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Will Buckingham's Wayward Things #3

September 2019 Edition

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Welcome to the September 2019 Edition of Will Buckingham's Wayward Things!

Can it be September already? How did that happen? But welcome back to Will Buckingham's Wayward Things.

It was a scorching hot August here in Thessaloniki. The town was half-deserted as everybody fled down to the coast to paddle, swim, sail, or lounge on the beach. Now people are slowly creeping back. Businesses are opening their shutters. And life is resuming once again, just as the leaves on the trees turn brown.

Despite the heat, there's been a lot going on. As part of the Wind&Bones project I run with my collaborator Hannah Stevens, we've been planning some exciting things: some writing retreats, a forthcoming spell in Bulgaria where we're taking part in the EMPATHEAST festival organised by the fabulous Ideas Factory, and some really exciting writing workshops that we are running for refugees and asylum-seekers with our friends at Refugee Trauma Initiative.

Meanwhile, the draft of Hello Stranger: Stories of Connection in a Divided World is shaping up nicely. I zipped back to the UK briefly for a wedding (not my own, so no congratulations in order!), and managed to catch up with both my agent and my editor at Granta, so I've come away buzzing with new thoughts and new ideas. And when working on the book gets too much, I've been writing a fair amount over on Medium. Do follow me over there if you like.

So what's happening in this month's newsletter? There's radical poetry from 1990s Plovdiv, some thoughts on refugees and language learning, some recommendations for things to read and things to listen to, and a recipe for amazingly good sheermal bread from the borderlands of Pakistan. There's also another Chinese drinking poem, this time from Du Mu, and some links to a bunch of things I've written on Medium.

Finally, one of our local stray cats, Mama Cass, has just had kittens. They are squirming balls of delight. So we've been to the supermarket to get some cat biscuits, because it's hard work being a parent and she looks like she needs all the help she can get (we're also hoping that, if we play our cards right, she'll bring the kittens over to say hello!).

With all best wishes,


Around the web...


Postal Services, Poetry and Protest in Plovdiv

Along with Matera in Italy Plovdiv in Bulgaria is 2019 European Capital of Culture. I'm very much looking forward to going back to what is one of my favourite cities in November for EMPATHEAST festival. I've been thinking and reading more about Bulgaria again, and thought I'd share this fascinating article from Calvert journal about the radical international mail-order poetry and art journal, Svel, run by Vesselin Sariev from out of his Plovdiv apartment in the early 1990s.

Read the article here.

Mobile Phones, Refugees and Language-Learning.

For 145 days on the trot and counting, I've been diligently studying Greek using the free app Duolingo. I've been using it alongside the wonderful, generous-spirited Language Transfer free audio course, and I've been making fairly good progress.

So it was good to come across the documentary Something Like Home, about Duolingo and mobile language learning amongst refugee communities. It is a moving account of the lives of some of those who have fled their homes in search of refuge, and the importance of language-learning and mobile connectivity for maintaining old connections and making new ones.

Certain sections of the media are outraged by the sight of refugees with mobile phones, and would have migrant communities reduced to what the philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls 'bare life': life without potential, stripped back to its bare biological roots. Something Like Home is a reminder of how fundamental, how essential to human life, this urge to connect is; it is a reminder of the inhumanity of removing the capacity others have to make their own connections; and it is an inducement to work harder on learning languages, because as one interviewee on the video says, if you learn to speak somebody's own language, your words can go straight to their heart.

Obscure Philosopher of the Month #3: Hipparchia the Cynic

It's frustrating that we know so little about Hipparchia the Cynic (who flourished around 300 BCE), because by all accounts she was totally badass. The Cynics were a fascinating bunch. They aimed to live in accord with nature, living the lives of homeless wanderers with few possessions. They were criticised as being 'dog-like' (κυνικός kynikos), an insult they adopted as their own. Dogs don't worry about social convention, the state of the economy, or the works of Homer. They just get on with being dogs. The Cynics thought that this was admirable.

Hipparchia and her husband Crates flouted social convention, embracing anaideia or the freedom from shame (it is said by some admittedly spurious sources that one way they did this was by having sex in public). She was also famous for her jokes, none of which have survived, and for her use of comic reasoning to mask a serious intent (known as spoudogeloion). I like to think of her as a combination of stand-up comedian, savage social critic and philosopher.

History is against Hipparchia. If no writings have remained, I can't help thinking it is because the textual tradition was maintained by men who feared both women and jokes. This makes women who make jokes, whilst refusing the currency of shame, doubly dangerous.

You can read more about Hipparchia on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Latest News and Blog Posts

I'm continuing to post things over on Medium. So if you are a subscriber, you can find me here: https://medium.com/@willbuckingham. If you're not a subscriber, here are links to some of the things I've been writing and thinking about

Giving Up on Tragedy

As some of you will know, August marked the third anniversary of the death of my friend and long-term partner, Dr. Elee Kirk. Before she died, Elee said to me, 'This is not a tragedy.' So I wrote this piece in the spirit of that sentiment, in honour of her.

Read the whole essay on Medium.

