Tag Archives: poetry

Let There Be Love

Thirty people turned up on a chilly February afternoon at Paddington Library for a St Valentine Day theme recital of Clarinet and Poetry.

I was very lucky to engage two wonderful professionals: Poet, Valerie Fry and Clarinettist, Chris Hooker who performed a number of love poems and music with a Romantic theme. Among the poems were ‘The Owl and the Pussy cat by Edward Lear and ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvel.

The musical repertoire included a number of fairly modern pieces by Paul McCartney  (Yesterday), Honeysuckle Rose (Fats Waller) and I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Cole Porter).

The  audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive and many people stayed behind to talk to the performers over some refreshments

[Laurence]

 

Advertisements

Interesting times (2)

December 2016 version of Sgt Pepper cover, by Chris Barker There’s an ancient Chinese curse or proverb: “May you live in interesting times…”

Well, there isn’t actually (it dates all the way back to the politician Austen Chamberlain in 1936) but I think we can all agree that 2016 has been… interesting!
Most of us would probably wish that 2017 is a little less so.

While Westminster Libraries can’t promise world peace or political stability, we can promise you some interesting anniversaries and the resources for interested people to carry out further research.

January

The year kicks off in January with the 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs, which was first broadcast on 29 January 1942. It continues to this day with guests (rather tweely known as ‘castaways’) being asked to discuss the eight pieces of music they would take to a desert island. Later on, guests were allowed to choose a book and a luxury too. The first castaway was the ‘comedian, lightning club manipulator, violinist and comedy trick cyclist’, Vic Oliver. Oliver was not only a major star on the radio but also the son-in-law of Winston Churchill (something Churchill wasn’t too thrilled about, though Oliver never traded on the relationship). Though this episode doesn’t survive in the BBC archives, many hundreds of others do and  are available to listen online or download as podcasts. The earliest surviving episode has the actress Margaret Lockwood as a guest and other castaways include seven prime ministers, dozens of Oscar winners, a bunch of Olympic medallists, a few Royals and several criminals.

February

19 February brings the 300th anniversary of the birth of the actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick. Though he was a native of Lichfield (and former pupil of another Lichfield resident-turned-London-devotee, Samuel Johnson) by the age of 23, Garrick was acclaimed as the greatest actor on the English stage. He was a noted playwright but most famous for his Shakespearean roles – though he was not averse to ‘improving’ on the text – his adaptations included a Hamlet without the funeral of Ophelia and the need for the gravediggers, a ‘King Lear’ without the Fool and a Cordelia who lives on, an interpolated dying speech for Macbeth and a scene between the two lovers in the tomb before they die in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Be honest – who wouldn’t want to see those? He ran the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane for nearly 30 years and he is now commemorated by a theatre and a pub (with Charing Cross Library neatly sandwiched in between).

March

1717 wasn’t just a significant year in the history of ‘legitimate’ theatre. 2 March that year saw the first performance (at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane)  of The Loves of Mars and Venus by John Weaver, generally regarded as the  first ballet performed in Britain. While there had been English masques and French ballets before this, Weaver was the first person to tell a story through the medium of dance without the need for songs or dialogue. Weaver was the son of the dancing master at Shrewsbury School (public school curricula must have been rather different in the 1600s).

Mrs Hester BoothIn 1703 he had staged (at Drury Lane) a performance called The Tavern Bilkers, usually regarded as the first English pantomime (he described it as “the first entertainment that appeared on the English Stage, where the Representation and Story was carried on by Dancing Action and Motion only”) but it was The Loves of Mars and Venus (the choreography of which survives) which established Weaver as the major figure in English dance until the twentieth century. Venus was played by Hester Santlow (shown dressed as a harlequin), one of the leading ballerinas of the day, who created many roles for Weaver.

