Every once in a while you read a book that speaks to your heart. For me, Sarah Salway’s books always do. Her latest, Digging Up Paradise: Potatoes, People and Poetry in the Garden of England, is another gem. Salway takes us along on her visits to twenty-six public gardens in Kent. Together we find seashells, wildflowers, vegetable patches, magical trees, eccentric hedges, ancestral woods, the loveliest castle in the world… all the while, feeling the grass under our feet as we listen to ‘strawberry-shaped words’, peculiar tales and enchanted histories. Her poem “Night Grass” (about Doddington Place) is so beautiful, I want to hang it on my wall as a gatha that I can come back to again and again. And then there’s her “Letter to a Stranger”, which whispers to me like the wind: ‘not every day needs a destination, or to make sense’.
Although the weather has been very unreliable, I’ve managed to steal a few hours of dolce far niente and lazy reading at the beach. My favourite summer read so far? You Don’t Need Another Self-Help Book by Sarah Salway. I have to admit that I’m in the habit of reading poetry books cover-to-cover before putting them down. Not this one, though! I found Salway’s book to be like a box of individually wrapped chocolates with different flavours, which you covet so much that you eat only a few because you want to save the rest for later. Her poems are enchanting, poignant, tender, sensual, humorous and bittersweet. There are so many that I want to read over and over again. Some of them made me smile (“Things to Do Today”), others brought tears to my eyes (“Left”), and along the way long-forgotten memories were found (“The Interruption”), and shared idiosyncrasies revealed (“Through Carved Wooden Binoculars”).
I’ve been reading a lot during my holiday. Most of the books are classics: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I have also picked up a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, which I keep within arm’s reach at all times. The most recent addition to my bookshelf is De muziek van het huis by Cor Gout. (Unfortunately, my English readers, it’s written in Dutch.) Gout’s poems are about the house he grew up in, or rather, by it: the house itself is the storyteller. Some of the stories gave me goosebumps (“Pijn”), some made me laugh in recognition (“Metamor-phosen”), and some were simply mesmerising (“Het zijn de”). His poems have a marvelous melody to them, which shouldn’t be surprising, given that he is also a singer-songwriter. The book presentation was an emotional tour-de-force – where poems sprung from memories naturally. The book itself is like your favourite album that you want to listen to on repeat.
A few weeks ago I cycled past a shop called Normal Gets You Nowhere in The Hague. Seeing those four simple words painted on the shop window made me smile. How awesome, I thought. I had a similar sentiment at the book presentation of Ilona Verhoeven’s Voor de Eerlijke Vinder at the Torpedo Theatre in Amsterdam. It was an evening of stories by Ilona Verhoeven and music by Hans van Koolwijk and Danibal. I felt incredibly inspired by this celebration of individuality, uniqueness and eccentricity. By the time I got back home, I had finished her book, and felt like a skylight had been added to my roof. Her short stories are fantastic, both literally and figuratively. They are miniature tales about humans, animals, and inanimate objects – like a flying poppy seed challah. I particularly loved finding sensical nonsense (“Mogelijk”), shared childhood dreams (“Flora was hier”), and things that remain hidden (“In een tuin gevonden”).