Sunday, April 16, 2006

Knedliky, muffins and poetry from Manchester to Newcastle

Susan tells me that Rick was preparing a giant Czech dumpling (knedliky) for supper last night. Lucky them! I remember it well: thick, fragrant and delightfully absorbent slices accompanied some of the lovely meat specialties I had on a couple of trips to Prague, and many more were lurking in the kitchens of the Czech and Slovak Club that was so conveniently situated at the end of my street in London.

What is it about soft doughy substances... I've had a week of struggles with muffins. Made my third batch today after failures with apple muffins from the Steinbeck House cookbook a week ago (dry and hard), lemon poppyseed muffins from an internet recipe yesterday (flopped hideously over the rims of the muffin cups). This morning we returned to old faithful, blueberry muffins from the good old New Recipes from Moosewood, and - at last - success. Not perfection, but sweet, warm, edible success.

I came across Michael Schmidt's Stanza lecture yesterday. His Lives of the Poets is not so much littering as landscaping my personal wasteland of unread works: it is one book that you can honestly say, before you've even opened it, has real stature. Apparently last year's Neil Astley lecture was believed to be at least partially directed at Schmidt, the Mexican-born founder and publisher of Manchester-based literary journal PN Review, and of Carcanet, which is certainly a very different press than Newcastle's Bloodaxe. Two worlds of opinion in two northern cities.

While enjoying both sides of the argument, I do have a lot more Carcanet on my shelves than Bloodaxe, and the reasons include Gillian Clarke, Eavan Boland, Sujata Bhatt, Les Murray and Elizabeth Jennings.

But I also cherish a number of titles from Bloodaxe: Ken Smith's Wild Root, collections by Carol Rumens, Stephen Knight, Helen Dunmore. Not to forget Peter Sansom's Writing Poems and Astley's own Staying Alive.


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