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  • Billy Mills 12:03 on 23/06/2022 Permalink | Reply
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    Recent Reading June 2022 Part 2 

    Riptide, Amanda Bell, Doire Press, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-907682-85-8, €12.00

    Revolution, Amanda Bell, wildflower poetry press, 2021, ISBN: 979-8565843385, £6.00

    Wintermoon, Robert MacLean, Isobar Press, 2022, ISBN 978-4-907359-39-3, £11.83

    Amanda Bell’s Riptide is a mix of ‘conventional’ poems, haiku and haibun (or perhaps haibun-like texts) that makes for an interesting set of contrasts. As the title would lead you to expect, the sea features as a central preoccupation, as do the symbolist paintings of Edvard Munch. The book is dedicated to Bell’s daughters, and questions of family also run through the collection. For me, however, the main thing that comes across is the contrasting styles between the longer poems and the haiku/haibun.

    The contrast is evident in ‘Sea, My Love’ where the sea is addressed directly, personified:

    Dear Sea, you feel like home

    when I slide into your icy embrace

    hissing like coal.

    The first time I broached your shallows’

    combed through your jewelled weeds,

    dark kelp parted to reveal, then re-conceal,

    with each successive wave.

    While these lines, and the entire poem, make interesting sound patterns and are well written, there is, I think, a sense of the reader being led by the hand too much; the subjective element in stark contrast with the objective directness of a haiku that appears just a few pages later:

    drifts of seafoam

    the clack of a sea otter

    smashing a clam

    For me at least, an entire world is evoked in this dozen words, while the more capacious earlier poem excludes by over-evoking. There’s an interesting case in point towards the middle of the book where a poem rising from a visit to the Vigil of Our Lady of Ransom in Cadiz is immediately followed by a haibun concerning the same event. In the poem we read

    Before the Residencia inmates line up in chairs

    to watch the train of brass and incense pass.

    I tuck a little card into my billfold, and peruse it

    over tapas. Redemptionis captivorum. On the

    countertop a ham-stand with a black pig’s leg,

    the small neat foot en pointe, tilts heavenwards;

    I let its rich smoked fat melt on my tongue,

    and afterwards recall display, not sacrifice.

    Again, this is a well-written piece of work, but for me the ham is being asked to do too much work, to be something other than ham, to stand for rather than simply stand. By way of comparison, on the next page we read:

    Tonight, the Vigil of Our Lady of Ransom, Nuestra Señora de la Merced, is honoured by a procession through the parish.

    tapas pile up –

    from distant lanes

    the sound of drumming

    moonlight –

    through winding alleys

    I follow trumpets

    Here the elements of the evening fall into place more naturally, each thing itself, each thing part of the larger picture, with nothing forcedly ‘poetic’ getting in the way of the poetry.

    Which is not to say that bell’s ‘conventional’ poems lack interest; some of them are very fine indeed and ‘A Compost Bin in Rathmines’ is a tour-de-force riff on Derek Mahon’s ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’. It just strikes me that she is at her best in the haibun and haiku gathered here.

    Speaking of which, her Revolution is a set of 24 calendar haiku, two per month, with he interesting twist that the calendar in question is the French Revolutionary version, with Bell choosing to start with spring rather than autumn. In each case, the haiku are thematically linked to the month name.

    The punning title is almost too obvious to mention.

    Reviewing a chapbook that consists of 72 short lines of poetry isn’t a simple matter, so what I intend to do is to tease out some of the implications of just one haiku, the first of the pai for Messidor, Month of Harvest 19 June – 18 July:

    six weeks of drought

    blackbirds in the cherry tree

    pick each stone clean

    So many layers get folded in to these 13 words. The birds, too, are harvesting, and the sweet, juicy cherries provide food and drink in time of drought. Beyond that, there is the compassion of the orchard owner who shares their crop with the thirsty birds, compassion being central to the Buddhist haiku tradition.