A Book Reading from Hell

book reading
And on a lighter note, here is a horrific confession... About a year ago, I was in East Anglia, giving a book reading from my book Stealing With the Eyes (Haus Publications 2018) at a travel fair. It was a perfect storm of failed technology, rowdy pensioners, cream teas, and babies fashioned from human excrement. If you want to know why I left the UK soon after, the shame of this reading may be part of the reason...

Read the article here.

At the Border of Hard Work and Laziness

A piece on the thirteenth century Chinese writer Wei Qingzhi, the horror that is 'flow', and the virtues of laziness. This was published in The Startup on Medium. You can read the article here.

I've also got another couple of writing-focussed pieces on Medium this month, including something on Calvino and 'lightness', and a related but more nuts-and-bolts piece on different approaches to world-building for writers.

Chinese Drinking Poems #2

Here's another poem about drinking translated from Chinese. It's one of my favourites, and is beautifully compressed . I like it so much, in fact, I use it as on my 404 'page not found' page on my website.

This one is by Du Mu 杜牧 (803–852), one of the most famous Tang dynasty poets.

As before, I've provided the Chinese text so that people who know Chinese can have fun disagreeing with my translation.

Drunken Sleep

Autumn dregs,
fermenting in the rain;

a cold hut,
among falling leaves;

the hermit
has overslept—

he pours more wine,
empties his cup.






From the Kitchen: Pakistani Sheermal

I probably shouldn't have been in Bannu, in Pakistan. It was the early 1990s, and I was a skinny teenager travelling alone. Somehow, I made friends with a veteran of the campaign against Russia in Afghanistan. His name was Jared, and he made it his mission to look after me. There is nowhere in the world more hospitable than Pakistan.

Jared took me on his motorbike to village just out town to meet his friends. There, in the heavily-fortified house of the village headman, we sat around and talked. People came to see the foreigner. They strode into the room, heavily armed, and put their Kalashnikovs in a pile on the charpoi in the corner. Then they fired questions at me and I answered in rudimentary Urdu.

Eventually, food arrived. And soon after, War of the Worlds came on the TV. Everybody turned their attention to eating, and to watching in silence as the alien invasion unfolded.

I have forgotten my Urdu. But I haven't forgotten the food we had that evening. It was the first time I had eaten sheermal, a dense, fragrant cardamom bread. We dipped it in a thick meaty stew.

Sheermal goes well with chickpeas too, if you are less carnivorous than the people of Bannu. So here's a recipe, adapted from a book I later picked up in the bazaar when I was back in Lahore. It is better eaten fresh, but it keeps okay for a day or two as well.

1. Take 1 lb of flour. I use white, or sometimes brown flour that has been sieved to make it a bit lighter.
2. Add 1 tsp baking powder and 10 crushed green cardamoms (whizz them up in a blender).
3. Warm ½ pint of milk and stir in 1½ ounces of sugar until dissolved.
4. Add ½ ounce of dried yeast to the milk (or 1oz fresh yeast), and dissolve. Leave it until it looks frisky and foamy.
5. Meanwhile, melt 4oz butter. Skim off any scum to clarify it and cool slightly.
6. Add the yeast mixture, most of the butter (leave a bit to one side) and one beaten egg to the dry ingredients.
7. If you have it, put in a tablespoon of rose water as well.
8. You should have a soft dough. Knead until smooth. Then leave to rise for ½ hour to an hour, depending on what the weather is doing, and what else you've got going on in your life.
9. Divide the dough into two. The recipe should make a couple of breads.
10. Make each half of dough into a ball. Roll out so it is around 7 to 9 inches wide. Put on a baking sheet greased with the remaining butter, and prick with a fork.
11. Cook at gas mark 6. When the sheermal are half done, brush some milk over the top to give them a nice finish. Then put them back to finish off. They should be a nice colour of brown.

What I'm Reading...

I recently got hold of a Chinese-made Likebook Mars e-reader, and it is a thing of joy. As I'm quite mobile at the moment, it makes reading much easier. And the English-language interface is endearingly quirky ('book 100% readed').

I'm continuing to read as research for Hello Stranger, and I've been really impressed by Dina Nayeri's clear-sighted and sometimes savage The Ungrateful Refugee. It's everywhere at the moment in UK bookstores, and if you haven't picked up a copy yet, you really should.

I also want to recommend Book beyond bars, a fabulous overview of the transformative effect prison libraries with a global perspective. It's published by the Unesco Institute for Lifelong Learning, and written by my friend Lisa Krolak. The book is available for free download here.

What I'm Listening To...

To end, I want to give a shout-out to my pianist friend, Sam Williams, and his wonderful trio. Their EP of reinterpreted jazz standards, called Standard Procedure, is available from Bandcamp, and is well worth a listen.

The link to the download is here.

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 15.23.10
That's all for September. I hope you've enjoyed reading. Until October!

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Will Buckingham

About me

I am a writer, philosopher, researcher and teacher of both writing and philosophy. I write non-fiction, fiction and children's books. I'm interested in the places where philosophies, stories and lives intersect. Currently freelance and based in Thessaloniki, I am represented by Emma Finn at C+W Agency in London.
Will Buckingham's Wayward Things is a free, monthly digest of things I find interesting, curious or worth sharing.
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