April

Readers of a certain age will remember adverts for Memorex tapes (other brands are available) in which a singer shattered a glass with a high note and the trick was repeated when the tape was played back. Depending on exactly how certain your age is, you may have identified the singer as the great Ella Fitzgerald whose centenary is commemorated on 25 April 2017.

Growing up in a poor district of New York and orphaned in her early teens, Ella spent time in a reformatory but soon escaped and began to enter show business via talent competitions and amateur nights, becoming an established band singer. At the age of 21 she recorded a version of the children’s nursery rhyme A Tisket A Tasket which went on to sell over a million copies. She went on to become one of the greatest of all jazz singers, developing her own idiosyncratic style of ‘scat singing’. All through her career she fought prejudice, refusing to accept any discrimination in hotels and concert venues even when such treatment was  standard in the Southern USA.

You can listen to some of her greatest recordings via the Naxos Music Library and learn more about her career in Oxford Music Online (log in to each with your Westminster library card number).

May

May Day has long been a festival associated with dancing and celebration and more recently with political demonstrations. But 1 May 1517 has become known as Evil May Day. Tensions between native Londoners and foreigners lead one John Lincoln to persuade Dr Bell, the vicar of St Mary’s, Spitalfields to preach against incomers and to call upon “Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal.”. Even though the Under-Sherriff of London (none other than Sir Thomas More)  patrolled the streets, a riot broke out when they tried to arrest an apprentice for breaking the curfew. Soon afterwards, a crowd of young men began to attack foreigners and burn their houses. The rioting continued throughout May Day – fortunately, while some houses were burned down there were no fatalities. More than a thousand soldiers were needed to put down the riot. Lincoln and the other leaders were executed, but most were spared at the instigation of Cardinal Wolsey, who according to Edward Hall

‘fell on his knees and begged the king to show compassion while the prisoners themselves called out “Mercy, Mercy!” Eventually the king relented and granted them pardon. At which point they cast off their halters and “jumped for joy”.’

Sadly this was not the last outburst of anti-foreign feeling in London’s history but such incidents are thankfully rare.

June

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK RowlingA happier event took place on 30 June 1997 with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.  It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t all wish we’d received our letter to Hogwarts instead of going to a boring Muggle school.

But we all know about Harry so let’s move on.

July

To 12 July and first documented ride, in 1817, of the ‘dandy horse’ or ‘running machine’ or, to you and me, a bicycle without chains or pedals. This was the first means of transport to make use of the two-wheel principle and the creator was Baron Karl Drais , perhaps the most successful inventor you’ve never heard of, and he managed an impressive 10 miles in an hour. While it looks pretty clunky by today’s standards, Drais was inspired by the Year without a Summer of 1816 when crops failed and there weren’t enough oats to feed horses.

Dandy horse

Readers of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances may remember thar Jessamy in Frederica was very proud of his skill with the ‘pedestrian curricle’. The Observer newspaper was enthralled by the invention of  ‘the velocipede or swift walker’ claiming in 1819 that, on a descent, ‘it equalled a horse at full-speed’ and suggesting that

‘on the  pavements of the Metropolis it might be impelled with great velocity, but this is forbidden. One conviction, under Mr Taylor’s Paving Act, took place on Tuesday. The individual was fined 2/-.’

When he wasn’t inventing bicycles Karl Drais was making an early typewriter, a haybox cooker and a meat grinder.

And on 27 July 1967, we note the 50th anniversary of the decriminalistion of homosexuality.  This will be celebrated with many events throughout the year such as this one at Benjamin Britten’s home and others at various National Trust properties.

August

Most of us can probably remember what we were doing on 31 August 1997 when we heard of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and she will be on many people’s minds as the 20th anniversary of this event approaches.

A slightly more auspicious event took place on 17 August 1917, when the two war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon met at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, an event written about by Pat Barker in her novel Regeneration, as well as Stephen Macdonald’s play Not about Heroes. Owen wrote two of his most beloved poems – Dulce Et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth while he was in hospital (he also edited The Hydra, the patients’ magazine) and was tragically killed the following year at the very end of the war. Sassoon survived the war and wrote about his hospital experiences in the autobiographical novel Sherston’s Progress. You can read more about the lives of Owen, Sassoon and the other war poets in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card).

