Friday, October 2, 2020

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for Oct is out

The Compulsive Reader newsletter for October is now out, winging its way to subscribers.  This month features 3 new book giveaways, 10 fresh reviews including, among others, Sea Glass Catastrophe by Quinn Rennerfeldt, The Minor Virtues by Lynn Levin, and The Beating Heart by Denise O’Hagan (you can also check out my interview with Denise at Compulsive Reader Talks).  We also have the full literary news roundup, and lots more bookish entertainment.  If you are a subscriber and haven't received it yet, you can: view it in your browser.  

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Happy reading! 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

ModPo 2020 Analysis: The Poets Light But Lamps by Emily Dickinson

It's ModPo time again!  I've participated in the, by now famous, Modern and Contemporary Poetry (“ModPo”) course since it began in 2012.  Every year is different, informed by the many changes in our lives, in the world, and in the overall material that comprises the course, which are ever expanding. One of the many things I like is how the essay subjects continue to change, so that there are new poems to dive into. This year, the Emily Dickinson poem is number 930, "The Poets light but Lamps".  My essay follows.  If you haven't joined ModPo, I heartily recommend it.  It's free, there are no constraints (you can do as much or as little as you want - now, or throughout the year), it's open to all levels, and it's very engaging!  

The Poets light but Lamps--
Themselves — go out —
The Wicks they stimulate
If vital Light

Inhere as do the Suns —
Each Age a Lens
Disseminating their
Circumference —

“The Poets light but Lamps” is one of Dickinson’s shorter poems - with just two quatrains of no more than 5 words per line with a very regular syllabic structure of 6/4/6/4 for each of the quatrains. There is no punctuation other than the em(ily) dash which adds space without slowing the reading down, thereby energising the piece, as it draws the eye forward. The poem ends with the dash, which, except in the work of Dickinson, is rarely used for the ending of something, and hints at the ongoing nature of the work - visually indicating that this is not an ending as such, but something that will continue - poetry being immortal. 

The dash also provides a visual representation of a wick, thereby picking up the “Wick” in the third line, stimulated by the Poet’s light - or the light of poetry. Unusually for Dickinson, the first word of each line is capitalised. Assuming this was Dickinson's intention rather than the work of an overzealous editor, this creates a regularity that is also strengthened by capitalisation's emphasis as it creates a mirroring of "The Poets" with "The Wicks". There is also an alliteration between "If" and "Inhere", thereby linking lamplight with sunlight. The poem utilises an extended metaphor conflating the work of the poet (a lamplighter stimulating a wick - perhaps the impetus for the poem) with the Sun itself - or Suns (?) - some broader category of star shine than simply our own Sol. 

Three words stand out for the number of syllables they contain and seem to connect to one another: stimulate, Disseminating, and Circumference. Though there are all quite different words, without too much in common other than the scientific quality and the multisyllabic sound, but they also provide a sense of sonic expensiveness, as if the very nature of these longer words were able to extend the reach of the poet - moving outwards from the point of stimulation in an expansionary way, spreading outside of the circle of life. You could almost visualise the light (of poetry) spreading in that way through through the work and outwards from it. 

“Inhere” is an unusual word which means “to exist essentially or permanently in”, as in inherent. It’s possible to read the first line of the second stanza as relating to the vital light of poetry as being part and parcel of what we need to survive - as life-giving and in need of dissemination by each age. The one word which doesn’t quite fit semantically is “If” which is a point of uncertainty in the overall piece adding in a condition that could undermine the work’s thesis. If the light is not vital then perhaps there is no immortality - perhaps only some poetry is vital and work that is not vital can be forgotten. Or, it may be that the condition is one that sits with the reader. ‘If’ the reader judges the work as vital, then there is a mandate to disseminate the poetry for the sake of humanity, vital poetry being as necessary to life as sunlight, against the ephemeral darkness of each age’s fashion.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for September is out

The September Compulsive Reader Newsletter has now gone out. This month's issue features three great giveaways including Anthropica by David Hollander, The Holy Conspiracy by Kristi Saare Duarte, and The Rehabilitation of Thomas Mark by Tom Crites. We also have ten terrific new reviews/interviews, and a full literary news roundup from around the world. If your copy hasn't arrived or you want a preview, you can click here to view it online.  To sign up, visit:

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

CR Newsletter for Aug

The Compulsive Reader newsletter for August has now gone out.  This month's newsletter contains a bunch of new reviews including The Nail in the Tree by Carol Ann Davis, Knitting Mangrove Roots by Kerri Shying, and Becoming Lady Washington by Betty Bolté, as well as interviews with Jane Novak and Jaylan Salah and 3 new subscriber book giveaways.  If you're a subscriber a copy should be on its way.  Or you can 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Compulsive Reader July Newsletter

The Compulsive Reader Newsletter for July has now gone out with the usual roundup of literary news, fresh reviews and interviews with authors Ronnie Scott, Carmen Radke, and Gleah Powers. We also have 3 great new book giveaways for subscribers. If you haven't received your copy as yet, you can grab a copy in the archive here:
If you'd like to subscribe, just go to and sign up on the upper right hand side. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for June

"Books" by Jules Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Hello readers.  2020 has been relentless, and I’m well aware that I’m one of the lucky ones - privileged, comfortable, surrounded by books. Will it end up being a year of dissolution, transformation or both?  I don’t know and it’s probably too early to tell, but the toll either way has been terrible. So much of what we’re going through right now seems to me to be connected. I want to do more - to help more.  Is my tiny platform the right place?  How do I amplify other voices? How do I make space for much-needed change? I don’t have the answers, but I’m trying to learn and grow, and the best way to do that, I think, is through listening/paying attention to people who know firsthand. For the US, Rachel Cargle’s course is excellent - with simple, actionable items and more extensive resources if you are able to go there. Rachel ( has a whole list of resources here:, and you can sign up for the free course at the link. I’m also on the lookout specifically for Australian resources. I have lots of books, podcasts and am reading and listening widely but if you’ve got specific resources that you want to share around climate change, living sustainably, or combating racial and other forms of inequality - both structural and personal including indigenous deaths in custody and the shameful way we treat refugees, please let me know, particularly if they are are in the voices of lived experience that I might be able to help amplify.  What is becoming increasingly obvious is that we all have to work together to make this world a kinder, safer, more inclusive place. I’m ready to #dothework, so hit me up if you’ve got ideas.  In the meantime, June’s newsletter is bigger than usual - I’m trying to catch up with a lot of backlogged reviews, and to get on top of my teetering stack, so we’ve got 15 new reviews instead of the usual 10.  There’s also a big roundup of news, and 3 fantastic new giveaways as well, including fiction, nonfiction and poetry.  If you’re a subscriber, you should have your copy soon (but check spam as the word ‘compulsive’ often triggers the filters). You can also grab a copy in the archive here: Compulsive Reader Newsletter Archive   To subscribe visit:

Friday, May 1, 2020

CR Newsletter for May

The Compulsive Reader newsletter for May has just gone out.  Wherever you are, I hope you’ve got good reading material. Our newsletter this month includes 11 new reviews and interviews to help keep you in the know about the latest and greatest new books coming out - we’ve got, for example, Sophie Hardcastle’s Below Deck (check out my interview with Sophie here:, All My People Are Elegies by Sean Thomas Dougherty, Stanley Park by Sapphira Olson, interviews with Michael Foldes, Kristina Marie Darling, Ashley Kalagian Blunt, and lots more. We also have a big news roundup including some fantastic virtual events happening, and 3 fantastic new book giveaways.  If you’re a subscriber, you should have a copy already in your inbox. If not, you can grab a copy directly from our archive here: