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  • Billy Mills 12:12 on 28/11/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Recent reading November 2022: A Review 

    An Open Parenthesis, Philip Rowland, Isobar Press, 2022, ISBN 978-4-907359-40-9, £12.00

    NORTHANGERLAND – (re)versions of the poetry of Branwell Brontë, Andrew Taylor, Leafe Press, 2022, 9781739721329, £10.95

    it is like toys but also like video taped in a mall, James Davies, Pamenar Press, 2022, ISBN 978-1-915341-04-4, £15.00

    The Prodigal’s Progress: The Man Who Doesn’t Want to Be Loved, Augustus Young, Independently published, 2022, ISBN: 979-8847221450, £7.99 (pbk) £3.99 (Kindle)

    Philip Rowland’s An Open Parenthesis consists of his characteristic short poems clustered into nine sequences, with themes and images recurring across all nine to form a single, coherent whole. These themes include the experience of parenthood, life in Tokyo and, centrally, the act of writing via a ‘discipleship of uncertainty’:

    somewhere in the building

    faintly audible

                                    a faltering scale

    on an unidentifiable instrument

    Time and again, we see Rowland’s engagement with the haiku tradition, but unlike so many English-language haikuists, his focus is not on nature as such but on the human environment:

    going the wrong way

    down a one-way street –

    flawless winter sky

    Not that he limits his writing to any single approach. His ‘(N+) Variation on Elaine Equi’s ‘Detail’’ is apparently an exercise in the Oulipo tradition, although without access to the original poem it’s hard to appraise. Elsewhere, there are fruitful applications of other ‘minimalist’ procedures:

    night
    river

    river
    night

    mind
    river

    river
    mind

    night
    river

    mind
    river

    river
    night

    night
    mind

    Poems in the eight section that are concerned with music lead us to another aspect of the poet’s art:

    ROOT

    from note to

    name

                                                    of the note

    thing

                        to word:

                                                    winter

    sun

              in the notes not

                                                    played

    It is easy, in the kind of poems Rowland makes, to overlook the importance of sound, of the verbal music he makes. Easy and mistaken. Take, for example, this short section from the seventh sequence:

    on my way, on a bike in the rain,

    to pick up my daughter from school,

    reaching out to brush roadside bushes,

    the meaning in not knowing why

    The first thing that strikes me is the hesitant rhythms. I read the first line as ‘on my way / on a bike / in the rain’, or amphimacer/anapest/anapest, a halting stride, followed by a second line that goes amphibrach/amphibrach/iamb, a kind of landing that gives a false sense of meter before the careful disjunction of the remaining two lines:

    reaching out to brush roadside bushes,

    the meaning in not knowing why

    The ‘not knowing why’ is enacted through the rhythms, and through the patterns of assonance that run through them, like the thread ‘way/bike/brush/bushes/why’ with the moves from long to short vowels pivoting on the move from ‘w’ to ‘b’ alliteration and back again. This understated musical structuring is the mark of Rowland’s poetic control of a kind of radical doubt. The last poem brings the book to the nearest thing to a resolution that is possible:

    morning sun
    on mossy stone

    the words alone
    almost enough

    This is a book that grows with rereading, a book to live with for a while.

    Andrew Taylor’s Northangerland is billed as a collaboration with Branwell Brontë, whose poetry has been more or less ignored, overshadowed by his more famous sisters. In his introduction, Taylor references Peter Hughes’ reworkings of Petrarch and Robert Sheppard’s experiments in the English sonnet tradition as models, and Sheppard provides a blurb in which he compares Taylor’s ‘(re)versions’ to Basil Bunting’s erasure work-throughs of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

    I’m not sure that I fully agree with this. It seems to me that Bunting’s intention was to stop reading the Sonnets, or at least to stop rating them so highly, by highlighting what he saw as their flaws. Taylor, on the other hand, would encourage us to read more Branwell by hiding his flaws, or those aspects of his work that might strike a contemporary as flaws. And these flaws were, in a way, the flaws of his place and time: verbosity, an obsession with darkness and death, a certain Victorian post-Romantic sentimentality. It’s not a coincidence, I think, that one of the poems worked on here is a tribute to Landseer, the chief artist of that sentimental view of the world. Of Branwell I think it might be said that his true season was winter and his true hour was midnight. Preferably in a graveyard. Interestingly, given his family background, there seems to be an absolute absence of any consolation from religion.

    Like Bunting, Taylor’s method is essentially erasure, retaining words from the original text, generally but not always in the original order, with no additions apart from the occasional preposition or conjunction for the sake of coherence. From these words, he builds new structures, with line and stanza breaks being vital structural elements in what are, in effect, original new poems. Take, for example, his reworking of ‘On Caroline’, as compared to the source text:

    On Caroline

    Light of ancestral hall
    palace for a pall garden

    to aisles & eternal sleep
    mute & motionless

    Slow midnight moments
    to morning’s beam

    churchyard stone can
    hide past smiles

    memory with her soul
    joy itself has flown

    And:

    On Caroline

    THE light of thy ancestral hall,

       Thy Caroline, no longer smiles:

    She has changed her palace for a pall,

       Her garden walks for minster aisles:

    Eternal sleep has stilled her breast

       Where peace and pleasure made their shrine;

    Her golden head has sunk to rest —

       Oh, would that rest made calmer mine!


    To thee, while watching o’er the bed

       Where, mute and motionless, she lay,

    How slow the midnight moments sped!

       How void of sunlight woke the day!

    Nor oped her eyes to morning’s beam,

       Though all around thee woke to her;

    Nor broke thy raven-pinioned dream     

       Of coffin, shroud, and sepulchre.


    Why beats thy heart when hers is still?

       Why linger’st thou when she is gone?

    Hop’st thou to light on good or ill?

       To find companionship alone?

    Perhaps thou think’st the churchyard stone

       Can hide past smiles and bury sighs:

    That Memory, with her soul, has flown;

       That thou canst leave her where she lies?


    No! joy itself is but a shade,

       So well may its remembrance die;

    But cares, life’s conquerors, never fade,

       So strong is their reality!

    Thou may’st forget the day which gave

       That child of beauty to thy side,

    But not the moment when the grave

       Took back again thy borrowed bride!

    So much has been trimmed away because there was so much fat to trim, and the poem that emerges is faithful to the tone of the original while transforming the execution in a manner that calls Bunting to mind again, as quoted by Pound: ‘dichtung = condensare’. One of the most striking aspects of the change is the greater musicality of Taylor’s version. The move away from a primary dependence on rhyme calls out the consonances and assonances as primary musical elements in this new poem.

    Taylor has run Branwell through his condenser to great effect. So great that he risks a kind of failure; if his intention is to send us back to the poetry of the Brontë brother, for this reader at least he has actually convinced me that he himself is the better poet.

    James Davies’ it is like toys but also like video taped in a mall consists of 201 two-line poems (I hesitate to call them couplets, for a number of reasons, not least because some of the lines are so long as to become virtual stanzas) that are part haiku, part Zen koan, part text art and all Davies. These are presented centre aligned both horizontally and vertically, which surrounds them in a visual silence that brings each piece in the set (the book reads as a single whole) into focus. At the back of the book, we are provided with a list of sources and influences that range from The Prodigy to Gertrude Stein, The Gateless Gate to William Carlos Williams. Many of the items listed are not familiar to me, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

    The focus is on the everyday and how it interacts with us, and a kind of tone is set early on:

    felt clad roofing

    (everyone’s asleep)

    The play on ‘felt’ as adjectival noun/verb is a minor example of the kind of linguistic play that characterises the book. Usually, it’s more disruptive disjunction around subject/verb or article or demonstrative/noun/plural agreement:

    I had standing in front of this famous paintings of fruit

    (look at mine                     i’ll seen yours)

    These occur frequently if not regularly, and have the effect of slowing the reader down, of making you bring your focus back to the words on the page.

