National Poetry Library recommends: Anne Carson

The work of Candian poet Anne Carson spans celebrated translations of classical writers such as Sappho and Euripides, poems, essays, libretti, prose criticism, and verse novels that often cross genres. Easily one of the most radical and acclaimed poets at work today, Carson comes to Southbank Centre this month to lead a workshop on poetic experimentation and collaboration and, ahead of this, the team at National Poetry Library pick out their Anne Carson must reads.

Nay Rather

Nay Rather is Anne Carson's excellent meditation on the notion of the 'untranslatable'. She uses a broad array of examples - Joan of Arc, Francis Bacon, Holderlin - to illustrate how strange and opaque language or art can be made to be, before creating her own enigmatic text by translating a fragment of ancient Greek lyric poetry.

Will Rene, Library Assistant


Anne Carson's Antigonick is a collaboration with visual artist Bianca Stone. Who ever thought that Sophocles'; tragedy could be reimagined as a comic book? Humorous, disturbing, lyrical: this is the kind of book only Anne Carson can pull off.

Chris McCabe, Poetry Librarian

Short Talks

Anne Carson's Short Talks  is succinct enough to be a prose poem and one which discusses any element of humanity, whilst surprisingly being a very complex work. It is so fitting that Carson comments on the different way in which Van Gogh saw the world as she herself is able to present a more appealing reality which allows the past and present to blur.

Lauren Purchase, Library Assistant

Red Doc>

With Red Doc> Anne Carson continues the story of mythological figures Geryon (‘is he red / yes / wings / yes / okay I do know this guy’) and Herakles (‘he’s the one wore lizard pants and pearls to graduation’) that she began with Autobiography of Red and imagines what happens to them after their myth has ended. What happens is a road trip like no other, taking in time, Proust and mothers.

Lorraine Mariner, Assistant Librarian


I’d been failing to understand Hegel for two whole years. My friends laughed at me for even trying. Then I read Anne Carson on her struggle with Hegel. She ends up in a snowstorm staring at the sky on Christmas day in love with being alive but still not understanding Hegel. And yet…

Pascal O’Loughlin,  Assistant Librarian


Anne Carson's Poetry Workshop on Collaboration runs on 14 October 2017 at Southbank Centre, as part of London Literature Festival.

more info

Hear Margaret Atwood in Conversation with Gaby Wood

Margaret Atwood in Conversation with Gaby Wood by Southbank Centre

Well known for her novels including Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, the MaddAddam Trilogy, and the Booker Prize-winning The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood has been the subject of additional media focus in recent months due to the adaptation of her international bestseller The Handmaid’s Tale as a television series – some say, just in time for the age of Donald Trump.

In these highlights from her exclusive London appearance at Royal Festival Hall, Margaret Atwood reads from her work; then, in conversation with journalist and Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, Gaby Wood, she discusses not only her career, but the past, present and future of her best-known novel and the real world it reflects.

The whole book in a way is an answer to the question: if the United Stated was going to have a totalitarianism, what type of totalitarianism would it have?

From 13 October to 1 November we welcome a host of writers, authors and international voices to Southbank Centre for London Literature Festival.

see the full programme

Practise the Swedish art of moderation

With preparations for The Great Nordic Feast in full swing, it might seem an odd time to look at the topic of balance and moderation – unless you consider the Swedish expression ‘lagom is best’. This means practising moderation, for the mind and the body, in order to achieve balance.

Which is why our feast is about more than joyous eating and drinking (although it’s definitely about that!). It is also a celebration of Nordic lifestyles and an exploration of how we can embed Nordic values like equality, sustainability and openness into our own lives.

Before the feast starts, Visit Sweden shared a few tips from Bertil Marklund MD, PhD, a medical doctor, researcher, author and professor of general medicine, and a specialist in public health. He believes that balance is of utmost importance and wrote The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer to help people work towards lagom. Here are three of the strategies he advocates:

Measure your stomach height

  • Monitoring abdominal fat will tell you how much fatty acid is being released into the abdomen by fat cells when you are stressed, which ultimately damages the heart, arteries, liver and pancreas. A healthy figure for men is less than 22cm; for women less than 20cm.

Drink 3 to 4 cups of coffee daily

  • Researchers at Lund University in Sweden found that a few cups of coffee a day may help to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer, while scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that the equivalent of two large cups a day could offer up to a 30 per cent reduced risk of multiple sclerosis.

