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sisters & sparrows

Poetry. Photography. Life.

Category Archives: literature

Well today I met one of my most wonderful friends, LJ, for a coffee and indulgent chat, and she gave me a bunch of daffodils.  Made my day.  (They may have got slightly crushed in our rather exuberant public running-hug, but let’s gloss over that.)

{photo by teaforjoy}

Also watched the second part of BBC’s adaptation of Women In Love(/The Rainbow). May I say that D H Lawrence drives me up the wall?  His characters can never just make a decision and get on with life: they agonise over every small thing, and pine away wishing for unreal things.  When they fall in love they do it in such a grey way.  They’re always loving and hating their partners simultaneously which leads to ridiculously drawn out lovers’ tiffs which end in unnecessary separation/death.  Take, for example, Gudrun and Gerald.  They’re blatantly in love with each other, plain and simple.  Why can’t Lawrence just let them get on with it?!

Still, I enjoyed it, not least because of the manly charms of Joseph Mawle as Gerald.  And the photography was excellent.

Tomorrow will be spent walking Pegs, working, and doing some prep for Sunday’s Mother’s Day meal.  Planning to make this pudding, which I’ve sampled before (delicious).  And apparently Delia thinks it’s ‘just the sort of thing that you hope will be served after a convivial Sunday roast, complete with home-made custard’.  Dandy.


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I was away for the weekend, back in the shire for a training weekend with Christian Union mates.  But I’m back and now facing the toughest three weeks of this term.  Two essays to do, and tons of stuff with CU to sort out.  I’m gritting my teeth.

{Photo courtesy of my mate Josh}

IN OTHER NEWS. If you are in the UK, click this LINK.  It is to a brilliant company called Graze.  You will get delicious free food delivered to your door, no snags, and I will get me a nifty discount.  Do, oh do.  Please, oh please.

More on topic, I’ve been mulling over the subject of my fat 5000 word poetry assignment which I have to do soon.  I want to do it on something which is really going to interest me, something I can sink my teeth into, so that those 5000 words aren’t unnecessarily deadly.  So.  I’m going to write it about God, and poetry – the harmonies and conflicts between Christianity and literature.  Religious poetry.  The presence of the divine in contemporary poetry.  Or something of that ilk.  I had a massive meeting with my poetry tutor and she gave me some names… among them, Michael Symmons Roberts.  I think I’m going to buy a few collections because the couple of poems I read were wonderful.  Here’s one.



So, God takes your child by the hand
and pulls her from her deathbed.
He says: ‘Feed her, she is ravenous.’

You give her fruits with thick hides
– pomegranate, cantaloupe –
food with weight, to keep her here.

You hope that if she eats enough
the light and dust and love
which weave the matrix of her body

will not fray, nor wear so thin
that morning sun breaks through her,
shadowless, complete.

Somehow this reanimation
has cut sharp the fear of death,
the shock of presence. Feed her

roast lamb, egg, unleavened bread:
forget the herbs, she has an aching
fast to break. Sit by her side,

split skins for her so she can gorge,
and notice how the dawn
draws colour to her just-kissed face.


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There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say : “I’ll go take a hot bath.”

I meditate in the bath. The water needs to be very hot, so hot you can barely stand putting your foot in it. Then you lower yourself, inch by inch, till the water’s up to your neck.

I remember the ceiling over every bathtub I’ve stretched out in. I remember the texture of the ceilings and the cracks and the colors and the damp spots and the light fixtures. I remember the tubs, too : the antique griffin-legged tubs, and the modern coffin-shaped tubs, and the fancy pink marble tubs overlooking indoor lily ponds, and I remember the shape and sizes of the water taps and the different sort of soap holders.

I never feel so much myself as when I’m in a hot bath.

I lay in that tub on the seventeenth floor of this hotel for-women-only, high up over the jazz and push of New York, for near onto an hour, and I felt myself growing pure again. I don’t believe in baptism or the waters of Jordan or anything like that, but I guess I feel about a hot bath the way those religious people feel about holy water.