    A number of words recur: rocks, beach/sea, box, tub, plums (and lots of other foodstuffs), many of which are ‘traditional’ haiku elements. They are often integrated into the sound patterns of Davies’ verbal music, on and across pages, as in this pair on pages 50 and 51:

    free recovery ends                          wardrobes personified to loot

    (there is a box                   but it was after)

    rocks

    (selected out)

    The plums inevitably bring to mind the aforementioned Dr Williams, and his other most famous poem also gets a nod:

    white steel wheelbarrow

    (it’s a little different than how I imagined it)

    Which brings us back to the central subject of the book, which is, as I read it, how language shapes our understanding of the world we live in, our toys and our filtered experience of the consumerist world we move through. These are koans for our time and place:

    the most simple way is to walk a different path

    (the second way is to give it a different name)

    Here two ‘sources’ that are not named in the list come to a single focus, the famous Robert Frost poem and the Tao Te Ching (The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.) In fact, I find the omission of the Tao very surprising, as the book ends on the most Taoist note imaginable:

    an rivers

    (if youve worked it out youve got it all wrong)

    The book, like life itself, is not a puzzle to be solved, but a flow to immerse yourself in. Like another uncited work that’s full of ‘an rivers’, Finnegans Wake, the flow turns on itself and we are invited back to the beginning to reread. As ever, the pleasure of Davies’ wordscapes is not in understanding, but in exploration. He remains one of our most intriguing and enjoyable ‘experimental’ poets.

    Augustus Young’s The Prodigal’s Progress draws, the blurb tells us, on Rilke as much as the New Testament parable, with hints of Diogenes, Bunyan and Van Gogh, but the result is a prose text in Young’s distinctive style. In the Bible narrative, the reason for the son’s departure is unstated, and is really just to set up the moral of his return, in Rilke’s poem, the prodigal leave so as the better see the place left, but also to start a new life. One echo here is the German poet’s ‘To glimpse how vast and how impersonal/is the suffering that filled your childhood.’ Young’s unnamed narrator leves to escape the love of his family, a love he rejects because, it seems, of the absence of his mother, who died in childbirth. This love is what he suffers and must escape: ‘The alternative to death for a child is an escape into solitude’.

    Plunging into a life of hedonism, the prodigal makes an interesting discovery, that ‘the opposite of hate is mutual tolerance’. He discovers his true calling as troubadour poet, and in effect the tale is really about discovering a poetic vocation. In the first phase of his poetic career, he plays the part of the rebel poet, cast out at risk of his life as a consequence of his work, only to become a hero among younger singers who see his break with tradition as an ‘advance’. It’s hard not to see a reflection of Young’s early reputation as a part of the ‘New Writers Press’ avant garde: ‘Once you break a tradition you own it.’ In his exile within an exile, he becomes aware of the limitations of a poetic of being the other, that a reconciliation with his ‘self’ was needed to find his way back to love: ‘Maybe I could save my “self” by understanding it’. Again, I read this as being somewhat autobiographical, in the light of Young’s numerous and excellent memoirs that seem to be efforts to do just that.

    The return at the end of the book is straight out of the Bible, apart from the protagonist’s ambiguity about the love with which he is greeted. In a neat twist, the brother who remained builds him a hut to write in, s the no-longer prodigal sets out contemplate ‘the history of human love. Hoping to make poems that rise above the hypocritical way of the world’ It is through his art that ‘the man who doesn’t want to be loved’ will find his way back home. It’s quite an extraordinary little book from one of Irish writing’s true originals.