    Crucially, the sense is framed in a delicate verbal music, those long ‘e’ vowels (weeks/tree/each/clean) carrying the poem’s burden with a counterpoint of short ‘I’ sounds (six/birds/in/pick) and the necessary discord of the short ‘e’ in cherry. These patterns sit on a neat tension in the rhythm. For instance, the metricist in us might want to scan that final line as two iambs, but the ear hears for stressed syllables, or, if you will, a pair of spondees. This richness of formal control is characteristic of the work in Revolution. Highly recommended.

    Robert MacLean is a Canadian poet who spent a quarter of a century in Japan studying and practicing zazen under various masters. Wintermoon is, in a sense, the public fruit of those years. The book consists of 119 haiku presented in 11 titles sections. The book roughly follows the course of the year, but each section has its own unity and follows a distinctive arc.

    True to the tradition of Bashō, Buson and Issa, MacLean’s vision is democratic, with the same care and attention paid to the smallest thing as the biggest:

    cockroach scuttles

    across the sidewalk

    afraid

    There’s a neat inversion of feeling here, a reminder that the cockroach has more to fear the human than we do the cockroach. This entering in to the world of the non-self is at one with the zazen imperative to study the self in order to forget the self:

    fall inside yourself

    until that word too

    is gone

    This departure from the self is also a departure from language; the ultimate end of haiku is silence. It is, however, important to remember that the loss of self is not to be feared but welcomed. It is the way to truly immerse yourself in the world of the ten thousand things:

    if you get lost

    far enough

    is that home

    Of course, MacLean is working in multiple traditions, and I detect an echo of Robert Frost in the opening haiku of the sequence ‘Back Route on Fushimi Inari’ to go along with the evocation of Bashō in the title:

    main path

    that way

    go this way

    The sequence is a good example of the distinctive arcs I mentioned above. After this opening, the sequence takes us through a set of luminous moments on this road less taken but in the end we have moved from the philosophical position of choice to the physical act of walking:

    returning

    feet braille-read the path

    in the dark

    This sense of returning to the dark points ahead to the shadow of death that hangs over much of the rest of the book. The next sequence, ‘Migrations’, deals with the deaths of parents, but it is the penultimate sequence, ‘January’ that is the most poignant of all. This set of eight haiku circles round the premature death of a son, the tone set by the opening poem again:

    the first place we phoned

    said he was too small

    for ashes

    There’s a world of heartbreak captured on these dozen words. The grief is personal and alienating:

    we go to separate rooms

    to take off

    our faces

    But the arc of the set is towards some kind of love, an image of unexpected union:

    breath whorl window

    snowflakes holding each other

    as they fall

    Here the act of falling is not one of oblivion, but of care. There’s an inevitable comparison with Issa’s great poems on the deaths of his children, but it’s to MacLean’s great credit that his poems more than hold their own.

    I realise that I’ve done little but quote in this review, but it’s in the nature of work of this crystalline clarity that all you can hope to do is point the reader at it and get out of the way. Let me finish by quoting one more time:

    journey

    from nowhere

    to nowhere

    Wintermoon takes us on just such a journey, but the pleasure is in the ten thousand things observed along the way.

     
  • Billy Mills 08:54 on 14/06/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Recent Reading June 2022: Part 1 

    The Invisible World Is in Decline Book IX, Bruce Whiteman, ECW Press, 2022, ISBN: 9781770416574, $21.95 CAD

    We Still Have The Telephone, Erica Van Horn, Les Fugitives/The Quick Brown Fox, 2022, ISBN 978-1-7397783-0-9, £10.00

    Through a Grainy Landscape, Millicent Borges Accardi, New Meridian Arts, 2021, ISBN: 978-1737249108, $16.00

    ‘I’m still not sure where this line is meant to take me.’ It’s an interesting statement to use as the entire text on the first page of the 9th and final volume of a long poem you’ve been working on for 40 years, but Bruce Whiteman does exactly that.

