Every spring, Oxford University puts on a literary festival like no other, and the legendary Blackwell’s Book Shop, lead by the incomparable Rita Ricketts, sponsors a Fringe Festival to coincide with it. This year, James J Patterson read from his forthcoming book of essays and fiction, Bermuda Shorts, a little story called, “Something Out of Nothing.”
James J Patterson and Rose Solari at the Oxford Fringe Festival!
American Poet Rose Solari was the “Poet in Residence” at the 2009 Oxford Fringe, and James J Patterson tagged along.
Over the course of the week-long festival, Solari read from her book Orpheus In The Park, as well as new material read here for the first time in public. Fans of Ms Solari were treated to “Elegy For The Virgin,” “Somewhere Between 4 and 5 AM,” “Letter To My Father,” “Orpheus In The Park,” “Tree House For The Dream Child,” “To The Wine Taster,” “My Mother’s Piano,” “Elegy For My Twenties,” “Achilles On Shore,” “Making,” and “Poem For Grace.”
Aside from Solari & Patterson, the Fringe Festival was host to some very accomplished and outstanding talent this year. If you’re looking to branch out with your summer reading, check out the Poets Jamie McKendrick, author of Crocodiles & Obelisks and Jane Griffiths, whose latest is called Another Country. McKendrick’s rumpled, soft-spoken intellectualism, and Griffith’s lanky flamboyance, were a delightful contrast with Solari’s hint of American glamor and cross-thatched mythological musings. Rose Solari’s review of McKendrick and Griffith’s new books and more can be found in the current issue, no. 104, of Poet Lore, America’s longest continuously published Poetry anthology, (dating back to 1889).
Grevel Lindop (what a fabulous name!) is a tall Ray Bolger type who writes quirky poetry that is as amusing as it is thought-provoking. He is an unlikely salsa dancer as well, go figure! His current book of poetry is called Playing With Fire. His self-described “Labor of Love,” has been to update Robert Graves’ classic, The White Goddess. This definitive work explores the stories behind the earliest European deities and is a must have. Thank you Mr. Lindop for breathing new life into a classic work! His intriguing list of titles can be found here.
A special thanks to writer Mark Pritchard for taking time to educate yours truly in the fineties of Oxford’s pub culture! Would that I could replicate what I called the Bridge of Sighs Pub, or The Turf Pub, as it’s actually named, down the street from where I live! The Bear was another favorite, for sure. The Bear accommodates only about fifteen people comfortably but has a sweet outdoor area for many more. The local habit of popping in for a pint, getting caught up on news and chit chat before continuing on with your day, is a lifestyle that suits me to a T! I felt right at home. Pritchard, far and away the best Pub Crawl leader you can imagine, had a bone to pick with my own self when we met. He had been to JamesJPatterson.com and found my birthday tribute to Thomas Paine, where I quote Paine excoriating the British for their sins against the Colonies. “Not really very good form to put that on your website just before visiting England, hmm?” Ouch! (I was actually attempting to compare the sins of George II to another George named Bush – clearly, it needs work!)
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Monica Payne, a local Oxford barrister, for steering me away from using the term “Fannies,” in my short story, “Something Out of Nothing.” The word Fanny, in England, apparently means something quite different from derriere. A gross embarrassment was thus avoided. Thanks, kiddo!
Willy De Leeuw’s exposition on the 8 steps to appreciating Belgian Ales will await further missives to be rendered properly.
Meanwhile, at the Lit Festival itself, there was a compelling discussion hosted by the organization which awards The Orwell Prize. Marking the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s 1984, the panel took for its title, “1984 and the debate over Civil Liberties.” Jean Seaton, the Director of the Orwell Prize, hosted the panel. Nick Cohen, a pugnacious political writer, contrarian, and stout defender of the left, and Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, tackled the current right wing gambit going on in England to scrap the Human Rights Act, adopted by most post WWII nations after the war, and replace it with a nationalistic piece of police state legislation called, “The British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities Act.”
The panel then proceeded, in a more general way, to address the state of freedom in contemporary society through an Orwellian lens. Does a society of laws favor freedom? Not necessarily. Has the movement toward Political Correctness, made us more free? Not if it codifies the repressive idea that we ought to have the “freedom to not be offended.” What are the biggest obstacles to freedom in Britain? The judiciary, and its libel law decisions, and religious militancy. Chakrabarti: “Autocracy is progressing around the world.”
Cohen: “We have lived through an extraordinarily naive time. People will trade freedom for order. Legal instruments, by themselves, do not change behavior.”
It was an eye-opening debate and had the 300 or so who packed the audience on the edge of their seats.
The other event at the Oxford Literary Festival, which caught our eye, and was for me the very hi-lite of the trip, was a talk given by legendary publisher John Calder. Calder started a small avant-garde press in the 1950’s and is notable for first publishing Henry Miller in England, and his lifelong friend Samuel Beckett. “I was educated in Zurich and had a gift for learning languages. When I returned to England I was amazed to learn that of the big publishers, no one spoke any foreign languages, so it was a simple matter for me to identify who was up and coming on the continent and bring out their work hereâ€¦â€ And Miller? â€œI took a chance on Henry Miller, and I was ready for a court battle. Everyone expected the Tropic of Cancer to be banned as soon as it was published, as it had been elsewhere. People lined up around the block to get their copy before the government banned it. I sold 140,000 copies in three weeks!” … “The 1950’s were an exciting time in the world of ideas,” he continued.”You have to remember that the novel was changing, the landscape was transformed from the outside world to that inside the mind. “When I asked him if he thought today an exciting time in the world of ideas, he said “most definitely yes, with new technologies, and the world coming together intellectually, we could be on the brink of something truly special. But,” he added sadly,”having just turned eighty, and my health not what it once was, I find it disappointing that I won’t be here to be a part of it for much longer.” A week later Rose and I took a detour through London, on our way to the airport, to find the John Calder Book Shop, where the old man is famous for seeing visitors and well-wishers from an office in the basement, but alas, the store was closed for the day.