Set me on fire – Ella Risbridger

In his novel The Fault in our Stars, John Green writes that “sometimes, you read a book [that] fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book,” and wonderfully dramatic and rather intense as this notion may be, I have just read one of those books and perfectly get the feeling. I might not go shouting from the rooftops just yet, but I desperately want to break down some walls and do a few shouts at least.

Set Me On Fire – a poem for every feeling is a poetry anthology edited and annotated by London based poet Ella Risbridger, and it is one of the most interesting anthologies I’ve read in a while. It is not simply a collection of poems – it is a collection of poems written by a very diverse group of poets, sorted after vague feelings (like “mother” which is not really a feeling at all and “hunger” which definitely can be) and placed in the cross sections of said feelings (combine these two into “mother/hungry” and suddenly you have a feeling you might be a bit unsure of what actually means until you read the poems and never spend another minute wondering).

What got me about this anthology was firstly, the varied voices of the poets, all the different stories I most likely never would have found on my own, and secondly, the editor’s annotations – witty, clever and intelligent. Risbridger has sprinkled footnotes throughout the book, sometimes recounting how she felt reading this exact line in that exact poem for the first time, throwing in some literary analysis or simply handing the reader an extra little thought connected to the words on the page. One of my favourite notes is this little footnote in “The Orange” by Wendy Cope:

Adding “And what else is there?” to the sentence “I love you. I’m glad I exist” just feels like taking all those feelings that are just too big to fit into our breaths and condencing them into mere by-pass-thoughts, observations done in happiness, and I adore it.

The annotations, like this note on Rebecca Perry’s poem “Other Clouds”:

makes the whole anthology a thoroughly pleasant reading experience. Every page turnt feels like being curled up on the sofa reading poetry with a good friend, and I’m loving how accessible the editor has made the chosen poems and poetry in general. Her notes focus a lot on how there is no right or wrong way to read poems, and that reading poetry should be fun or cathartic or whatever you need it to be in the moment. If a poem isn’t working for you this is neither you nor the poem’s fault and you are well within your rights to simply walk away. Poetry is a lot better than just suffering through poems that don’t speak to you, just for the sake of having read them.

Risbridger has also included a short introduction about how this anthology should be read (spoiler alert: again, there is no right way to read it! Just pick a page and go from there or find the feeling you need to read about right about now and see what happens) and a rather long after word talking about the process of gathering poems for this anthology. The afterword is a super interesting read – combining poetry reading, spread sheet making and the demographic statistics of the UK. In the after word she talks about how she has made a conscious effort to make the anthology as diverse as possible, to reflect the diversity found among people and to fight the dominance of “dead white men”, also known as the voices who’ve definitely taken up the most space on the traditional poetry scene (or pages, I guess).

This book is dedicated to “Caroline, who hated poetry first”, and Sarah Perry claims that the collection which is “broad in scope, generous in spirit and wittily accompanied by Risbridger’s commentary” will “offer a cure for those suspicious of poetry, while those already in love with the form have new and startling pleasures in store”.

In short, an anthology for people who already love poetry and a book of poems for people not too sure about poems to begin with.

Definitely worth a read, and if you do pick it up, be sure to let me know how you find it!

-Andrea

February and march in books

And just like that both February and March has packed their suitcases, too.

The last days of February saw days of wonderful spring up here in Norway, and it was so tempting to just pack up and away all of winter’s coats and scarves and declare it spring time immediately. Then the first days of March brought cold winds again, however, and the rest of the month has served more gray days. Oh well, at least it’s getting lighter in the evenings!

Here are the reads I got through in February and March – hang tight, it’s a varied but lovely bunch and a bit of a long ride (press the read more tab to access the full list of books)!

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

“Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved 1937 classic is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. It is told in the captivating voice of the fiercely independent and stunning Janie Crawford, who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear or foolish romantic dreams. As she endures three marraiges and a life marked by trials and tribulations, she evolves into an unforgettable heroine. A true literary wonder, Hurston’s masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published.”