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  • Billy Mills 11:34 on 11/11/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    This Overflowing Light: Selected Poems, Rin Ishigaki: A Review 

    This Overflowing Light: Selected Poems, Rin Ishigaki (edited and introduced by Janine Beichman), Isobar Press, 2022, ISBN 978-4-907359-41-6, £15.04

    With the publication of Rin Ishigaki’s selected poems, Isobar Press continue my education in 20th century Japanese poetry. Ishigaki’s story is a peculiarly Japanese one, it seems to me. Born in 1920, she seems to have had a conventional enough Shinto upbringing with one exception; from an early age she wrote and published her writings in magazines aimed specifically at young female writers. As she did not collect any of these early poems, they do not feature here.

    As was the case for so many of her compatriots, defeat in 1945 changed everything as she discovered that all she had been brought up to believe about her country was built on lies.

    She had, by then, been working in a bank for a number of years, and under occupation, workers were unionised, with the happy result that unions became significant publishers of their members’ writings, including Ishigaki’s poems.

    The first poem in the book, ‘Greetings’, was a Union commission published in a ‘wall newspaper’ over the table where her fellow workers clocked in each morning. The poem, written in 1952, is a shocked response to the first photographs of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing seven years earlier:

    Oh, this face
    so horribly burned
    one of the hideous burns of the 250,000
    people who were in Hiroshima
    on August 6 1945

    is no longer in this world

    and yet
    dear friend
    look again at our faces
    as we turn to each other
    today’s healthy faces
    morning’s fresh and open faces
    that show no trace of the fires of war

    We see here, among other things, a turning away from the nation as focus of loyalty to the ‘friends’ addressed, the collective represented by the Union, by her colleagues in the bank. We also, I think, see Ishigaki’s accommodation with Japanese free verse, and its roots in the work of Walt Whitman and his direct address to the reader, the celebration of the ordinary, and the social awareness.

    As well as her colleagues, Ishigaki’s main loyalty during the post-war years was to her family of two brothers, father, stepmother and one grandfather. As the sole wage-earner, the family were dependent on her, as she was dependent on her job in the bank, and these dependencies soon became paired burdens for the independently minded poet. These tensions are reflected in such poems as ‘Poverty’, ‘The Pay Envelope’ and ‘Roof’:

    Japanese houses have low roofs
    the poorer the family, the lower the roof,

    the lowness of this roof

    weighs me down

    There’s also a subversive celebration of traditional ‘women’s work’, as in the title poem from her first collection, ‘Before Me the Soup Pot the Rice Pot and the Bright Burning Flame’:

    with feeling as deep
    as when with these cherished vessels
    we cook meat and potatoes,
    let’s study politics and economics and literature,

    not for the sake of pride or glory but
    all and always
    to provide sustenance for human beings
    all and always our efforts infused with love

    Later on, in ‘Nursery Rhyme’ from her 1968 book Nameplates and More, the act of cooking becomes associated with death and the dissolution of the family unit:

    When Daddy died they laid
    a white cloth on his face

    Just like the white tea towel that’s laid
    on the food cooked for dinner

    Everyone was crying
    so I realized, Daddy must taste awful,
    awful enough to make them cry

    This poem also shows us something of Ishigaki’s surrealistic streak, the world seen aslant, sometimes through the eyes of her inner child. It’s an approach that, in translation at least, is all the more effective for being understated.

    In 1970, Ishigaki’s desire for individual freedom won out, and she moved out of the family home into a small apartment where she was to live out her days. The title poem of Nameplates and More prefigures this move with its insistence on proper naming, nothing superfluous, and of owning the process of naming:

    Miss
    the Honorable
    a hex on them both,

    wherever you live nothing comes close
    to attaching the nameplate with your own two hands

    This move from group to individual identity is reflected the poem ‘After the Ceremony’, which opens with the awarding of medals to the families of soldiers who died in WWII, more than 20 years earlier. But in the third stanza, the poem takes a typical Ishigaki turn, as the dead soldiers appear:

    The soldiers who died with their eyes open
    throng in belatedly, saying
    oh, look
    it’s the great Empire of Japan
    all the old familiar faces are here

    How good to see you in fine health, General
    we are here at your service
    There may not be another chance so please
    hand out the medals to us in person

    They’re no use to our wives and children
    Atten-shun!

    The quiet anger of the dead is aimed as much at their suppression as individuals as it is at the Empire that caused their deaths. In a sense, they are demanding their own nameplates. The poem also reflects her enduring opposition to war and the systems that enabled it.

    There is something of the early William Carlos Williams in these poems of the everyday, but Ishigaki brings her female perspective and acute sense of the absurd to proceedings, and, in a number of poems, also draws on her Japanese literary heritage in interestingly unselfconscious ways. In a culture with a long tradition of women poets, se represents a vital continuity.

    ~

    Once again, I am indebted to Isobar for furthering my education in Japanese poetry, and this is another volume that English-speaking readers with an interest in the rest of the poetic world would do well to read. I’m also left pondering the problems associated with reading translations from a totally unknown language, especially one like Japanese where the sound values are so different to those of English. Janine Beichman is to be thanked for the work she has done in bringing Rin Ishigaki’s poems over as very readable English texts, and it is through no fault of hers that we are left guessing as to the verbal music of the originals. It is, for me at least, a problem without an easy solution.

     
  • Billy Mills 09:31 on 09/11/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Dylan in Dublin: Some Meandering Considerations 

    I’ll pick a number between 1 and 2,
    and I ask myself, what would Julius Caesar do?”

    ~

    First off, let me clarify that this is not a review of the Rough and Rowdy Ways gig in the 3Arena; there are plenty out there if you’re interested. This is just a record of some thoughts flowing from that gig.

    ~

    What happened? Well, the Mother of Muses certainly sang to Dylan, and then he sang to us. And such singing. I know there are those who just don’t hear it, but Dylan was, and is, the greatest popular singer of his generation, of out times even. His voice is an instrument of emotional subtlety, a howl in the void, a whisper in the dark, his phrasing immaculate. The depth of emotion when he sings the name ‘Martin Luther King’ summons up centuries of history just through the timbre he achieves.

    ~

    He’s here to bring the songs from Rough and Rowdy Ways to life on stage, and to somehow set them is a context through the choice of other, older songs, that interleave with them. In concert, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” becomes a pact with the audience, a statement of artistic intent; this is why I’m here, at 81, still a song and dance man, still on the road.

    ~

    Those of us who attended this concert, or any of the 103 on the tour to date, were fortunate to be in the presence of an artist who has gone way past the height of his powers, to another dimension, a mature, assured voice contemplating his own mortality, as he has done since his first album in 1962, singing ‘In My Time of Dying’. And there he is, watching the river flow by still waiting to paint his masterpiece, still trusting in his God, at trust that those of us among his fans who don’t share do not begrudge him.

    In the end, he seems happy; what more can you ask?

    ~

    The staging is beautiful in its sparseness. I was reminded of something he said in the liner notes for Biograph about rock becoming just lights and volume. What this gig showed, yet again, is if you have great songs, great musicians and a vision, then the rest is just a diversion. Dylan’s lights were just enough to add, not enough to distract. The volume was just right, and the selection, arrangement and order of songs provided the dynamic, the light and shade, that held us there. Others please note.

    ~

    As we waited for the crowd to thin out so it would be easier to leave, the stranger in the brown overcoat standing next to me asked ‘how come he can write so many great songs in so many different styles, and they all sound unmistakeably like Dylan?’

    My answer was that he has immersed himself in so many traditions, so fully, that he is music, that his songs are informed by so many streams of the great tradition, that he can write in any style and be himself. He is immersed in the traditions, but they are also immersed in him. And throughout his life he has gone back to the well, again and again. The first album was straight out of the well, and then he want back for the Basement Tapes to educate The Band. Then there’s the whole cluster of recordings around Self Portrait, Travelin’ Thru, 1967–1969 and 1970, which gave us Nashville Skyline, New Morning, Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks, Desire and Street Legal. And again in the early 90s with the two acoustic albums, and again with the Sinatra albums, which were, in my view, crucial tot he sound of Rough and Rowdy Ways.

