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Seamus Kelly Poet, Writer, Image Maker and Tutor RECOMMENDS ISOLATION BOOKS

During this period of social distancing and lockdowns our mental wellbeing can be under threat. Naturally we miss face to face contact with family, friends and colleagues and even for those still working things are so different from the norm.

Reading books, whether on traditional paper or in digital form, is a great way to take ourselves to new places, to feed our imaginations and creativity; reading something other than the news is healthy and refreshing and can help us to deal with the stresses and worries or our current situation.

What if you could choose just three books to have with you during this period of lockdown? Which three books would you keep with you and why?

Here are my personal choices; I wonder what others would choose….

My Family and Other Animals (Gerald Durrell)

I almost chose Life on Earth by David Attenborough, a book that was really instrumental in my interest in ecology and my taking my degree in that subject at Lancaster many years ago, but ground breaking as that book, and of course the acclaimed TV series, was my interest developed much sooner than that. The books that really took a fascination with the natural world to a new level of interest and discovery were by Gerald Durrell, starting with “My family and other animals” around 1972 (about age 11).

Those books painted a picture of the animals, the places, the people and the way the whole complicated mess of life fits together and works. It wasn’t a clear picture but, like life, it could be chaotic, confusing and at the same time full of special moments, new discoveries and entertainment. I haven’t read this book in many years, but it certainly helped to shape my future choices and it has to be one of my “Isolation Books”

I Explain a Few Things – Explico Algunas Cosas (Pablo Neruda)

Pablo Neruda wrote powerfully of painful experiences, of revolution and oppression and sensitive, emotional and lyrical love poems. I’ve collected a few books of his poetry and it is hard to pick just one but this one, found in the famous “Shakespeare and Company” shop in Paris, contains a selection of poems from about 18 of his books (yes really 18).

Neruda lived through horrendous times in his native Chile and his use of language is so powerful. It is fascinating to me how poets from different cultures respond to similar things. The ending of poems can easily feel like some kind on anti-climax, like a joke where the punchline has already gone but that doesn’t happen with Neruda – the ending of his poem about revolution and persecution over many years culminating in the Spanish Civil War “venid a ver la sangre por las callas” (come and see the blood in the streets!) is a perfect example.

Each poem in the book is shown both translated into English and in the original Spanish. I don’t speak or read Spanish very well, so I always read the English version first but then I read the Spanish version because it lets me hear the music and rhythm of Neruda’s words in my head.

Opened Ground (Seamus Heaney)

Maybe I first read Seamus Heaney because we share a first name, or maybe because people had told me how good he was or maybe because this was one of the handful of poetry books that my Dad treasured. I can read Heaney’s work again and again finding more inspiration and never getting bored. This book, like my Neruda choice, is a selection from a dozen or so collections so it means I can effectively read a bit of each of those books – maybe that’s cheating; but I’m a poet – what can I say!

Seamus Heaney has written about life; all of it, good, bad and mortality. His reality is personal yet global. Not always a comfortable to read, but always enlightening and beautiful. For Heaney, and poetry, honesty is all.

Mid Term Break is perhaps Seamus Heaney’s most well know poem it is written in clear language, simple to understand and packed full of feeling we all recognize and share; yet it is heartbreaking. The last stanzas describing the body of his four year old brother, returned to the house for the funeral lead to the final, solitary last line “A four-foot box, a foot for very year” are the epitome of writing that delivers it’s punch right at the end and leaves you somewhat dazed yet enriched at the same time.

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