Walking Away – Simon Armitage

Last year I read Simon Armitage’s Walking Home, his tale of how he walked the Pennine Way (well, most of it) the wrong way round (North to South as opposed to the usual direction). I enjoyed its blend of humour, travel writing and description of the trials of a modern-day troubadour, paying his way on the journey by passing a sock round at poetry readings each night. It was particularly interesting to me as I have done bookstalls at a couple of poetry reading events with the author – he is widely read and even shows up on school syllabuses – so I could amuse myself by trying to read it in Armitage’s actual accent in my head. (This did work fairly well, but he does have quite a soothing tone of voice so I did drop off occasionally when reading in bed….). I even tried to persuade my other half to read it – he is a Yorkshireman, enjoys long walks and poetry; what could go wrong? Oddly, he didn’t enjoy it at all. I was informed that the author had lost his respect for getting lost almost at the beginning of his walk despite having a map and compass unused at the bottom of his pack. Also there wasn’t enough poetry in it.

Well, fair enough. We can’t all enjoy the same stuff. But he’s wrong about the poetry…

walking awaySo, Simon (the poet, not my other half, Rob – keep up…) has been at it again. This time he writes about walking part of the South West Coast Path, still giving readings each night and still relying on the hospitality of strangers. And for this walk he has a very expensive hat and a holly stick – well, for most of the journey, anyway. What is the same though is the humour and the poetry.

Now, don’t assume that this means there are sonnets and odes dropped in all over the place. This is more in the nature of stealth poetry – the descriptions of scenery, weather, other walkers and the natural world in particular are not just written in everyday language. Coleridge once described poetry as ‘the best words in the best order’ and that seems to be what we have here. The language is, on the whole, nothing that is hard to understand or obscure but it is wonderfully evocative of the sights and sounds which the poet experiences. And it’s still frequently very funny.

I may try to convince Rob to give Simon Armitage another go – but this time I may get him to read some of the actual poetry first (maybe his translation of Gawain and the Green Knight would be a good place to start – we’ve got history with that poem).



Enchantment all year round…

enchanted aprilOne of my very favourite books of all time is Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim.  A deceptively simple story of four English women in the 1920s who are oppressed – not politically or physically but by age, domesticity, husbandly expectations and beauty – and who discover their own versions of true happiness in an Italian villa. The plot is slight but the characters seem very realistically drawn and the descriptions of the villa and its garden make me feel that I am sat in warm dappled shade, scented by lilac and jasmine. It is an unashamedly feel-good book and one I turn to whenever I am in need of a dose of the warm-fuzzies.

So far, so good.

It was, therefore, with some hesitation that I opened up a copy of Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen since the blurb suggested that I was about to read a version of my old favourite, updated to the present day and reset on an isolated New England island community. Lets be honest – I was very much afraid that someone was about to walk over all my memories of a beloved story.

enchanted augustAs it turns out I was to be very pleasantly surprised by this update. The author obviously loves Enchanted April as much as I do and may even well have read it as many times as I have! The characters have retained their original charms, personalities and problems (even most of the names are the same) but are well-drawn as 21st Century individuals. I particularly liked the way that Mrs Fisher has been brought up to date (since her nostalgia for the days of the great Victorians seemed to be the hardest to modernise) and I appreciated the way that Rose and Lottie are now mothers (yet not to perfect children…).

If you fancy reading something light I can heartily recommend either of these books. April first if you appreciate the historical context but either way round would work. And then hang on to your copy to reread whenever April, or August, seem too far away…