James Joyce

Happy Bloomsday!

As promised my choice of James Joyce’s verse today will mark today’s event (though Bloomsday seems to have begun to stretch out over a few days as though it refuses to be confined by a mere twenty-four hours). I probably won’t actually be doing anything Bloomsday-ish though, as I will be at the Dalkey Book Festival for a couple of the Kids’ events. I just hope the weather is kind to us. But back to James Joyce…

For this poem I am returning to one of the anthologies I have used before, selected by Kaye Webb from children’s suggestions of their favourite poems.

Chamber Music

book cover of I like this Poem by Kaye Webb

Another #Poetryinjune choice


Lean out of the window,
Golden hair,
I hear you singing
A merry air.

My book is closed;
I read no more,
Watching the fire dance
On the floor.

I have left my books:
I have left my room:
For I heard you singing
Through the gloom.

Singing and singing
A merry air.
Lean out of the window,
Golden hair.

I was surprised to see that this poem was from James Joyce; it doesn’t strike me as the sort of piece he would write. It has such a gentle, tender story book quality. But then I have to confess to not being a very experienced Joycean so perhaps my impression is wide of the mark. The poem was originally the title poem of a collection of love poems published in 1907 by Elkin Matthews.

Joyce later said to his wife, ‘ When I wrote [Chamber Music], I was a lonely boy, walking about by myself at night and thinking that one day a girl would love me.’  There is also a more earthy tale about a connection with chamber pots which may or may not have any basis in fact. Appropriately enough, considering the date today,  In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom reflects, ‘Chamber music. Could make a pun on that.’

The young reader who put forward this choice in the anthology said it was, ‘because it reminds me of the best fairy tales, such as Rapunzel singing from a turret window at dusk…It is reassuringly old-fashioned and chivalrous…quietly inspiring and my favourite poem’. (Charlotte Woodward in I like this poem). One of the aspects I love about this collection is reading the comments made by the children (I wonder where they all are now – do they still read poetry?) showing their engagement and enthusiasm with the written word.

I’ll leave you to enjoy the rest of your weekend, wherever you are. Regards to all James Joyce aficionados celebrating Bloomsday.


Letters and Trains: Auden

The Night Mail by W.H. Auden (1907- 1973) combines two of my favourites things, letters and train journeys. It was written to accompany a General Post Office (GPO) film made in 1936 about a London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) mail train from London to Scotland. In the film, the music was composed by Benjamin Britten and The Night Mail was recited by John Grierson.

As the poem was written to tie in so closely with a train journey it has a great rhythm for reading aloud.  At this point in the poem, the Night Mail train has almost reached Glasgow, with postal workers beavering away on board all night. My dad used to be a postman (though he never worked on the night mail train) and I ordered the DVD of the film for him a couple of years ago (see a clip below) as a Father’s Day gift.

Of course, the fascinating thing about this poem is that it shows just how much people would have relied on the post for all sorts of things that we receive digitally these days. But where’s the romance in an email?

I’ve taken this poem from a collection that I picked up in a charity shop in Dublin a few years ago. It’s an interesting collection in that the editor Kaye Webb (1914- 1996) made her selection from around 1,000 recommendations from children so it is genuinely a children’s poetry book. I may return to it later in the month as it contains a few old favourites of mine.

The Night Mail (part III)

book cover of I Like this poem

Puffin Books, 1979

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers’ declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands,
Notes from overseas to Hebrides –

Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and printed and the spelt all wrong,

And I love the last lines – they always make me a little teary –

And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

I thought I’d include a clip from the original GPO film that features the poem. This is the final section of the film:

Credits: clip taken from YouTube with thanks (uploaded June 2008 by Stephen Dowd)

Now, go on – write a letter to someone today!

Belloc’s Beasts: Cautionary Verse

orange and yellow book jacket and poem characters

A couple of likely lads…

I know that this will be two children’s poems in a row, but I suppose that the excitement of having some sustained sunshine has addled my brain a little. In fact I’m beginning to suspect that this #PoetryinJune challenge may end up featuring rather a lot of light-hearted or comic verse. As summer is finally on the horizon, there may be just cause to steer clear of sad or tragic poetry (though that doesn’t mean I will eschew sadness completely).

Having decided on comic verse, you can’t do much better than to choose one of Hilaire Belloc’s wonderful Cautionary Verses. The problem then, was which Cautionary Verse to choose for my featured poem. After much deliberation I decided on the following. This was solely on the basis that suffering from a sore throat as I was, I rather liked the thought of it being as the result of purple and pink microbes.

The edition I have here is a selected edition (mine is a 1968 reprint) taken from the illustrated album edition published in 1940 by Gerald Duckworth & Co. I dare not even consider how much you would pay for a first edition (381 illustrations and cloth gilt cover) these days. The illustrations of Belloc’s verses are by Nicholas Bentley and B.TB. (Basil Temple Blackwood).

text and illustration of poem The Microbe

A jolly purple microbe…

The above poem comes from More Beasts for Worse Children which was first published in 1910 as a separate book and later included, along with Cautionary Tales for Children (1907) in the album I mentioned. The drawings for ‘The Microbe’ are from B.T.B.

Now, I will see if I can become a little more serious for tomorrow….  