I said to myself : “Doreen is dissolving. Lenny Shepherd is dissolving. Frankie is dissolving. New York is dissolving, they are all dissolving away and none of them matter any more. I don’t know them, I have never known them and I am very pure. All that liquor and those sticky kisses I saw and the dirt that settled on my skin on the way back is turning into something pure.”

The longer I lay there in the clear hot water the purer I felt, and when I stepped out at last and wrapped myself in one of the big, soft white hotel bath towels I felt pure and sweet as a baby.

– From ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath


Hello folks!  Hello!  Today I’m feeling quite chirpy for no reason really.  I’ll make the most of it and put all this cheeriness into a super cool ultra post today – about books!  Ready?

So personally this holiday I am going to be reading lots of poetry and criticism books, which are all quite time-consuming and intellectually tough.  But I have an essay to do which I want to be good so you know, i’ll grit my teeth and do the work.

BUT I want you to read some books which have little or no literary importance but are really great reads, ok?  I have some recommendations for you.

Wintering by Kate Moses.  Moses did tons and tons of research on Plath before writing this, and it really shows.  The tone, the patterns of language, the choice of lexis, all shiveringly evocative of Plath’s poetry.  Go here to read more.

The Old Kingdom Chronicles by Garth Nix.  This is a seriously good trilogy.  Sort of a wonderful crazy mix between Harry Potter, Lord of The Rings, Narnia and His Dark Materials.  I mean, really, what more could you want?  Fighting, ghosts, bells, swords, lovers, journeys, seers, the dead, the undead, enemies, sorcerers, policemen.  These books literally have it all.  Find out more here.

Sulphuric Acid by Amélie Nothomb.  A controversial novella which I actually really enjoyed.  Sort of 1984-esque.  Read it, it’s intriguing and very clever.

Silk by Alessandro Baricco.  Have you read this already?  If not, get on it.  It’s really short, really really short, so you’ve no excuse.  It’s a work of art.  Honest.  It’s a world bestseller for goodness sake, and it’s been made into a film with Keira Knightley (which I haven’t seen.  But I’m tempted).  Also, don’t read a review please.  You will only spoil it for yourself.

Love of Fat Men by Helen Dunmore.  A book of short stories that I picked up for a pittance in a second hand bookshop and read in one sitting.  It’s has this scandinavian flavour (always a good thing in my book) and it’s engaging, and strangely haunting.  I defy you to not like it.

Answering Back ed. Carol Ann Duffy.  She’s our poet laureate!  She’s pretty ace.  I thought I’d slip a poetry book in here but I think you’ll enjoy it.  It allows you to get a feel for old and contemporary poetry simultaneously so that, once you finish this, you are suddenly twice as well read and sparkly as before.  Give it a go, go on.

Now run out to your local library or independent bookshop, read and report back!  Go!

Fairytales!  They’re brilliant.  I read stacks of them at Christmas time.  They’re weird, wonderful, threatening.  Disney is laughable next to a real, proper fairy story.  Have you read Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales?  If not, man up and read it.  You will see fairy tales in a whole new light.

So I was thrilled to discover this intriguing site on the wide wonderful web.  It allows you to generate your own bizarre and happily disconnected stories from a set of functions.  Genius idea really.  Here’s my result:

I used these functions: violation, trickery, complicity, departure, receipt of a magical agent, victory, return, transfiguration, wedding.

I sometimes forget what people tell me to do or not do because my mouth, salivating and unruly, thinks for me.  So I did what I was not supposed to do.  I ate the last bit of food. And when I finished the little morsels left on my hands and mouth burned into my skin to render me shamed forever.

“Sugar and spice,” the old woman beckoned as she held out palms filled with cinnamon falling between her fingers like sand.  As she sprinkled it across the floor my head swum up in a dizzy spell of hunger.  I could no longer control my feet moving towards the cheap gimmicks of an old woman.

