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Poet's Perspective

Taking Risks

Coming as I do from the edge of Snowdonia it was no surprise that by the age of 11 my dad was taking me rock climbing. It all began on simple routes up the face of Tryfan and it’s why that mountain and its surrounds are incredibly special and evocative for me. The point is that at that tender age, risk taking became imbedded in me.

There is an interesting track record of climber-poets from Al Alvarez (Feeding the Rat is an iconic book), who was a close friend of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and gifted poet and critic, to Helen Mort of today. A climber herself, her poetry collection No Gift Could Show Them is stunning as is her novel Black Car Burning which spins around the world of rock climbing.

My risk taking also extends into the extreme sport of reading! Jack Kerouac’s On The Road belongs to a rare group of books. It’s a list that includes the likes of War and Peace, Ulysses, Crime and Punishment, 1984, To Kill A Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, Brave New World.

They are milestone books which your bookish conscience is often prodding you that if you’re anywhere close to being serious about reading, these really should be ticked off. That’s a nonsense of course but annoying all the same. I am sure you have ones you can add to your ‘must be read I suppose’ list.

Some on mine I’ve read, some I tried and failed miserably (and shall not return to even though the barb remains).

I read On The Road many years ago, but it’s only recently that I’ve become absorbed by Kerouac’s writing. Regarded as the father of the Beat generation, Kerouac was deeply impacted by Proust, among other influences, and his cannon is largely regarded as single piece of work steering through his life in fiction form.

So, I’ve recently read Satori in Paris (where he explores his Celtic roots in Britany and Cornwall), Big Sur, The Dharma Bums (for me his best book I’ve read) and am currently on Desolation Angels.

Trying books not usually on my radar has led me to become a fan of John Steinbeck, enjoy some of Scott Fitzgerald books, adored Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, discovered the absolute gem that is Stoner by John Williams and even ploughed through the eight Game of Thrones books (at 700 pages each) before it became a thing on tv

The bottom line is to be never afraid of stepping outside your reading comfort zone. And conversely never be afraid to kick a book into touch. Life’s too short and there’s too many good books waiting to be read to press on with one just because you started it.

Take a risk. It might surprise you.

And as its Independent Bookshop Day tomorrow (Saturday, October 8), why not pop along to Liznojan and celebrate the event by choosing something dangerous!

Born in North Wales, poet & writer Paul Mortimer has lived in Tiverton for 13 years. His first poetry collection. Fault Line, was published by Lapwing in 2015, followed by Wind Voice from the same publishing house in 2019. He has appeared at a number of literary festivals and headlined poetry events in recent years.

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