Between the Covers 29/07/2012

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The Independent Culture

It's fair to say that most sportsmen are no poets when they are interviewed following a big event. Most poets, however, are sporty, according to new research from the Poetry Society. The society asked 26 previous winners of their Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award about the relationship between their writing and sporting lives, and found that long-distance running and dance were the most popular forms of exercise for young poets – 65 per cent of whom claim to be "highly disciplined" at sports, 88 per cent say that there is a strong relationship between their writing and sporting lives. One even has a literature coach. This year's Foyle Young Poet judge Helen Mort says that it is the rhythm of sport that helps her writing: "Running has always been central to my writing process. Wordsworth liked to take his lines for a walk. I like to take mine for a sprint (or more often a jog) up a Derbyshire hillside." Perhaps one of them could sprint down to the Olympic stadium and help some sporting gold-medal winners to learn how to string a sentence together in time for the closing ceremony.


For the non-sporting members of the writing community, a column in the summer 2012 edition of the Soho House magazine by the literary salonnier Damian Barr provides some comfort, and offers a wealth of facts linking sporting and literary achievement. Revealing how he would sneak off to the school library and use his "Please excuse Damian, he has asthma" sick note as a book mark, Barr goes on to recall literary heroes who shunned sports, as well as bookish geeks who became sporting heroes. The column praises this year's Cultural Olympiad, and points out that in ancient Greece the gymnasium (from the Greek gymnos, meaning "naked") was a place for honing the mind as well as the body, where young athletes would wrestle with each other and with questions of religion, poetry and philosophy. It also shows that novelists, like poets, tend to be long-distance runners – Haruki Murakami wrote What I Talk About When I Talk About Running after 12 other books and 25 marathons.


The prize for the real-life, old-fashioned, physical book of the week goes to the Folio Society, for its new, limited edition Seven Leaves From a Psalter by William De Brailes. The book is a reproduction of the surviving pages from a 13th-century manuscript, which are kept at libraries in Cambridge and New York. Its print run is limited to 480 copies – all of which are printed on vellum. Although in the Middle Ages manuscripts were hand-written and illuminated on scraped-thin animal skins, printing on vellum has so far not been possible. This edition was completed in five stages, with the gold leaf added third. A short film about the process can be seen at, where copies will be available from 2 August at £1,250 each.


The Brazilian author Vanessa de Oliveira stripped off in front of the government palace in Lima, Peru, last week to protest against ebook pirates stealing from the pockets of writers. Following last week's report on the naked rambler by our naked IoS colleague, Between the Covers has a suggestion: if six or more Booker-longlisted authors will protest naked against British library closures, the IoS books desk will join them. Any takers?