Wilfred Owen 

September

Another literary anniversary is upon us on 21 September, when we note the publication of one of the bestselling fantasy books of all time – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, about a small, shy creature who becomes involved in a quest for a dragon’s hoard. It was offered first to the publisher Stanley Unwin who asked his 10 year old son Raynor to review it for him,

Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home – rich!

This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”

The Hobbit by JRR TolkienThe book was an instant success thanks to glowing newspaper reviews (The Manchester Guardian wrote ‘The quest of the dragon’s treasure  – rightfully the dwarves treasure – makes an exciting epic of travel, magical adventures, and – working up to a devastating climax, war. Not a story for pacifist children. Or is it?’) and has never been out of print. While embarking on the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, is a pretty daunting task, The Hobbit is still funny and exciting and highly recommended to that clichéd group – children of all ages.

October

The audience at Warner’s Theatre in New York on 6 October 1927 knew they were going to see an exciting new movie, but none of them could have predicted that motion pictures would never be the same again. The Jazz Singer was the first feature film with synchronised singing – no dialogue had been planned but the star, Al Jolson, couldn’t resist adlibbing on set and his ‘Wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet’ (in fact, his stage catchphrase) has electrified audiences ever since.

The film was a huge hit making over $2,000,000 (having cost only $400,000) and Jolson became an international star. The movies didn’t look back and within three years, silent film was a thing of the past.

The Jazz singer posterTo be honest, seen now, the film (about a Jewish boy who defies his father to sing jazz) is slow, sentimental and creaky, and the less said about Al Jolson’s penchant for blackface the better, but it’s worth checking out his performance to see the sort of charisma that sold out Broadway theatres for 20 years.

You can also see how fan magazines reported it at the time by checking out the Lantern site – a fantastic archive of Hollywood magazines that will keep film buffs busy for days…

November

As of 2015 there were 5640 female clergy in the Church of England (with 14,820 men) and it’s predicted that women will make up 43% of the clergy by 2035. Yet the General Synod only voted to allow women priests (against fierce opposition from conservatives) on 25 November 1992. Now they are central to the life of the Church of England  and most of their opponents have been won over. Some of this can, of course, be attributed to The Vicar of Dibley with Dawn French as the eponymous lady priest, but they’re now so much part of the landscape that even Ambridge, home of the Archers has had a woman vicar.

December

3 December will be the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant operationperformed by the South African surgeon Christian Barnard. The first patient, Lewis Washkansky, died 18 days after the operation (though he was  able to walk and talk after the transplant). The second patient to receive a heart was a baby who sadly didn’t survive the operation, but the third patient, Philip Blaiberg lived for another nineteen months. Six months later, in May 1968, the first British heart transplant took place at the National Heart Hospital in  Westmoreland Street, Marylebone. Now about 3,500 heart transplants take place each year and 50% of patients live for at least 10 years. So while none of us want one, it’s good to know they’re available.

Christiaan Barnard

You can find out more about these events and many more in our 24/7 library and of course the in the libraries themselves. Happy 2017!

[Nicky]

St John’s Wood round up

Hanukkah fun at St John's Wood Library, December 2015There’s just been so much going on in St John’s Wood Library recently! And there’s much more to come.

Here’s a round up of a few highlights from recent weeks:

For Interfaith Week 2015, we hosted Sh. Kazi Luthfur Rahman, Imam at the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre, who gave a talk about the Quran. While discussing links to the previous revelations – Torah, Psalms and Gospels – the Imam also discussed some of the important teachings, as well as the history and origins of the Quran. There was an involved discussion, with the general consensus being that the library should organise more events regarding different religions and cultures.

