Tag Archives: Britain

Book Review: Division Street

Division Street by Helen Mort

Division Street by Helen Mort is an incredible selection of poetry. The twenty-eight year old Mort is a five time winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, poet-in-residence at the Wordsworth Trust, winner of the Eric Gregory Award in 2007, Manchester Young Writer Prize in 2008, Derbyshire Poet Laureate, and a PhD student at Sheffield University. She is short listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Costa Poetry Award. She has earned a quite an impressive resume for someone who has not reached the age of thirty. 

When I talk to other book people, one topic that comes up is who will be this century’s great writers? Who will be remembered as part of the twenty-first Century “Bloomsbury Group”? Who will define these early years for the rest of the century and beyond. There are plenty of writers and plenty of very talented writers. I have been lucky enough read and review some of their work. The internet and independent publishing has opened the world to many writers, more than any time in history, and yet I still wonder who will be remembered as the voice of these times. I am not sure who all the great names will be, but Helen Mort will be one of them. 

I don’t think I have gotten totally caught up in a selection of poetry like Division Street since I read Leaves of Grass. The writing pulls you in completely and totally. You do not want to put the book down, and the hours will pass quickly and when you finally put the book down, you’ll need a few minutes, or longer, to come back down to your reality. These are poems in which you can truly lose yourself. The gritty urban environment is the state of nature for Mort’s work. There is not a beautiful pastoral setting. It was a brutal time when the coal miners went on a year long strike threatening to bring down the Thatcher government like they had the Heath government a decade before. There was violence and chaos and the entire British economy suffered. Thatcher won, but to this day that wound has not healed. This is a collection of man against government, the twenty-first century version of man against nature. 

“Scab” manages to perfectly combine the violence of the strike with “We Three Kings” in a biblical saga of the strike. “Thinspiration Shots” take on the pro-anorexia web sites that promote anorexia as a lifestyle. There is also a gentler side to her work also “Deer” and “Night” reflect these feelings. “The Dogs” are about her own two canines. “End” is a cleverly written poem with a play on a “little death”. If you are going to read only one collection of poetry, read this one. It will hook you on poetry. For those who lament the direction contemporary writing is heading, read Division Street. It will renew your faith in contemporary writing. 

This was 197th book I reviewed this year and probably the one that moved the deepest and the most. I sat for nearly half an hour after reading Division Street, just thinking “Wow!” Once I came down, I went and ordered Mort’s other collection Pint for the Ghosts. Yes, her writing is that good. This was the book that knocked me off my usual level headed, stoic mindset and moved me into an impassioned review.

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Book Review: A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps

A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps by Chris West

A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps by Chris  West is a unique take on looking at history. West is a graduate of the London School of Economics where he studied economics and philosophy. He wrote his first book Journey into the Middle Kingdom after the traveling to China. His fiction includes theChina Quartet four crime novels based in the the People’s Republic of China. West’s other non-fiction include books on business and entrepreneurship.

Stamps are history. I remember having stamp albums as a child and going trough the pages studying the stamps from different countries. There was almost as much to learn from stamps as there was from books. I had nearly forgotten that old hobby until I saw West’s book.

West starts with the 1840 Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp, and ends with the 2012 1st Class stamp featuring a young Queen Elizabeth. Most stamps feature the current monarch’s profile with the exception of 1996-2012 when a small silhouette of the queen was used and other subjects where the main art of the stamp. Through time most of the stamps in the book displayed current events or anniversaries. There is a shift in the art work too reflecting the times. All of the stamps used are British except for a single German stamp from the interwar period. A 200 Mark stamp over printed 2 Million Marks reflecting the hyperinflation in Germany.

West writes a clear and easy to follow history of Britain. Each chapter starts with a stamp and a story connecting the stamp to a piece of history. Whether it is a new king, a royal wedding, or marking the death of the former Princess of Wales there is a piece of contemporary history connected to the stamp. Some history is less obvious, like an odd looking Christmas stamp, or a misplaced “46th” on a stamp, or even a minority occupying the center spot on a stamp. It is not only the history of the stamps but the history the British Post Office. At one time mail was delivered twelve times a day in London. The price of a stamp was cheap enough so that, as the author says, people posted letters then like people text today. The Post Office was one place where everyone was equal. Post office brought a standard rate for all letters, provided decent jobs, and operated a bank. The bank, unlike others at the time, was for the common people. Also mentioned several times in the book is Britain’s most famous postal employee (and author) Anthony Trollope.

Thirty-Six Postage Stamps is a fun and rather light historical read. It is a history book for those who really don’t like getting bogged done in dates and such. A single stamps followed by a story makes makes for a nice and informative read. For those who like history or stamp collecting it is still an excellent read. From early in Victoria’s rule until the present the reader will get a taste of British culture and history. An excellent read.

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