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“You gave me hyachinths first a year ago”

They called me the hyacinth girl

“The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot was one of those poems I could not find myself enjoying when I read it for a poetry module in my first year of uni. It’s fragmented, it’s confusing and it has myriads of speakers, every new voice stranger than the last – I wanted to like it, I just couldn’t get the hang of it and there was never enough time in the syllabus to actually cement any real understanding of it.

With time, this lanky, strange old poem has grown on me, though. I’ve kept dipping my toes tentatively back into it now and then, and now that I’m taking a couple of new American literature modules, I’ve finally been able to do the proper deep dive I’ve wanted to, and over the course of the last few weeks I’ve fallen more and more in love with all the things I used to not like about it at all. There are still so many things I do not understand, so many notions and ideas and elements that escape me, but that’s one of the reasons I feel so drawn to it now.

Of course, it also helps that the lecturer teaching the literature module I’m currently doing is such an inspiring and enthusiastic academic, and her lectures are a delight. Her essay questions are also of another world, and part of why I’ve been able to finally give “The Waste Land” the undivided attention I have wanted to give it for a while, is because I’ve been analysing the living daylights out of it for an assignment.

From not really having managed to get through it before, I’ve now read this poem way too many times, and I keep finding new and exciting things with every read. I wanted to share the first part of the poem with you guys – in a little reading from my very-intensely-and-not-at-all-neatly-annotated copy of the Norton Anthology, with the noise of a lorry droning in from the outside and the bunched up blanket on the sofa from where I was sat reading this to myself not even a minute before this.

I hope you like these words as much as I do.

-Andrea

The notion of home and all that

Last Tuesday was Poetry Platform again – a night for “linguistical renegades and literary marvels” as it has so humbly been dubbed by its small community.

Initially settled at the Railway Inn in Winchester, Poetry Platform now takes place in living rooms and flats around England. Of course, it’s not the same as meeting up in a pub attic surrounded by the scraping of chairs, feeling the condensation of a cold Kopperberg in your hands and listening to people picking their heart out of the seams of their pockets, but you know – the next best thing to just not having any sort of spoken word poetry in your life at all. I used to attend these events monthly while I lived in England, and now I honestly believe that the one good thing to come out of this pandemic is Poetry Platform going online, so I can join in from Norway.

I did two poems on Tuesday, both centered around the notion of building a home for and with the people you care about.

The first poem (hyperlink to text) is a rather new one, thought up one evening on the floor mid-play with my nephew who’s a year and a half. It’s a response to a poem I wrote when I was 21 and terrified of the notion of ever settling down anywhere, worried of not getting the “making a home” right (whatever “right” even means). Fast forward to now and I guess the cliched realisation that’s hit is that creating a home isn’t so much about what it looks like and more about what you do with it.

The second one is for Soph, a wonderful friend who braved the world and let me be part of her adventure when she moved to Norway for a year in 2019. This poem was supposed to be a thanks for letting me fill her time with cups of tea and movie nights in the tiny uni room we made to feel like home for a while.

-Andrea

it’s 11:21 and I’m building a house for you

The snow settles on a slumbering city,
soap bubble stars scattered across the skies.
In the quiet of the town I grew up in,
I’m building a house for those days you might need one.

For now, you belong everywhere you go,
you’ve yet to see somewhere you’re not welcome.

Must it always stay like that.

But even if it doesn’t –
if you meet gum-stuck locks and darkened windows,
if your heart ever races and your eyes squint to understand,
I want you to not even know that my house has a door,
and I want you to barge right in.

I’ll make sure there are mugs you know to reach for,
hot chocolate swirls filled with fairytales you’ll know by heart,
book pages for you to organize however you see fit, by day, by colour,
by subspecies of dragon protagonist or by the second letter of the fifth sentence.

There’ll be a window sill with a mountain of pillows for you to climb,
to nestle in, to point at pedestrians and wonder about the world,
chairs to curl up in, tall enough that you can dangle your legs and feel that moment of breathlessness as you jump down,
wondering whether the floor will be there to welcome you.