    The book is in three sections, the first and (longest) third comprising prose poems while the second is a set of ‘translations of texts that were set to music in songs that have special resonance in my ear’, to quote from the notes at the back of the book. For this reader, at least, this is the one unsatisfactory part of the book; Whiteman’s original prose poetry is considerably more interesting than these verses, despite their apparent importance to the poet. The third section, ‘The Nine’, is dedicated to the classical muses, each of whom is named as subtitle to a run of the poems in that section.

    The shadow of the pandemic lies over the book, the sense of isolation that lockdowns caused chiming well with the more general sense of decline, specifically what Whiteman sees as a decline in the numinous presence of the world of the gods, that informs the book, and, I imagine, the entire work.

    Remembering the dead, our lot is to walk carefully forward. Not to fall headlong from hour to hour, from day to day, hurled like water from edge to edge, into the darkness that yawns beneath our steps. Like a man on a wire we don’t look back and can’t look down, but focus straight ahead.

    The striking use of parallelism here is not uncharacteristic of Whiteman’s prose poetry technique, his distinctive verbal music, as are the assonantal threads that run through the text.

    Whiteman’s chief method for staying the decline of the title is to evoke the numinous through the visible world through close observation, as in the opening poem of the Thalia subsection, Thalia being the Muse of the Idyll:

    In early spring, tree branches fiddle and sway in the high wind. There are no leaves, no signs of overt life, no covert for returning birds. Over sunned and rufous tiles the wind breathes hard, running shards and orts aground on maculate March slush.

    What lies beneath the surface here, I think, is Whiteman’s Christian worldview, the tree is the tree of life and the rood of sacrifice, the death necessary for the spring resurrection. The wind evokes that a wind from God which swept over the face of the waters in the Genesis story. One question that inevitably arises is how those of us who do not share this belief system should read this work. The answer, to me at least, lies in an appreciation of the writing as writing, just as a Bach cantata can be enjoyed (much to mild a word) as a sublime work of music in itself. Technique and the poet’s ear rules. Near the end of the book, Whiteman writes ‘Poetry’s almost at an end.’ This weaves in to his sense that we are losing that ‘invisible’ world that for him is the root of everything; I can only hope that he’s wring and that he’s already engaged in his next project. Meanwhile, I hope some publisher might be convinced to publish the complete text of Whiteman’s ‘Invisible World’ so that I can get to read it.

    Readers of Erica Van Horn’s ‘some words for living locally’ blog will be familiar with her deceptively straightforward, almost chatty prose style, laden with closely observed telling details that illuminate what we might grandly refer to as ‘the human condition’. In We Still Have the Telephone, she turns her careful attention to her own mother, whose somewhat eccentric life is examined through a series of more or less short (ranging from a few lines to two or three pages) prose entries.

    The first of these begins with the sentence ‘My mother and I have been writing her obituary.’ The process of putting the obituary together is painstaking, the mother wanting a carefully curated version of her life to appear, and so mother and daughter are locked in a cycle of endless revision. This first text ends ‘I wonder if I will ever see my mother again’. This foreboding is equally a consequence of her mother’s age and of the consequences of distance (Tipperary to the US) and pandemic-induced restrictions.

    The book that follows stems from Van Horn’s determination to tell her mother’s story in her own messier, less careful way. What emerges is an exasperatedly affectionate portrait of a woman of deep eccentricities. This is a woman who sorts newspapers and newspapers cuttings in to neat piles, stores handy items (screwdriver, scissors, pens and pencils) in a container on the top of her stove, between hotplates, and writes haiku for the local press. And these are her less odd oddities, oddities that are presented to us with a warmly detached eye for the telling detail:

    The small glass bowls stacked in my mother’s cupboard have a folded piece of paper towel placed in between each bowl.

    Who amongst us hasn’t come across such redundant rituals in the behaviours of our loved ones, or even our own habits? The blurb describes the book as ‘quietly registering the fuzziness of the line between eccentricity and madness’, but I read it somewhat differently, as a reminder that we all have our routines and habits that are incomprehensible to others but make (or at least made at some time) perfect sense to ourselves.