    Dylan contains multitudes, and among them are the voices of the great traditions of Western popular song. He is the inheritor who has transformed his legacy. And he’s still doing it.

    ~

    This may be the last time we see him live; in fact this might be the last gig he ever plays. Equally we might be back in some Irish venues in a decade to hear him interpret the songs from his 43rd studio album. I get the feeling he’d love to be the new Tony Bennett. But that’s not really the important thing. What matters is that he was here, that he did this thing, and that we were there. What a night.

     
  • Billy Mills 21:54 on 25/10/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Mixed Circuits 

    Very much looking forward to the upcoming release of my double-album Mixed Circuits on the Farpoint Recordings label. Here is some information about the launch: Launch of David Bremner’s portrait album Mixed Circuits Sundays @ Noon Series at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin: December 11th 2022, 12pm Each work on this double-album is a cycle of several short […]

    Mixed Circuits
     
  • Billy Mills 14:52 on 24/10/2022 Permalink | Reply
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    Recent Reading October 2022 

    Messengers of the Macabre: Halloween Poems, LindaAnn LoSchiavo and David Davies, Audience Askew, October 2022, ISBN:‎ 979-8841254102, $9.99

    Europe, Love Me Back, Rakhshan Rizwan, The Emma Press, Oct 2022, ISBN: 9781912915149, £8.99

    this island still, Charlie Ulyatt, 571 Press, 2022, £4.50

    On Hysteria, Nancy Kuhl , Shearsman Books, 2022, ISBN 9781848618367, £10.95

    The Art of Learning to Fly, Timothy Arliss OBrien (ed.), The Poer Heroic, 2021, $10.00

    It’s not very often that I review anything quite as seasonal as LindaAnn LoSchiavo and David Davies’ book of Halloween poems. Messengers of the Macabre, equally it’s unusual enough to come across a collaborative book of poetry that seems to be fully so, in that this is not a collection of poems by two poets, each poem with a name appended, but poems that appear to be genuinely collaborations. As such, they meet the first criterion of success, which is that the two poets have succeeded in creating a single voice for the book.

    The idea of Halloween here ranges from the Irish festival of Samhain through European and American witchcraft, graveyard tales, the Mexican Day of the Dead and haunted houses The poems are mostly in what I’d call semi-formalist unrhymed stanzas, with a handful of rhymed poems that seem, to me at least, less successful, and a couple of very fine haibun, one on Sante Murte and the second addressed to Anthony of Egypt, recluse and patron of graveyards. This latter, which appropriately enough records a pilgrimage of sorts ends:

    Descending to the ground below, my bare feet press the sheen out of new seedlings. As I get closer to the ancient Egyptian cemetery where a youthful Anthony had once cloistered himself, even ditchside daisies drain their yellowness/ Detached branches. Neglect. A ruined crypt, its flesh and bones stripped out. Unreadable cursive. Squint. Midday calm.

    Sun caresses

    a tombstone’s slumped shoulders

    we cast one shadow.

    This is a good example of the single voice I mentioned, which, at it’s best, has a kind of knotty toughness that suits the horror themes.

    If thefts are noticed, we’d blame that horse-ghost—

    Or Raven Rock’s forlorn white-gowned vexed wraith.

    Who haunts the dark glen where she froze to death.

    [From ‘A Sleepy Hollow Halloween’]

    Here, as elsewhere, the verbal music reinforces the otherworldliness of the sense, as the reference to Washington Irving plugs the poems into a larger tradition; there are also references to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and an interesting role-reversal poem about the disinterment of Elizabeth Siddal Rossetti (‘Cemetery Superstar’) so that her husband’s poems might be retrieved from the coffin:

    Rossetti’s poems sweetened maggots’ meals.

    Worm-eaten scraps had crowned my coffined head

    There’s a rich appropriateness in this victory of death over verse in this collection celebrating the Day of the Dead. Paradoxically, or maybe not, it’s a fun read.

    The poems in Rakhshan Rizwan’s Europe, Love Me Back cirle round a different, more mundane yet more profound horror; the casual, engrained racism faced by a ‘small brown woman’ living in a Dutch suburb and working in a Dutch university. A neighbour you think you’ve befriended suddenly ignores you, your PhD supervisor makes fun of your punctuation, your son is the only child on the street who isn’t invited to a birthday party: it’s just there, in the air, invisible because you’re not a ‘refugee’, a story, a splash of colour in a news report:

    …no one was interested

    in eliciting my testimony. After all, I wasn’t dead –

    I wasn’t ill – and hadn’t this country treated me so well?

    At the core of the book is the matter of language. Dutch is, as far as the reader can discern, Rizwan’s fourth or fifth language (she moved to Holland from a period living in Germany), and needs negotiating:

    But now, wrenching out these delicate sequins

    of German articles, replacing sehr with zeer,

    neun with negen, makes me want to escape

    to my mother’s Punjabi

    [from ‘In Translation’]

    Language is a tool for Othering, as in the self-explanatory poem ‘A man is speaking Urdu on the train and everyone is turning to look at him’ or again in ‘If the space’ in which the small space between, to take one example, ‘Isaac and Ishaq’ can result in a state of permanent conflict and oppression.

    Some of the most interesting poems in the book are Ghazal-like pieces, with long-lined couplets printed landscape across facing pages, reflecting ‘my mother’s Persian couplets’, also referenced in ‘In Translation’. In one of these, ‘A hundred years of gaze’, the male gaze becomes the Othering gaze, the Muslim woman’s identity perverted but the ‘oriental’ fantasies of the European mind, provoking a kind of resistance of reinvention:

    but her body is more than something to move a slow news day
    a signifier to light and take a long drag; more than a Rumi verse, a nesting doll, a whirling Sufi, a harem girl —

    she begins to cut herself out of dinner conversations, headlines,
    starts to sew herself a brand new skin.

    This sense of threatened, shifting identity chimes with another poem, ‘Passport Skin’, in which document and skin are both unable to secure the individual from scrutiny:

           No matter what I do

    the Muslim woman in me appears on the scanner,

    the mysterious creature covered from head to toe

    in whispering scripts, swathed in sacred pashmina

    and beaded black oppression.

    In the end, in the final poem in the book, ‘Seville’ (that historic beacon of Islam in Europe), everything hybridises:

    In this quaint house, go up the steps

    to feel more European,

    come down the stairs

    to feel more Arab,

    and linger in between

    to feel a bit of each.

    This is a thoughtful, thought provoking collection of controlled emotion expressed through deceptively flat surfaces.

    Charlie Ulyatt is what I think of as a dedicated minimalist (although he describes this island still as ‘almost minimalist’) who deploys apparently simple fragments of language using repetition and spacing to create musical structures of great subtlety and Zen-like clarity. There’s a clear announcement of intent on the first page of the book with a reference to Bashō’s most famous haiku:

    listening

    .

    sound
    of
    water

    sound
    of
    birds

    sound
    of
    people

    (but
    not
    much)

    It is this quality of attending to the world that infuses all the work here. These poems invite us to see the world as it is, not as we would have it be, or as an Idealist projection. And the paring back of language is part of this process; the world we perceive is not made by language, language is our imperfect tool for capturing what we perceive:

    whether
    i
    see
    it

    or
    not

    a
    river
    flows

    a
    cloud
    forms

    a
    flower
    grows

    The world is not contingent on us, we are contingent on the world. And this is something we have learned to forget:

    we have
    become
    good

    at being

    who we

    are not

    Ulyatt recognises this and uses language and the silence that surrounds it to bring the reader back to that still point where who we are is to be found. Take how the line and stanza breaks in this short extract move us past our expectations, lead us from what we think the poem means to how it means something else. This is poetry that you need to present rather than discuss; there is nothing to say about it that it doesn’t already say, it is ‘a/gift/of//grace’. Don’t read me writing about it, get it and read it yourself.