It always will be.

I want there to be adventures in the blue of your toothpaste
and songs in every bristle of your hairbrush,
and bedside story times for you to tell me all about
strawberry covered sorcery and soaring above the clouds.

I’m building a house
for cheesy pasta fortresses,
red crayon all over the backs of the sofa,
new worlds mapped out under the dining room table
and that blanket with your name on it.

I’m building a house
where you can hang the moons,
for you to barge right in.

-Andrea

Where would we be without the arts?

In a time where money is pouring out of art budgets instead of into them, when people are being urged to choose tech careers over arts educations and when the importance of the arts as a craft is undermined as something a bit silly, just a bit of fun, Wendy Richardson was the driving force behind this documentary where she asked 54 arts workers (mainly in the UK) to answer these three questions:

What do the arts mean to you?
How did you get into the arts?
Are the arts accessible for everyone?

The answers were filmed on phone cameras and compiled into an hour and a half long celebration of the arts, of the different occupations within the arts, and of the great variety of disciplines the arts provides. It’s a celebration of lives lived a little richer, skills hard-earned and won, and winged moments created.

I love how different all the artists’ answers are and what sort of different tangents people go off on, even though everyone started off with the same three questions. That in itself feels like a testament to the arts’ variety and significance. I won’t take up your time rambling – the documentary participants prove their points with so much more elegance and wisdom than I could ever hope for, so I’ll just leave you in their safe hands.

The whole documentary is rather long, so if you feel up for it, this is the perfect chance to proper settle down in the corner of the sofa with a blanket and a big mug of tea. It’s snowing in Norway again (and I’m feeling thoroughly done with winter, at the moment) so I’m definitely enjoying all this summer footage.

I also really love how Wendy’s cut Marilyn’s and my footage together at timestamp 19:10-21:42. Marilyn is an educator who braved a pair of ballet slippers for the first time at 47 (and a half), and as everyone else in the documentary, she talks with that glimmer in her eyes that the arts really do bring out in people.

I hope you give this documentary a watch – it’s definitely worth it!

-Andrea

January in books

January has come and gone, with new national lockdowns, cups of tea and a really lovely amount of snow and frosty mornings. These past few years I’ve really enjoyed using this blog as a way to track the months passing, and this year I’ll attempt to do so in books read and (hopefully) enjoyed. Maybe it can be a source of “hm, that looks like an interesting read,” or “oh gosh, nope, never picking that one up,” for someone?

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Beautiful novel, beautiful language – just the right blend of poetic twists and turns and well-written prose. The seemingly (but definitely not) random fairytale stories linking the chapters together piece by piece, creates a really interesting ambience for the entire book, and the feeling when the different plots and storylines start weaving together is delightful. The huge character gallery sometimes makes the story a bit difficult to follow, and it’s a bit of a slow starter, but all in all, definitely worth both a read and a re-read.

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

“On Discworld, a dying wizard tries to pass on his powers to an eighth son of an eighth son, who is just at that moment being born. The fact that the son is actually a daughter is discovered just a little too late. The town witch insists on turning the baby into a perfectly normal witch, thus mending the magical damage of the wizard’s mistake. But now the young girl will be forced to penetrate the inner sanctum of the Unseen University- and attempt to save the world with one well-placed kick in some enchanted shins!”

I always find Terry Pratchett’s books to be all about the journey and very little about the destination. I love how he dances and plays with lanuguage, and his characters are a lot of fun, but at the end of a Pratchett book I often find myself wishing for the resolutions to be done a bit more center-stage and get a bit more focus. Equal rites was a very interesting and good read, with love-to-be-annoyed-at-characters, gender discussions and politics, and that wit and heart that Pratchett’s books are always properly infused with. 10/10 would read again.

The Magicians – Lev Grossman

“Quentin Coldwater’s life is changed forever by an apparently chance encounter: when he turns up for his entrance interview to Princeton University, he finds his interviewer dead – but a strange envelope bearing Quentin’s name leads him down a very different path. Instead of Princeton, he finds himself invited to study at Brakebills – a secret college of modern-day sorcerers.