'Time to Listen' poetry installation at St John's Wood Library, December 2015

Then, as part of a ‘tour’ of libraries, we welcomed Toni Stuart and her poetry installation Here to Listen. Toni describes herself as “a poet, performer, spoken word educator, festival curator from Cape Town, South Africa, currently in London, UK”. She stayed with St John’s Wood Library for two full days in early December, before moving on to do the same at Victoria Library and Westminster Reference Library later in the month. In silence, she listened to those who sat with her and told her their stories and what was on their mind. She then wrote poems about it. She describes her approach on her blog: Here to Listen, and you can read the poems written at St John’s Wood Library.

December was also the month for Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations, including arts and craft and face painting hosted by Imagethirst, who have been coming to St John’s Wood Library for several years, offering to do portrait photos of children for free. They sometimes host the whole party, sometimes they bring frames to decorate. This time they did some fabulous face paiting. Children (and parents, carers, this librarian and our volunteer Vivienne Levan) also made hanukkiot (hanukkia is the eight candled menora).

Christmas at St John's Wood Library 2015The Christmas parties were also a joy, with happy children receiving books as gifts, enjoying healthy snacks and having lots of fun, thanks to staff and volunteers alike.

The Monthly Meet Up continued with a visit from the Timeline Brass Ensemble performing some classic sounds of the season. This young and enthusiastic band made some heads turn on the street (yes, they were powerful!) so people came in from outside to enjoy the music. Others peeked through the windows and waved. It was a burst of lovely music that shook us up in a good way.

A lovely bit of continuity through the generations has led to our regular Storytime on Tuesday afternoons. For about 30 minutes – or as we prefer to measure it, several stories – Gavin Asher reads and acts for children.

Storytime with Gavin at St John's Wood LibraryIt is a treat and he is gaining a following. An avid reader, Gavin has been a very regular library member for a long time. His son Gino is now a teenager, but he basically grew up in the library. Gavin loved reading to Gino so much that he missed doing it and decided to share his joy of reading with other children and adults.
Join us next Tuesday!

And there’s much more to come – visit our Events page for details. We hope to see you at Tim Judah’s talk about Ukraine this evening!

[Ivana]

Spending time with Dean Atta is good for your health

Dean Atta at St John's Wood Library, November 2015I have said this before and I am saying it again: even if libraries had no health and wellbeing information events or indeed other events they have been evaluated as having a positive effect on our lives, improving our mental and emotional wellbeing, making us feel secure, rooted in tradition and spoiled with free access to hard copy and ebooks, free wifi and computer use, English classes, computer classes and so on…

On top of this we have our regular health check sessions, stop smoking clinics and health information stalls on stress and sleep, healthy eating and increasing physical activity, sexual health information, read aloud bibliotherapy groups and book groups.

Our author events are always popular. We recently had the opportunity to invite performance poet Dean Atta to come to three libraries and talk about his new work, at the moment entitled ‘The Black Flamingo – thoughts on race and sexuality, poetry by Dean Atta’.

I am nobody's nigger by Dean AttaDean’s mother is from Cyprus, his father is Jamaican and his poetry first came to public attention when he wrote I am Nobody’s Nigger and shared it by iphone, becoming known as ‘the iphone poet’. His impassioned work, inspired by reaction  to the murder of Stephen Lawrence, soon led to a publishing deal. The title is ironic as the poem draws our attention to the way ‘the N word’ is used in media, ostensibly to be cool, but ultimately for gain.

In the session last week at St John’s Wood Library, Dean read the title poem and others among them Mother Tongue in which he explores the question “Where are you from?” so often asked of, and to the bemusement of, a mixed race born Londoner!

Dean Atta at St John's Wood Library, November 2015

Dean also read poems from his new work, some dealing with depression, one in which he is brutally honest about his real reaction, how he really feels inside, on occasion when someone gushes about his lovely lovely smile. He does indeed have a lovely smile and was so open and encouraging when members of the audience shared their own experiences and views..

