The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
The past is a foreign country, wrote LP Hartley. "They do things differently there."
And yet how often we try to smuggle ourselves back across the borders of history and memory.
Kathleen Kenny's Keening With Spittal Tongues and Tom Kelly's Love-Lines (both Red Squirrel, Â£6.99) are strong and moving portraits in verse of north-east family life.
Kenny writes touchingly about the generations of women in her Geordie-Irish family, "the ones you imagine/in muddied petticoats/and full grey dresses/apple-cheeked/and hot-tempered/ running shoeless/in myths of redness."
Jarrow-born Kelly writes about the layers of family memory, parents, grand-parents and children, hospitals and funerals, "the same old story" of unspoken loyalties like a "loop tape refusing/to snap, spool away."
Reading these two books is like looking through someone else's photograph albums containing the complex collective memories and stories, lies and silences that hold a family together.
On the one hand there is the common urge to "live in the past / when everything was perfect."
On the other hand, we sometimes need to "remember not to remember."
Julian Colton's first full-length book of poems Everyman Street (Smokestack Books, Â£7.95) is a book about ghosts, and about the persistence of memory.
"There is an Everyman Street in every town. Between the old snooker-hall and the new art-centre, it is a front line of class, violence, love and religious intolerance."
There is an Everyman Street in every town. It's anonymous, familiar and home sweet home for winners and losers, for the butcher, the baker and the trouble-maker. "Sometimes their lives rhyme, more often is discordance/Even those who bide a lifetime/Linger fleetingly, unique like strips of wallpaper."
Between the old snooker-hall and the new art-centre, Everyman Street is a front line of class, violence, love and religious intolerance. When Anwar opens a corner shop he sets in motion a series of tragic events which leave Everyman Street and its inhabitants changed forever.
Peter Porter's Better Than God (Picador, Â£8.99) is a study in memory and mortality, vanity and ambition. "We bitumen the fields and flood the coasts/because we must because we can."
As always, Porter writes with a clipped and epigrammatic wit and wisdom.
No contemporary poet is better at praising the Horatian virtues of art and friendship, notably In Bed With Oblomov, Young Mothers In The Square, Lost Among The Lizards and Horace Takes the Waters ("the blood will tip/Into the icy stream a store/Of wanton crimson, staining all/That lives and grows, the flocks that sip/The generations of the grass.")
Maureen Almond also finds Horace a useful guide to the contemporary world. Chasing The Ivy (Biscuit, Â£7.99) is a clever take on Horace's Epodes, a series of biting poetic essays in ambition, failure and success.
She deftly updates Horace's satirical judgements on the literary world, its vanities and its disappointments, rejection slips and shortlists, knaves and fools.
"One writer's lost in conflict; while another/drowns in slush piles. Others briefly shine/before they burn. Our poets too will dim/Death catches all."
Michael Shepler's Dark Room Elegies (Smokestack Books, Â£7.95) is a book about history and memory, art and politics, love and revolution, from Hollywood and Mexico to Moscow and the battlefields of Spain.
It tells the extraordinary story of Tina Modotti (pictured), the Italian-born silent-screen star who turned her back on Hollywood to become a revolutionary photographer recording peasant life and labour in 1920s Mexico.
When she was expelled from Mexico, she travelled to Europe and the Soviet Union, helping to organise Red Aid during the Spanish Civil War.
Pablo Neruda wrote the epitaph engraved on her tombstone.
Shepler tells Modotti's story through a series of snapshots taken from "the slow train of history" against a constantly changing and increasingly violent landscape. It's a book of rumours, allegations, secrets and silences, "Parables, stories, true & untrue/Grey as an unravelled bandage/When the blood's soaked through."