    I’ll confess that I approached Nancy Kuhl’s On Hysteria somewhat hesitantly at first, given my aversion to the idea of poetry as therapy or self-help. My fears turned out to be entirely unfounded. The book represents a kind of argument with Freud’s writings on hysteria, but Kuhl is too much the poet to become didactic. She grounds herself in the Freudian area of the family, right from the first poem in the book ‘One Story House’:

    In a family, when something has been lost

    something new can be recruited to take its place.

    The seed of Kuhl’s position is found here. Where Freud saw the ‘talking cure’ as being away to bring the fractured hysterical self back to some ideal coherent whole, Kuhl posits the reality that fragmentation and uncertainty are the norm, and that we have evolved to adjust, to recruit from the flux to constantly recreate our provisional selves:

    She considered the gift, the pale
    dress; she considers her unyielding

    spine, her pair of working lungs,
    her attentive nerve endings.

    [from ‘Wrecked’]

    This attentiveness is another way of understanding the Freudian hysteric, that the world is fragmented, discontinuous in our experience of it, and that we should not just learn to live with this, but learn to celebrate it, in our own quiet way, all the time remembering that our understanding is provisional, that the stories we tell about our world are necessarily incomplete:

    I keep telling

    the story; I worry there’s
    nothing more to know.

    Again, I circle back; this is
    the rind of the orange, the pit

    of the peach; also the sweet,
    also the tender. Also the tooth.

    [from ‘Takes Place’]

    We circle back, each time the same, each time different. The power of Kuhl’s writing is in how she enacts the ‘hysterical’ condition rather than describing it. Take these lines form ‘Along the Grain’:

    Sameness of daily routine; ordinary
    disruptions. Afternoon train

    sounding over the bridge. Chime
    and tick and the clock is wound

    again, slows again. Someone calls
    children home at dusk. Their names.

    Stillness follows. The atmosphere—
    it can break into pieces across

    the high-fenced yard. Night comes
    down finally, closing like an eye.

    The semantic disruption of the ordinary is delayed until the last two couplets, but it is prefigured in the rhythms on the opening lines:

    Sameness of daily routine; ordinary
    disruptions. Afternoon train

    sounding over the bridge. Chime
    and tick and the clock is wound

    again, slows again.

    Let’s say that opening line is dactyl, trochee, iamb, dactyl and the second is amphibrach. troche, stressed monosyllable. It soon becomes evident that there’s no discernible metrical pattern at work here, but the rhythm is extremely effective in disrupting the sense pf ‘sameness’, and this is underpinned by the long ‘a’ vowels threaded various short vowels, with full or near assonnances on sound/wound, train/again. This is verbal music at its most subtle, with he ear of the true poet. A fine book that merits rereading.

    Finally and briefly, The Art of Learning to Fly is a wonderfully old-fashioned feeling zine, reminiscent in appearance of the 1970s. Editor/illustrator/contributor/book maker Timothy Arliss OBrien, who also runs the Poet Heroic podcast, has brought together a number of poet collaborators to contribute pieces on the subject of pigeons, with guest appearances by Christian Rossetti, Jones Very and Emily Dickinson (a brave choice). There’s a sense that many of the poets are till in the process of discovering their own voices, but there’s also a sense of excitement that’s infectious, and some very fine lines:

    Eyes of a hawk, it’s bloodlust

    trained by a whistle.

    Shocked on impact, I fall

    [Felicia Rashe]

    Earlier this week I saw a pigeon downtown pacing,

    back and forth across the street.

    Six or seven times.

    I was so worried for him I called the Audubon Society

    But they weren’t any fucking help.

    [Tabitha Acidz]

    Try to lift your chin darling

    the songbird still sings,

    and the snow still blankets the earth.

    [Timothy Arliss OBrien]

    This is exactly the kind of publication we need to see more of.

     
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