Fiona Sampson has received various national and international awards for poetry. She’s published in thirty-seven languages, and her most recent books are Lyric Cousins: Musical Form in Poetry and The Catch, both published in 2016. In January 2018 she will publish In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein.
Something old. The upper class setting of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway can seem remote, if not actually off-putting. But what remains absolutely undated is its intimate portrait of a party-giver’s absorption and abstraction, in the midst of tragedy and social complexity. Undating too is the forensic revelation that is Woolf’s use of stream-of-consciousness.
The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age
Joyce Carol Oates
Something new-ish. Last year Joyce Carol Oates published The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age, a collection of memoir pieces. It’s fascinating to see the writer at work, returning to particular incidents to find out what gave them resonance enough to power a literary lifetime - and a super-productive one at that.
Something borrowed is Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a book I resisted on behalf of Mrs Dalloway, to which it’s a homage. The novel has since been overshadowed by the (also terrific) film made of it. Yet it’s a triumph: subtle and humane and non-trivial, and a wonderful read all by itself. Though it would be fun to read the two books back to back.
Something blue, sad but not sexy, is Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal, its twenty-four chapters packed with daily life, the fashions and fads of 1938 and the surely-it-won’t-happen sensation of sleepwalking towards war. Unflowery and common-sensical, it’s a great way to dip a toe in poetry: the world it portrays feels unnervingly recognisable.