the set I felt as if I had just been molded into something along the lines of Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen—transformed into something part human, part primate.

What I appreciate the most about DM Stith’s music—and art in general—is its honesty. It’s an unashamed wrestle with the self, with God. He is Jacob, caught in the grasp of an angel; and he has no shame, no fear or trepidation in relating the struggle that results from picking such an epic fight. We, the audience, limp away from his presence with a hurting hip—with our minds, hearts, and souls having been dexterously pummeled—but also with the ultimate blessing: DM Stith himself, and the realization that no matter how dry the desert may be, we haven’t been forgotten.

*DM Stith will be touring Europe and the UK in the Spring of 2011. For further details, click here.

Cora Charis is a writer from the United States who is currently finishing her first book of expiremental poetry while teaching English as a Second Language to refugees in Tucson, AZ.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Renaissance of Poetry

I'll have to apologise, initially, if this post is lacking in depth or wide ranging reference; since returning to my (very) humble student abode in Leeds, I've suffered the crippling snags of a dire internet connection. I'd like, first of all, to thank Valley Press for inviting me to take part in this collaborative creative effort and to applaud myself heartily upon the back for contributing so promptly.

My part within the starry stratospheres of literature is as an (as yet) unknown poet, unpublished, unsought after, unsure. You may indeed say I play no part at all and yet I like to think of myself as playing some role, even just as a reader. We live in a society whereby consumers keep accounts working, after all. Over the past 12 months, I've been buying and hunting down new poetry as much as I can. This is probably a not-so-unconscious way of integrating myself a little more into the literary community. That's by-the-by for now, though.

Whilst I've been unearthing my sometime buried poetical fancies, it seems, too, that the country's critics, commentators and creative connoisseurs have been doing something the same. Two years in a row, now, a collection of poems has taken top gong at the yearly Costa Book Awards: Jo Shapcott followed this year in the footsteps of Christopher Reid. Influential nationals such as The Guardian and The Independent give greater prominence to verse than ever in their arts sections and websites. Hell, even the Daily Mail puzzled the curious rebirth of poesy (in an article I can't, for the life of me, find). Triggered by the wider publicity of authors like Shapcott, Reid & others, poetry nights and festivals are springing up all over the spot, whilst previously existing events go from strength to strength. Is this really the poetical phoenix rising from the ashes or have I turned up on the scene at rush hour and got excited by the same old traffic?

Someone (I'm going to hazard at Carol Ann Duffy, because I can't look it up at minute) said recently that, if one listened to the press all the time, you would have believed the 'renaissance of poetry' had been going on for decades now. Made me wonder. Made me wonder if poetry ever really falls off the radar. Does it ever stop mattering? Of course, the kind of folk perusing this here blog would cry blasphemy at the mere suggestion of such and yet the true question is: does it ever matter more or less to the casual reader?

It's something to consider, certainly and I'm left feeling like this blog has planted the seed of question rather than harvested the fruit of answer, as I might have liked. Still, all this rum-do over versification is good news for a guy like me....

The Human Need for Stories

We all need stories. They are a basic part of human life. A novelist friend of mine says, 'If we didn't have stories, we would die.' This is a powerful statement about our need to express ourselves through narrative. Stories turn up everywhere, millions of them, every day. A cleaner in a school tells her friends about a night out, turning the evening's events into a humorous narrative. 'You should have seen what she was wearing...' This is the most common kind of storytelling, and takes place all around us every day.

Journalists talk about 'getting the story', children love to cuddle with parents or family members over a picture book before bedtime, a way of affirming love and support, but it's also the beginning of losing oneself in a magical narrative. Stories like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings have been read or watched by millions. The Ancient Greeks enjoyed theatre that mirrored aspects of the human condition, with tales of love, loss and revenge. Aesop told tales that had some kind of moral lesson. The Bible is full of great yarns like Jonah and the Whale and Noah's Ark.

Stories are one of the most basic and powerful aspects of human imagination and reflection. Through them, we see ourselves in a new light, with all of our potential for greatness or error. On a more basic level, we adore them as entertainment. Millions watch the antics of Coronation Street or EastEnders several times a week, identifying with the plight of the characters, loving the confrontations, love affairs, crimes and weddings. Even advertisers recognise the power of stories, selling us cars, chocolate and shampoo around miniature tales that are spiced with sex and humour. Stories are a key part to what makes us human. They are not as fundamental as food, air, shelter and water, but they're not far off.

Miles Cain is a writer, storyteller and musician. His novel for teenagers, A Song For Nicky Moon, was shortlisted for The Times/Chicken House children's novel competition. You can email him at:

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Welcome to the VP Blog

Good morning world!  I'm delighted to be posting the first post on the new Valley Press blog, officially launched as of now.  I've no idea how long this will run, or what sort of interesting things we might end up talking about, but that's probably what makes the start of a new blog so exciting.  You are excited, aren't you?  If not, close your eyes for a second, remember the most exciting action sequence in the most exciting book you ever read, then open your eyes again.  Now you're ready to read some blogs.

It seemed only natural to take full advantage of the modern, social internet to create a community (and hopefully sell some books) on behalf of VP, and I hope to bring you the thoughts of various other people involved with my humble publishing label in the coming hours, days and weeks.  I've left the description in the title bar purposefully vague, as I don't want to close the door to anyone - we can only publish so many authors per year, but I meet or speak to hundreds of fascinating people every month, and I'm hoping a good percentage of them can contribute to the blog.

I myself have been blogging for the last few months on a site named Let's Talk About You for a While, and I'm not yet sure what will become of that site now I have this shiny new outlet for my occasional thoughts; a place to write posts with a purpose, no less!  I mention the old site here as a respectful nod to the past, and to help any blog historians considering this opening post in the centuries to come dig just a little bit further back.  How are you doing, by the way, blog historians?  Did this sort of thing eventually result in the world's transformation into a post-apocalyptic digital wasteland?  Let me know by hitting 'comments' below (not that I'd stop - it's far too exciting.)

I'll draw this to a close for now, but I hope you'll come back and endeavour to keep up with the posts here.  I for one can't wait to read what everyone comes up with - particularly me!

- J.M.