Quentin plunges deep into a secret world of obsession and privilege, a world of freedom and power; and for a while, it seems to answer all Quentin’s desires. But the idyll cannot last. There are others powers than sorcery, powers that are as seductive as they are dangerous – and when the illusion of safety shatters, Quentin is drawn into a world far darker than he ever imagined. After all, power corrupts. No exceptions.”

When it comes to books and stories I really enjoy, I’ve got to admit I can grow a bit hyperfocused. Stories with heart and characters that really draw you in, a storyline that keeps you on your toes and that little extra nerve I’m still trying to identify what actually is (after years of recognising this habit but not being entirely sure what causes it) has me falling completely in love. The SYFY-show The Magicians (season 1-4, at least, I’m trying to forget about season 5) is one of those stories. The book didn’t do it for me as the show did, though – the characters felt a lot more negative and destructive, the casual charm I fell in love with in the series was just not there in the book, and I felt like the story didn’t feel as cohesive. It feels like the story Grossman was constructing while writing this book, definitely needs a longer format (like for example a TV series), where you get more time and chance to really explore both the characters and the main and minor themes. Thumbs up to the show, but not sure I’ll be rereading the book anytime soon.

Also, in true blog fashion, at the end of the month, here’re my seconds of January, a quaint month of working at the library, getting into studying part time, breathing in snowy air and reading in front of the fire place.

-Andrea

As we’re leaving 2020 behind…

What a year it’s been. The good, the bad and the unexpected.
Looking back on these almost 8 minutes of rather shaky every day footage left of 2020, has taken on a bit more meaning this year. In a year where a lot of the days have blended into one, where home office and not seeing people has made weeks pass without us really noticing they’ve even arrived, looking back on this feels like an exclamation of “this year has come and passed, in minutes and in seconds and in days, and I swear I was a part of it”. Every cup of tea, every little walk – I was there for it all, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

It’s definitely been a year for contemplation, of decision making and for change. November and December has been a time of looking at what I’ve managed to accomplish this far and what I want to still go on to do, and I’ve realised I need to make some changes. These months have been months of frustration, of worry and of celebrating every little victory I could find, just like it’s been for everyone else.

Rambles done and dusted, here’re the seconds recorded from the 1st of September to the 31st of December this year. I want to post the entire 2020 video on its own in a minute, but it also feels like the last four months of 2020 deserve their own post. They’ve truly done their best with the days they had, no arguing there.

-Andrea

Elsa’s song

In January I fell in love with the album Love, Run by The Amazing Devil. It’s a haunting experience of an album and the kind of music that can comfortably accompany you on days both good and bad.

Looking for something else on my laptop today, I found this little thing. It’s a cover of The Amazing Devil’s “Elsa’s Song” – a project I started (and forgot about) in March, when everywhere started closing down due to Covid, and everyone had to more or less self isolate. Watching it now honestly feels a bit like an accidental time capsule. The video is from before I cut my hair and when I was still wearing my old glasses, and this was before I did my last exams, handed in my dissertation and before I moved and started the job I’m working now. It was also at the very start of lockdown and it reminds me of how overwhelming and uncertain everything felt at the time, and how, in March, we were still waiting for a deadline on when what we kept referring to as “these special times” would be over. Now we’re mid-October, and looking at at least another year of this, and everyone’s just doing their best. So yeah, an accidental time capsule in many ways.


The videos were recorded by an old dam quite close to my uni flat. It was a place I often went to when I just needed some space and some air, and initially I muted the rain sounds in all the clips. I decided to keep the rain however, kind of like a tribute to how The Amazing Devil often use ambient sounds and surrounding noise to add to the stories in their lyrics. There is something to the lyrics in this song – they’re about love and connection and being remembered, and humanity really not being the best at learning from past mistakes. Feels rather relevant at the moment, to be fair, with everything that’s going on around the world.

I hope you’re having a wonderful day.
-Andrea