    Following on from that line about possibly never seeing her mother again, the book also has a strong thread of mortality running through it: the deaths of friends and family mark the mother’s perception of herself as ‘The Last Pebble on The Beach’, an unexpected state of affairs in which she finds herself required to remember her dead brothers as there’s nobody else who can. It also inspires a method for staying alive:

    My mother has various theories for evading death. One is that she never sits still for more than twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, she jumps up and moves around and then she returns to whatever she was reading or watching or eating. It is distracting to share a table with her. She says old age kills by stiffening and she is determined not to stiffen up. She is convinced that if she keeps moving she will stay alive.

    This is both daft and wonderful, a bit like the book under review. In the end, Van Horn’s mother addresses the question raised at the beginning; mother and daughter may not be able to see each other, but ‘as she reminds me, we still have the telephone. She is fine.’ She is indeed.

    Millicent Borges Accardi is a Portuguese-American poet who writes out of her cultural and linguistic tradition. Indeed, many of the poems in Through a Grainy Landscape engage directly with poems to be found on the excellent Poems from the Portuguese website, a database of 21st century poetry in that language. However, Accardi’s focus is on the experience of being the immigrant community in the US who are trying to conserve their ‘Old World’ way of life (‘what we have always done’) in the face of the pressure to integrate:

    There was a yellow radiance of sunset and how

    it used to be. Please, ask me, husband, and I will bring

    you a cup of Vinho Verde. It is what is done

    when there are no answers. It is what we do

    and what we have always done.

    This sense of searching for stability in the past, in ‘home’, is suffused with saudade, that distinctly Portuguese blend of longing and displacement. One strikingly delicate instance of this is a recurring image of a mother in a ‘yellow polyester sheath’, a dress that brings the sun, air and lemon groves of home into the urban, ‘modern’ world of the diaspora. There’s an added layer of complexity in the fact that the dress and accessories were obtained by saving up coupons from the weekly shopping in an act of adaptation. It also underlines the centrality of the role of women as pillars of the newly formed communities, and as guardians of the traditions left behind

    A woman in her 90’s, still sits on a porch

    where she raised her children, walking

    to the coffee shop every day, looking

    for a pet dog she last saw twenty years ago.

    There is a lawn chair and newspapers. Hope

    that some new-found kindness was kept

    inside women’s work.

    And the adaptation wasn’t always smooth:

    …. Our days were a runaway

    car we had to hold on to, no matter

    what speed or path the way laid out

    before us along the roar of the bright

    noise not our own that we

    we could not stomach when we

    heard words like Go Home

    or You Don’t Belong Here.

    Later on, we are reminded that this all-to-typical immigrant experience underlies much of contemporary American experience in the ‘now’ of writing:

    We pretend we are on a holiday,

    when the children are taken,

    when the borders are closed,

    when it is considered free and easy

    for others to play loose with new lies.

    Some things don’t change.

    These poems are, for the most part, laid out as single verse paragraphs, ranging from about half a page to a couple of pages in length. This allows for a deceptively prose-like directness of treatment of Accardi’s matter, but there is a subtle music underpinning the poems’ movements. Take, for instance, the opening lines of ‘You’ll be Little More than This’, where, as is often the case here, the title is also the first line of the poem

    Someday, as if it were a miracle.

    So Low. The time is never-ending

    and yet. But. This is the moment

    you dreamed of. And then you didn’t.

    It changed, and you stopped being

    across the road, divided by a city,

    you stopped being sad for birthdays

    and holidays, those

    random dinners out, to celebrate

    a new job for example.

    The juxtaposition of the initial short sentences, with their stop/start staccato and the smoother flow of the longer one that follows is an example of how these poems are, at their best, ‘as well-written as prose’. But the rhythmic variation is undercut by patterns of alliteration and assonance that transcend the breaks marked by the full stops. And then there’s the metrical variation:

    Someday, as if it were a miracle.