Gerbil Juggling with Brian Patten

This is a really silly verse to celebrate the June Bank Holiday (well, it’s a holiday if you happen to be in Ireland anyway). Juggling with Gerbils is the title poem of a Brian Patten collection published by Puffin Books in 2000. Illustrations (and not only of gerbils) are by Chris Riddell. Even though I have been a gerbil owner myself I still find this poem funny. And before you ask, I have never tried it myself. Honest. Patten’s collection found its way onto The Landing a few years ago via a library sale in Dundrum, Dublin and has been read many times over. I somehow doubt if we’ll ever grow too old for gerbil juggling!

Juggling with Gerbils

book jacket with seven gerbils

Do not try this at home…



Don’t juggle with a gerbil
No matter what the thrill
For gerbils when they’re juggled
Can end up feeling ill.
It makes them all bad tempered
And then they’d like to kill
Those gerbil-juggling jugglers
Juggling gerbils till they’re ill.

(Do not try this at home)

Brian Patten  was born in Liverpool in 1946 and formed the Liverpool Poets with Roger McGough and Adrian Henri in the 1960s, bringing out The Mersey Sound in 1967. His first solo collection was also published in that year, Little Johnny’s Confessions and has written extensively both for adults and children since then.

For more information here is a link to Brian Patten’s website. Now where’s that gerbil gone…

Flaming June is Poetry Month #PoetryinJune

Woman in orange dress asleep on couch

Flaming June, Frederick Leighton, 1895

If you all cast your minds back to last December, you will recall that I set myself the daunting challenge of writing a seasonal posting every day during Advent. Somewhat to my surprise, I did indeed manage to do just that very thing. Ever since then I have in mind to attempt a similar challenge later in the year. Well, dear reader(s) that time has now arrived with the advent of spring (or what passes for spring in these parts at any rate).

To a great fanfare (well you’ll just have to imagine that bit) I am hereby announcing that the month of June will be Poetry Month (#PoetryinJune) on The Landing. I have been scouring the shelves here and blowing the dust off a few volumes that I have not looked at in a while. My intention is to put together a mixture of old and new(ish) poems, which will include a few childhood favourites too. My grand plan is to work out a complete list ready for June 1st but I may end up flying by the seat of my pants part of the way through the month.

I belatedly caught up with the poetry readings at the National Gallery of Ireland, which are run in association with Poetry Ireland. This has also helped to spur me into action and to include a sizeable chunk of poetry on the blog. Yesterday I was listening to Peter Sirr reading from both his own poems and his translations. One of the translations he read was Maison á Vendre (House for Sale) by André Frénaud both versions of which you can find on Sirr’s blog The Cat Flap.

I will have to apologise in advance if my choices for next month are not your choices but I will try to put together a reasonable mixture culled from our shelves. In fact, I have to come clean and admit that I never manage to read as much poetry as I would like. I am much more likely to pick up a novel or short story collection if I’m browsing and in need of something to read. Last year was supposed to be my year of reading more poetry so I picked up a couple of Faber volumes in a book sale to try and broaden my range but they are still languishing on the shelf.

Next month may then prove to be a voyage of discovery for me as there are clearly poetry books on our shelves that I have barely even opened. However, I will certainly feature a few poems from my childhood that have been read many times over and that are still enjoyed. This will, I hope even the balance a little and perhaps remind me of a time when I was more poetry minded than I am now. I used to have a Puffin collection of children’s poems and a Children’s Treasury containing stories and poetry. The latter still survives so I will choose a favourite memory from its rather battered pages for one of my blog entries.

At last Wednesday’s Poetry Ireland reading by Michael Krüger I jotted down his assertion that ‘a day without reading a poem is a lost day’. Let’s see what I can do about that during the course of next month.

Let me know about your favourites if you have time to drop me a line (use #Poetryinjune on Twitter).

(Picture Credit: Wikipedia – original painting in the Ponce Museum of Art, Puerto Rico)

Advent Reading Challenge: Another Bear

December 12th

Albert’s Christmas written by Alison Jezard and illustrated by Margaret Gordon, Puffin Books, 1978, 1986. First published by Victor Gollancz in 1970.

Albert the Bear’s first appearance was in 1968 and the original Gollancz editions seem now to be quite collectible (I spotted a first

Albert's Christmas

Albert admiring his tree

edition offered for fifty pounds). Sadly, the Albert books now appear to be out of print. This friendly teddy bear lives in a cosy basement flat in Spoonbasher’s Row in the East End of London.

Albert’s Christmas adventures begin when he starts work as a seasonal postman to earn some extra money. The following extract is taken from chapter three, when Albert goes to do his Christmas shopping in a big department store:

‘Children were everywhere and their voices were full of excitement as they chose the things they wanted most.

Suddenly a little boy near to Albert pointed to him and said, “Please , Mummy, could I have that for Christmas? It’s the most beautiful Teddy Bear I have ever seen.” Albert turned around. ‘”I  beg your pardon, ” he said. The  little boy’s mouth fell open and he turned bright pink. “Oh, excuse me,” he said, “I thought – I mean -“

Albert raised his cap politely and said, “My name’s Albert and I’m afraid I’m not for sale.”‘

Fortunately Albert is not a teddy bear to take offence and he soon makes friends with the boy (Ian) and his mother. He is even invited to spend Christmas Day with the family. What with that, mistletoe gathering and playing the part of Father Christmas at a children’s party, Albert Bear has his best Christmas ever.

Albert should be the last bear to make an appearance….but you never can tell with bears…