Dean is vegan and practices yoga daily, which he says helps keep low mood at bay, though sometimes going for a brisk walk, or writing, or yoga doesn’t help and, surrendering, he sits with his feelings with mindfulness.

As Ivana, the librarian at St John’s Wood Library said afterwards, it was a very special poetry reading. Dean is honest and funny and, even when sharing very personal feelings, has a quiet dignity and peace that is truly inspiring. Dean Atta is definitely good for our health, and we look forward to seeing him at more library events and workshops next year, for poetry and for real conversations!

[Kate]

A Silver Sunday Out

Silver Sunday

The Home Library Service brought thirteen service users to St John’s Wood Library to enjoy poetry, pastries and each other’s company for Silver Sunday 2015. Some attendees find it very difficult indeed to get out, so they were very pleased to be able to take part and enjoy the lovely sunny day we had.

Poet Anna Robinson was our host for the afternoon. Anna is a Londoner who spent the summer a few years back working at St Johns Wood Library and is still closely linked to libraries in Lambeth. As well as Anna we also had in attendance Nell Stryk (widow of the poet Lucien Stryk), who shared some of his work as well as her own. A couple of other talented amateur poets in the group also spoke.

There was great interaction and numbers were exchanged, with talk of setting up a writing group. Lunch was a big success – our guests were very pleased to have “proper tea cups and saucers” and be able to meet new people and spend time visiting the actual library building.

Poems and Pastries at St John's Wood Library - Silver Sunday 2015

Poems and Pastries at St John’s Wood Library – Silver Sunday 2015

A quote from Anna from the day:

“Well that was really special – a few older women came under their own steam and then Westminster delivered some house bound people in a bus. Amongst the bus people were Nell Stryk, widow of the fabulous late Lucien Stryk, Basho’s translator and wonderful poet, and a few other good amateur poets. A serious, knowledgeable audience – and a lovely lunch was laid on as well.”

One of the participants sent us this message:

‘A huge thank you to all the librarians and to Anna Robinson  who organised the enjoyable event on 4 October in St John’s Wood Library. They were tireless in their thoughtful organising of everything from transport to delicious cakes for the delight of all the guests.
It was moving to hear the talented poets , so courageous to read their work aloud for our enjoyment.
As a retired physiotherapist I well know how much it means to the  housebound to be taken out  and entertained , meet new people , see new places etc .
You truly gave us all a Golden Sunday , rather than a Silver.
On behalf  of all your guests, thank you again.’

This was the first time we had organised an event on a Sunday as we now have the ability to provide transport for our readers on this day. The response we had showed us that there is a definite need for future events on Sundays.

[Elaine and Toni]

“I love my local library and all of its quirks”

It’s not just Guardian Witness (see ‘Love Letters to Libraries‘) who are celebrating the wonders of the library service at the moment – since 8 November, BBC 6 Music has been doing loads of programmes from, about, and inspired by libraries.

We love this brilliant poem about the local library, read on 6 Music by the author, Scroobius Pip:

Tomorrow, 21 November, is the final day of the celebration:

“On Friday 21 November, Steve Lamacq (16:00 – 19:00) takes his programme to the British Library in London. The first time a radio show has ever broadcast live from the national library of the United Kingdom.

The programme will be broadcast from the Entrance Hall of the library, which houses one of the most fascinating and comprehensive Sound Archives in the world. While there, Steve will be exploring its extensive Sound Archive – home to 19th-century cylinders to CDs, Beatles’ manuscripts, 2000 complete John Peel programmes, original demos by The Who – as well as a one off Capital Radio show hosted by Jonny Rotten himself, John Lydon.

Steve will be speaking to the brains behind this great British institution and taking a trip around the current exhibitions, which include modern musical artefacts such as original Beatles lyrics on the back of envelopes.