    So Low. The time is never-ending

    How to parse this? A trochee to start, clearly enough. Then a run of iambs. except the third one is actually a second paeon? Then the pattern is further disrupted by the power of the spondee before returning to a pair of iambs, with a third morphed into an amphibrach; there’s a definite pulse here, but the key to all successful music is repetition and variation, and this is something that Accardi achieves with quiet but firm control. The reader needs to pay careful attention, as they should.

    One of the joys of reviewing is encountering work by a poet who is unknown to you previously. With Accardi, I gained not just a new poet but a new body of work, modern Portuguese poetry. Read her, and also explore the website linked above to encounter the tradition she’s writing out of.

     
  • Billy Mills 13:53 on 31/05/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Dewdrops – Brief poems by Kobayashi Issa 

    Including three of my Issa versions.

    Brief Poems

    KobayashiIssa

    Kobayashi Issa(小林 一茶, 1763 – 1828) was aJapanese poet and lay Buddhist priest known for hishaikupoems and journals. He was born in 1763 with the name Kobayashi Yatarô to a farmer and his wife in the village of Kashiwabara, a village of approximately one hundred houses in the highlands of the province of Shinano,close to the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. He would have been expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, raising buckwheat, rice, and other crops on the nearly two acres of family farmland, but a different destiny unfolded for him, following the death of his mother. His grandmother, Kana, reared him with deep affection until, when he was eight years of age, his father remarried. Although his stepmother, Hatsu, treated him well for two years, upon the birth of her first child, his step-brother Senroku, she relegated Issa to a role as a subordinate…

    View original post 2,160 more words

     
    • mpeverett 14:10 on 31/05/2022 Permalink | Reply

      I’m getting so much from these posts on Basho’s frog and now Issa’s dewdrop. Worlds opening up.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Billy Mills 14:42 on 25/05/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    'Things That Happen' and 'Airs' by Maurice Scully: A Review 

    Things That Happen, Maurice Scully, Shearsman, 2020, ISBN 9781848617124, £19.95 / $29.95

    Airs, Maurice Scully, Shearsman, 2022, ISBN 9781848618015, £12.95 / $20

    I have a memory, possibly real, of Maurice Scully walking the streets of the Dublin suburb where we both lived, carrying an actual lute. Real or not, it’s an appropriate image for someone who is, in my view, the foremost lyric poet of his generation, certainly in Ireland, and probably in the English-speaking world. Given the scale on which he works (Things that Happen is about 600 pages long and is presented as being a single work) the lyric designation may seem surprising; nevertheless Scully’s work is firmly grounded in the condition of song, a fact that is reflected partly in the use of sonnet, meaning little song not 14-line poem, song, ballad and the like as the title of numerous pieces across the entire work. This is lyric poetry on an epic scale. And it’s too big a book, in every sense, to do it justice in a single review, so what follows is a set of thoughts/perceptions/feelings that stem from living with this work for almost as long as Scully spent writing it. And yet, the self-importance of the epic mindset is explicitly rejected:

    & then went down to the ship. (& put

    my hands in my pockets)

    One key to understanding Scully’s structural approach is the word lattice, which occurs early and often (his 2011 selection form Things that Happen is called A Tour of the Lattice, echoing these lines from page 103 of the current volume [italics in the original]):

    I think yes

    I was touring the lattice

    now that all the little cars were grey

    ah yes he said she said

    A lattice, like a net, is a system of intersecting lines of material enclosing spaces, the result being both transparent and not. This weave (another crucial, recurring word) is made up of the ordinary things that happen: someone leaves out the bins and puts on the kettle; a parasitical wasp burrows into its host; someone ties their shoelaces or worries about the rent that’s due; a letter arrives and is opened and shared. Each of these events is placed before us with the same scrupulous attention to language, to precision in the face of a slippery, elusive, necessary medium.