Sleep for 6 to 7 hours

  • A Swedish study of 70,000 women showed that short and long sleepers ran a greater risk of premature death – although negative effects of too much sleep are offset by physical activity. The optimal period of sleep for most  20- to 40-year-olds is seven hours, reducing to about six hours by the age of 60.


If you’re feeling inspired by the Nordic way of living come and get a taste of a simple, balanced lifestyle at The Great Nordic Feast, which takes place from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 October.

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Social philosopher Roman Krznari asks: Is love what you think it is?

Roman Krznaric: Is love what you think it is?

Handel’s provocative opera Semele is a challenging take on the illusions and delusions of love. Ahead of its performance of Semele at Royal Festival Hall, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment asked social philosopher Roman Krznaric, author of The Wonderbox and Carpe Diem Regained, to give us his take on how audiences would have viewed Semele’s story through the ages. 

Semele is smitten with Jupiter, but you can’t just buy a house and start a family when you’ve fallen for a god. 

We learn how the Ancient Greeks had six different types of love and saw the fiery, passionate love known as eros as a form of madness. But by the time Handel was composing, we were developing a very different view of romantic love. 

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by Christophe Rousset and starring Louise Alder, perform Handel’s Semele on Wednesday 18 October. 
Roman Krznaric is joined by Martin Kelly from the Orchestra for a pre-concert talk.

More info & tickets

Southbank Centre transforms into a Nordic wonderland for Wintertime

 Wintertime at Southbank Centre is announced today with a feast of offerings capturing the magic of winter from 10 November 2017 to 4 January 2018.  The 17-acre site will be transformed into a winter landscape and the ever-popular Wintertime Market sees alpine chalets lined across Queen’s Walk offering the very best in global street food, artisan gifts and more.

Wintertime at Southbank Centre is guaranteed to warm the cockles this festive season.

Read the full press release

Seven dystopian fictions to read if you’re a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale

Maybe you’re a long-time fan of Margaret Atwood or perhaps you’ve just discovered her work thanks to the acclaimed adaptation of her 1986 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, winner of the 2017 Emmy for outstanding drama series.

There’s a huge tradition of women writing dystopian fiction, dating back – arguably – to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And as our list shows, it’s a genre of fiction that has captured the imaginations of writers from a vast array of backgrounds.

So if you’re looking for your next dystopic fix then have a read of our list and find some inspiration.

Naomi Alderman – The Power

Teenage girls discover they have the power to administer electric shocks through their hands in Alderman’s Women’s Prize for Fiction-winning novel. Through them, older women also learn to channel The Power and pretty soon men find themselves as the weaker sex. Maybe that’s not your idea of a dystopia, but things quickly get dark.

Following The Handmaid’s Tale with this novel is a logical choice: Atwood began mentoring Alderman in 2013, and The Power is duly dedicated to Atwood and her husband. And although she became famous for Disobedience, which is set in north London surburbia, Alderman’s dystopian chops are sound – she’s written a popular zombie-based running app called, appropriately, Run, Zombie, Run.

Nalo Hopkinson – Brown Girl In The Ring

Nalo Hopkinson, Atwood’s fellow Canadian (although Hopkinson was born in Jamaica), published Brown Girl in the Ring in 1998 to great acclaim and receipt of several awards.

In it, downtown Toronto has been abandoned by the elite, fallen into disrepair and is blighted by violence. The city’s overlord, Rudy Sheldon, is tasked with harvesting a human heart. In the midst of this drama is Ti-Jeanne, the book’s heroine, who has recently moved back into her grandmother’s home. This is an unusual sci-fi novel as it combines elements of spirituality and magic along with the obligatory sci-fi tropes, like new technologies. And the language crackles with life, as Hopkinson contrasts the language of those living in the ghetto with the suburban escapees.

[Hopkinson] has created a vivid world of urban decay and startling, dangerous magic, where the human heart is both a physical and metaphorical key
Publishers Weekly on Brown Girl in the Ring

Marge Piercy – Woman on the Edge of Time

Before Margaret Atwood, there was Marge Piercy – a Michigan-born poet, novelist and activist, as well as an academic. Her work spans genres, including historical fiction and the Arthur C. Clarke Prize-winning sci fi book He, She & It, but her most famous novel is probably Woman on the Edge of Time.

Published in 1976, it mixes time travel, feminist issues, treatment of mental health and more, with William Gibson crediting it as the origin of cyberpunk. The novel’s protagonist, Connie Ramos, has been unjustly committed to a mental institution. While there she has a glimpse of a future where there is true racial and gender equality, but at the same time she can also see another outcome, where there is no difference between humanity and commodity.