Sample supremoes, DJ Yoda and Public Service Broadcasting will create brand new tracks from the library’s Sound Archive. Public Service Broadcasting will take listeners on a tour and explain how information films and archive footage inspire their music making; while DJ Yoda has the three hours of the show to produce and perform a brand new track, sampled from their extensive Sound Archive.”

From 6 Music Celebrates Libraries

 [Ali]

The Last Post: A tribute to the First World War generation

The Last Post projectIn this anniversary year of the outbreak of the Great War, communities across the UK have been commemorating the lives of those who lived through and died in the conflict.

For our part at Westminster Music Library, we in the past year have been exploring the music from the wartime period in our project Behind the Lines; and our participation in Superact’s Last Post Project was an apt culmination.

Fittingly stationed between Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day was our poignant “The Last Post” evening. It was our great pleasure to be involved in this project, the initiative of arts organisation Superact (with support from the Department for Communities and Local Government, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund). Ours was just one of over 230 such events taking place up and down the country between 4 and 18 November, all featuring an all-important rendition of that well-established remembrance tradition: the Last Post. More information can be found at www.thelastpostproject.org.uk.

The Last Post began life humbly, as a bugle call to mark the end of the day in military camps in an era before soldiers had watches. Over the course of the nineteenth century it started to take on a memorial role, being played at the funerals of those killed in battle. During the First World War, as the numbers of those dying grew rapidly, this haunting tune was played with increasing regularity, and now has a central role in the remembrance of the war dead.

Interest in our Last Post event was huge and we were soon so fully booked it was standing room only! The audience of local residents was augmented with the forces of South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs whom we were delighted to welcome to add extra depth and harmony to the singing. The singing was brilliantly led by Ruth with fine accompaniment from Anthony on the piano.

Last Post Event at Westminster Music Library - November 2014

The evening began with a sing-along featuring all the old favourite First World War songs. Audience, staff and the choirs were in good voice as we launched into It’s a long way to Tipperary and Pack up your troubles – classic uplifting songs from early in the war, reflecting the nation’s optimism and hope in a swift resolution. It soon transpired, though, that the war would last longer than any had dared to conceive. The country’s musical output became more reflective, giving voice to a greater determination and perseverance. Our programme represented this trend with inclusion of the beautiful and wonderfully nostalgic If you were the only girl in the world, Keep the home fires burning and Roses of Picardy.

We then belted out Oh! It’s a lovely war from the satirical music hall show which, when written, tapped into the increasing cynicism as the war dragged on. When the Americans entered the war they brought their popular songs over with them and we joined in rousing versions of Over there and There’s a long, long trail.

Last Post Event at Westminster Music Library - November 2014To give our singing voices some rest, our songs were interspersed with readings from Ruth. We heard poems and letters home – some humorous, some sad, but all poignant, reflecting the varying experiences of those who lived both through the trenches and on the home front.

Our final song was, perhaps inevitably, the ever popular Good-bye-ee, but the evening’s climax was still to come. As the applause died down, hidden from sight behind the bookshelves, came the words of Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’, movingly recited by Andrew. You could hear a pin drop. After a moment’s pause we heard the opening notes of the Last Post. The audience spontaneously stood in respect as this ever-moving bugle call, brilliantly played by Jon, broke through the still silence. As the music came to an end, we paused for two minutes’ reflection.

And so our tribute to the First World War generation came to a close. The contrast between the lively sing along and the intensity of the Last Post at the end was stark and heartrending.

Here are some comments from members of the audience:

“A lovely evening with readings and songs and a very moving Last Post”

“Wonderful to have a singing event! Very nostalgic and very moving”

“Wonderful – released all sorts of emotions- excellent readings by Ruth. Whole concert was well thought out and performed”

Finally, we would like to extend our gratitude to South Westminster and Church Street Community Choirs for their support.

Here are Andrew and Jon performing The Last Post:

The Last Post Project: sponsors and supporting organisations

[Andrew and Jon]