    Early on, Scully translates Gianni Rodari’s poem for children ‘Per fare un tavolo ci vuole il legno’. It’s a lesson in a kind of ecological ‘action at a distance’ cause and effect: ‘to make a table/you need a flower’. The ‘to make a…, you need…’ structure echoes repeatedly throughout.

    And at the heart of it all, a person, a man in this case, sits at a desk and writes. He is surrounded by the detritus of his craft: notebooks, folders of notes, piles of books, a blank page. He is constantly interrupted by his children, his concerns about money, his irritation at the state of poetry, but he writes as and when he can, with what it is given to him to write.

    In a corner of yr room – to work hard,

    any chance you get, privacy, patience –

    in a corner of the room His Imperial

    Majesty is rummaging through

    His folders. Aye. This in the fairytale

    of the Valley of Tears

    And the things that happen tend towards the provisional, temporary events and states in constant flux. The ambiguous freedom of movement heralded in the title of the first volume in the set runs through the whole: ‘This is the house I live in now’ he writes, with that ‘now’ echoing through the various nonce homes that run through this book. On one level, Things That Happen is ‘about’ navigating this provisional world with tact (another key word); Scully is charting ‘a game of boxes in the /Late Upper Holocene’, which is another form of now.

    Scully uses the word ‘tact’ primarily in the sense of grace, deftness of touch, and linguistic precision. It’s a matter of feeling towards the words to express the moment, of knowing what to put in and what to leave out, while leaving every statement open to adaptation. It rhymes with the very early lines: ‘Three things on method:/flexible, invisible, fast.’

    This focus on language is central to the book, and is signalled by the first piece of text to appear after the contents pages:

     : in Sumerian pictographs thought to mean

                    legal or decision or trial or peace

    Language is seen here as both physical, a mark made decisively, and as provisional, as believed to have meaning, of having multiple potential readings. The phrases of Sesotho and Irish that are woven into the texture of the work, unexplained until you discover the notes at the back, reinforce this, and the concrete ubiquity of language is seen in line like:

    snow on a street

    underneath. look out

    that window

    follow the sentence

    of a single set

    of footprints

    It is, in part at least, the work of the poet to follow such sentences and make poetry from them; an attention to the world and the language that overlays the world is the weave, the lattice, that Scully constructs.

    The outstanding feature of Scully’s work is the music of the language on the page. This is easier to demonstrate than to explain. Take these lines from ‘Aisling’, about half way through the book:

    salt

    in sand &

    a sand-

    stone

    boulder standing

    beside a

    sand-

    dune where

    marram

    points

    the way the wind

    went

    The tight weave of alliteration, assonance and even rhyme (sand &) propel the reader forward through the short lines, and this is amplified by the stress patterns, with a paucity of unstressed syllables and an initial trochaic alternating with spondees and the occasional iambic foot, the stresses frequently reinforced by line and stanza breaks:

    salt

    in sand &

    a sand

    stone

    boulder standing

    beside a

    sand

    dune where

    marram

    points

    the way the wind

    went

    There’s an ambiguity at points (Is ‘beside a’ an Amphibrach or an Iamb with a dangling unstressed syllable waiting for ‘sand’? Should we read ‘sand-‘ and ‘stone’ as two stressed syllables or as an Iamb? Is the & stressed by virtue of the sand/and rhyme?) that works to reinforce the provisional nature of the world being written. And it is important to note that, apart from some necessary scientific terms, Scully’s language is for the most part the language of everyday discourse but passed through a scrupulous process of selection and placement. The example above is perhaps at the extreme end of reduction, but similar sonic effects run throughout the book:

    The clutter of yr shed is different

    from yr English language, no? Yes.

    Down on that track I definitely tried

    to get a glimpse of what I thought

    effable: crossing the dateline into

    a clock. Rip.

