Monday 5 October 2020

Journals: MacNeice 1938, Gibbs 2020

Stop press. Actually, the complete opposite: start press. Jonathan Gibbs’s Spring Journal, written between March and late August in the Year of Covid 2020 – and modelled on Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal, itself written August to December 1938, an immediate personal response to the public events of those months and the mood on the streets as Fascism gripped Europe and war loomed – will be published by CBe in November/December. At any rate, before Christmas. The point of a small press is that it can turn on a sixpence.

Above: London rent strike, 1938; London, 2019 (from Good Morning, Mr Crusoe).

Spring Journal is an honest, angry, sad, thoughtful, appalled, urgent act of witness to this lousy year. Why would anyone want to be reminded? Those who have followed the week-by-week reading-aloud of the poem by Michael Hughes on David Collard’s Leaps-in-the-Dark on Zoom know that this is not a statistical summary or an op-ed piece; that something cumulative has been building, and that its sharing has been important. The poem itself is deeply sceptical of exaggerated or romantic notions of what poetry can do, or is for; it feels nevertheless, in part because of this scepticism, a necessary work.

It also feels to be not just coincidence that another book I’ve been preparing for print (to be published next year with a foreword by Michael Rosen) is a re-issue of Leila Berg’s classic autobiography, Flickerbook – which in present-tense observations and vignettes records the author’s childhood and early youth in the 1920s and 1930s, and her growing political engagement. The book ends with the sound of an air-raid siren in London in September 1939: ‘Something new is beginning, and we fumble because we don’t know what it is.’

Plus (this isn’t an add-on: it’s survival) – CBe’s Lockdown Subscription is still running: for £65, a book each week for 10 weeks (free delivery in the UK). Sign up on the website home page. As mentioned in a previous post, sales of CBe books to bookshops April to July this year were just 3% of what they were in the previous two years. The subscription offer keeps books moving around and me busy. Subscribers can choose which titles on the CBe list they want to receive. These can include, if wanted, the 2020 new titles – Will Eaves’s Broken Consort, Gert Hofmann’s Veilchenfeld, Todd McEwen’s Who Sleeps with Katz and Stephen Knight’s Drizzle Mizzle Downpour Deluge – and the new reprint of Andrzej Bursa’s Killing Auntie. And, when copies are in from the printer, Jonathan Gibbs’s Spring Journal.