Octavia Butler – Parable of the Sower

It is 2025 and, as a drug ravaged population rampages outside, Californians have huddled into protected communities, in this cult classic by African-American author Octavia Butler.

At the centre of the story is Lauren Oya Olamina, a young woman with a condition called ‘hyperempathy’, which means she feels sensations, including pain, just by witnessing them. Lauren’s experiences lead her to develop her own belief system called Earthseed, gathering followers as the novel progresses. Like all good dystopian fiction, Parable of the Sower is driven by current concerns – in this case climate change, growing inequality between the wealthy and the poor, attacks on minorities, the increasing dominance of global corporations (it’s hard to believe it was written in the early 1990s).

Butler, who died in 2006, is about to become a lot more famous with news that the acclaimed American director Ava DuVernay is adapting another of her novels, Dawn. So why not get on the bandwagon early by reading a few of her many books?

A gripping tale of survival and a poignant account of growing up sane in a disintegrating world
The New York Times on Parable of the Sower

Hao Jingfang – Folding Beijing

This young Chinese author shot to fame last year when Folding Beijing won the Hugo Award for best novelette, beating Stephen King’s Obits, among others. In the world Hao has created, sunlight is rationed – the largest part of the day is enjoyed by a small but wealthy minority, while the rest of the population gets by as best they can. Poor people must also fight to educate their children, queuing up for days at a time for a chance to win a place at a school. Amid the misery, a humble waste processor called Lao Dao agrees to take on the risky mission of smuggling messages in return for a significant sum of money, which he has no chance of earning otherwise.

You can read Hao’s story in the Chinese SF anthology Invisible Planets, edited and translated by Ken Liu, or the whole thing is available free online.

Read Folding Beijing 

Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro – Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

The Bitch Planet comic series made its debut in 2015. It is set in the near future in a time when women who disobey their patriarchal overlords are sent to a prison in outer-space. As the latest group of inmates arrives they must put aside their differences to fight the system and the mean prison wardens, and make their escape.

OK, it’s not exactly like The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s a lot of fun, with The Guardian describing it as ‘a refreshing foray into the feminist exploitation genre’ (the publishers went for the more catchy ‘think Margaret Atwood meets Inglourious Basterds’).

Xiaolu Guo – UFO in Her Eyes

Written in 2009, this story is set in the near future and looks at the consequences of a UFO sighting on a small farming village that has been forgotten in China’s mass move to urbanisation. The book’s protagonist, Kwok Yun, quickly finds that with her newfound celebrity comes the unwanted attention of government spies. The village, too, is transformed, as ancient rice fields are paved over to create tourist facilities and visitors descend to see a monument to the UFO. Is this a dystopian future, or a satire of present day China? Read it yourself and decide. Or watch – Guo has adapted her story into a film, which you can see for free as part of China Changing Festival.


Xiaolu Guo appears at the China Changing Festival talking about her work at the event Hidden Stories: Chinese Women Writers, along with Lijia Zhang (pictured).

Find out more

A Vintage New Year’s Eve Party returns to Southbank Centre

The eagerly-awaited event curated by Wayne, Gerardine and Jack Hemingway and the Vintage Festival team will transform Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall into five floors of entertainment with vintage night clubs, delicious dining, a vintage hair and beauty salon and photo studios capturing the fun as it unravels. Revellers also have an exclusive opportunity for a private view of London’s world famous New Year’s Eve Fireworks overlooking the iconic London skyline on the Royal Festival Hall terrace*.

The ultimate evening of entertainment, A Vintage New Year's Eve Party is the perfect way for merry makers to ring in 2018.

Read the full press release 

George Smiley: a primer

John le Carré’s long and prolific career means he has introduced his readers to numerous memorable characters, but George Smiley, who appeared in le Carré’s first novel Call for the Dead (1961), is the most famous of them all.

So it was with great excitement that fans greeted the news that Smiley is back after a hiatus of nearly 40 years in the novel A Legacy of Spies, published this week by Viking/Penguin Random House.

To launch the book, John le Carré makes a very rare public appearance at Royal Festival Hall, in an event called An Evening With George Smiley. It gives you the chance to hear all about the inspiration behind Smiley and why le Carré has decided to revisit the subject of the Cold War now.

So you can brush up on your Smiley knowledge ahead of the event, we’ve put together a short primer for you.