I gave him my satchel and shoes as he asked me, then I shed my clothes as he advised me to do. “Wear this,” he said, and he shed his own skin.  It fell off in a pile on the soil floor looking like a tablecloth used in my home.  When I clothed myself in his skin I no longer smelled like my home or the valley.  Instead I became like the men on the mountain.  I smelled distinctly foreign.   I thanked the man and watched as he dressed himself in my own clothes.  He said he would wear them until new skin grew on his back.

I felt my legs lift from the ground and follow the white bird’s path that trailed along the movements of air.

“Take that needle and pin it to the inside of your shirt.  From then no one will be able to touch you without feeling the hurt of needles on the bare sides of their palms”

When he placed his hand upon me he let out a great cry and then vanished into the earth.

My head seemed to clear once I set foot on the grounds that surrounded the small, crooked house, my home I had been away from for what seemed like an eternity.  I could hear my mother tongue calling from the rustling trees, the voices of my ancestors rumbling through the dusty earth at my feet, the song of my dead father coming from the throat of a sad and melodious bird.  I was home again.

A familiar gold and silken robe of dragon scales was placed in my hands on account of me killing the creature.  For an odd reason I could not help but feel regret.  The girl with the white hair and her foxlike sibling did not mean any real harm but only wanted to protect the mountain as the men of soil bade them do.

A girl with snow white hair came to the house later that day, looking for the man with the leather-bottomed shoes and coat of dragon scales.  She told me she was betrothed to that man who had taken her creature form and made her human.  She reminded me of the mountain.  She was beautiful.

My word, isn’t it just so spookily poetic.  So cool.

Hahaha oxen.  Once when I was a child and we were on holiday in Thailand, we went to a small village in the hill country.  A man took us on an ox-cart to ride to another village, and for the giggles he offered to let me sit up on the front by the oxen.  I didn’t really want to, but he seemed so convinced that it would be a fun and novelty experience that I gave in.  And it was a fun and novelty experience, if you like being in close proximity to the hindquarters of two smelly oxen whilst driving down a splashy mud road.  To cut a long story short, the ox in front of me did a large smelly poo while it was trotting along, the poo hit its tail, its tail hit my leg, I had poo on my leg, and I had to pretend that I hadn’t noticed and that I was having a brilliant time.

But Thomas Hardy that old chappie, he was a big fan of Oxen (probably a very different breed to the rather macho ones in the picture).  I found this poem of his in an anthology I bought recently called The Rattle Bag.  If you like poetry at all (and I’m assuming you do since you read this blog) you should probably buy it.

Now I think of it, I’m pretty sure I’ve read this poem before.  It’s probably a classic or something?  Being more versed in trashy chick-lit, I wouldn’t know.

The Oxen

Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.

“Now they are all on their knees,”

An elder said as we sat in a flock

By the embers in hearthside ease.


We pictured the meek mild creatures where

They dwelt in their strawy pen.

Nor did it occur to one of us there

To doubt they were kneeling then.


So fair a fancy few believe

In these years! Yet, I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve

“Come; see the oxen kneel


“In the lonely barton by yonder comb

Our childhood used to know,”

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so.



I found this poem on a site that I stumbled across and which I now love with a passion, in fact it is so good that i’m afraid to share it with you in case you never come back to sisters&sparrows.  Michelle McGinnis you are ace.

That Your Hands Are Graceful and Kind

for Ellie

You left the overhead light on which burned
all night, till nearly morning, when Cedar
woke crying, perhaps hungry, and you turned
from your place next to me to feed her
if necessary, but mostly to let
her know that you were beside her and God
was in his heaven. Is it light that prods
us from our sleeping? Surely light begets
light and pulls us, as an infant is pulled
from the birth canal into waiting hands;
hands whose shapes are defined by that child’s shape
and in turn, define for that child, the world.
There’s little of this world I understand.
Only that your hands are graceful and kind
and lie like light against my chest while I sleep.

— Steve Kronen