What’s Smiley’s game then?

George Smiley is a career spy, having joined the British government’s overseas intelligence service, dubbed The Circus, in his twenties. He saw active service in the Second World War but when he first appears in 1961’s Call for the Dead, we discover that he has been sidelined to a desk job as The Circus is increasingly run by bureaucrats. In fact [SPOILER ALERT], Smiley quits the service midway through Call for the Dead. He is not involved in the service throughout le Carré’s second novel A Murder of Quality; instead Smiley investigates the death of a student.

It was in the ‘Karla’ trilogy – comprising Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People – that Smiley really shot to fame. He makes cameos in plenty of other le Carré books too.

So he’s a bit like James Bond

Nope, not at all. Smiley made his debut three years after Ian Fleming’s James Bond had his first outing in Dr No, and it is no coincidence that he is in almost every way Bond’s antithesis. Although both are loyal servants of the Crown and on the same side in the Cold War, Smiley is as far away from the suavely handsome 007 as you can imagine.

The first time we meet him, Smiley is described as ‘breathtakingly ordinary . . . short, fat, and of a quiet disposition, he appeared to spend a lot of money on really bad clothes’. And where James Bond lives in a world of action in exotic locations, Smiley often works in an office, armed with impressive powers of perception (hinted at by the thick spectacles he sometimes cleans with the end of his tie).

Unlike ladykiller James Bond, Smiley is devoted to his wife Lady Ann Sercomb. Too bad for him that she has no interest in monogamy.

Another major difference is that le Carré takes us behind the scenes of the British intelligence service, exposing the politics of its operations, the bureaucracy that makes it inefficient and, of course, its infiltration by Soviet spies. This contrasts with the intelligence service of Fleming’s novels, which is shown as a reassuringly well-oiled machine, unhampered by moral ambiguity.

Sounds like John le Carré knows quite a bit about this spy game. . .

That’s because le Carré (whose real name is David Cornwell) did actually work for the British intelligence service for a short time during the Cold War.

He talks about this, and gives other insights into his inspirations and sources, in his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life. It reveals that former MI6 colleagues accused him of disloyalty for exposing so much detail about the service’s operations.

But like Bond, Smiley has made the leap from page to screen

That is true: television and film producers love Smiley almost as much as le Carré’s readers.

If you’re of a certain age then George Smiley is Sir Alec Guinness. This amazingly versatile actor portrayed the spy to huge acclaim in two BBC television series – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 1979 and Smiley’s People in 1982. More recently, the character has been portrayed by Gary Oldman in the 2011 film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The London-born actor received his first Oscar nomination for the film.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Official Trailer

You might be less familiar with other portrayals: George Cole, famous for playing cheeky chappy Arthur Daley in Minder, has given voice to Smiley in two BBC radio adaptations, Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality; while Simon Russell Beale appeared as the spymaster in a 2009 series of radio plays.

He was also portrayed on screen by Denholm Elliot, and Hollywood legend James Mason appeared in an adaption of Call for the Dead called The Deadly Affair, where Smiley’s character was renamed Charles Dobbs. Le Carré worked on the script for this film.

The Deadly Affair - Trailer

The Two Ronnies’ memorable mash up of The Professionals and Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy featured Ronnie Barker sending up Smiley’s stuffed shirt ways to Ronnie Corbett’s hapless Doyle.

John le Carré appears at Royal Festival Hall in An Evening With George Smiley on Thursday 7 September.

China Changing Festival celebrates contemporary Chinese culture

Southbank Centre's China Changing Festival returns for its second year, on Saturday 7 October 2017 showcasing contemporary China and exploring its creative connection to the UK.

Launched in December 2016, this three year international festival returns to London presenting some of the most innovative artists practising in China today and celebrating inspiring work from British-based Chinese and South East Asian artists. 

Read the full press release 

John Walters curates Shonky: the Aesthetics of Awkwardness

Artist John Walter curates the new Hayward Touring exhibition Shonky: The Aesthetics of Awkwardness, opening at the MAC in Belfast before embarking on a national tour to Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) and Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre.

The exhibition aims to explore the nature of visual awkwardness through the work of artists and architects Arakawa and Gins; Cosima von Bonin; Niki de Saint Phalle; Benedict Drew; Justin Favela; Duggie Fields; Louise Fishman; Friedensreich Hundertwasser; Kate Lepper; Andrew Logan; Plastique Fantastique; Jacolby Satterwhite; Tim Spooner and John Walter.

Read the full press release