    Ultimately, Scully provides the final articulation of this formal imperative:

    or:

    a

    song

    is

    a

    a

    song

    is

    a

    a

    song

    is

    a

    sh

    ap

    e

    On the subject of song, this passage evokes an entire English lyric tradition by summoning up ghosts of Edmund Waller, and, by extension, Pound again:

    Go little thing    be good

    black thread   spicule    white

    solid radiant basis

    carved cradled care-driven materials

    twisting textures

    to him who has his senses still

    There’s an entire essay to be written on the conversation with Pound that runs through this book, and another on those with Joyce.

    If flux is the state of play in Things That Happen, there is one unmoveable constant: love. Love of the world in its wonder, love of family, even, perhaps, a certain reluctant love of country inform these pages; Scully is not only a lyric poet, he is, in his own unique way, a maker of love lyrics.

    The final volume in the sequence, Tig, is a form of homecoming and also the source of my past two quotes above. The Irish title is translated as ‘house’ in the notes, which is well and good in as far as it goes. House it is, but in the dative case, house or home as the indirect object of the poet’s focus. Additionally, it’s a verb indicating ability 0I can or am able to).

    It seems to me that both meanings run through tis section evoking a kind of sense of arrival, of a thing completed. And yet.

    In my beginning is his end. The final page of the book reads:

    Dandelion & daisy begin.

    Soon a sweetish whiff

    of wallflower & walks

    past the Ashtown Tin Box Factory

    down to the pouring canal.

    The Ashtown Tin Box Factory was a kind of landmark in the landscape of our overlapping youths, long since demolished and replaced by a shiny industrial complex that it is hard to imagine anyone considering a landmark. Things that happen cease to happen, but the poet, the poem, remembers them in their impermanence and lends a kind of permanence by so remembering. In the end, this is what Scully does in this extraordinary book.

    Airs is Scully’s fourth big book since the completion of Things That Happen (two previous ones are reviewed here and here). From the beginning, we find ourselves in a familiar sonic environment:

    dancing in a

    bowing &

    swaying

    looping &

    bowing motion

    two steps

    forward

    one

    step

    back

    However, there are many respects in which this is a different kind of work. The first is that Airs shows every sign of being a ‘collection’ of individual poems, rather than a single integrated whole, his first such book since Love Poems & Others (1981). These new poems range in length from a dozen or so lines to several pages. And the title is played with again and again: airs as tunes, often as dance, as in the quote above; as metrological feature (the book is full of wind); even, at times, as verb meaning to openly express opinions and grievances. The book is also full of birds:

    Blackbirds nesting

    in the fork of a

    tree behind a

    house

    in a weave of

    beautiful music

    in the early

    middle ages

    before the black

    death hit & cholera

    & war &

    localised famine

    There is so much to unpack in these deceptive lines: the juxtaposition of nest/house, provisional and permanent; the presence of the 9th century Irish poem known as ‘The Blackbird by Belfast Lough’; the history of Ireland since that poem’s composition, which is the history of Europe. This is what Scully does with ‘ordinary’ words.

    Gianni Rodari recurs in a context that emphasises the substratum of work involved in the act of making:

    To make a table you need to be able to exploit the fable

    of the re-useable – wood, seed, flower, song – & not dabble

    too long in the sound of the hammer & the saw: phrases, lines,

    naval terminology.

    This ‘fable of the re-usable chimes with what for me is the book’s major preoccupation, which is to do with the passing of time, of aging and grief; both personal grief (the death of a brother, for instance) and a mourning for a world that shows every sign of passing:

    This lane that was once a road

    now goes (you can ask) “nowhere”.

    It is, I suppose, no surprise that our current ecological disaster should impact on a poet whose focus has so often been on the natural world. The great achievement here is that this environmental concern is understated, below the surface, not shouting but speaking calmy, dispassionately and effectively.

     
  • Billy Mills 12:57 on 25/05/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Work in the new issue of The Stinging Fly 

    I’m very pleased to have the 4th section of my seasonal sequence ‘Four’ published in the Summer 2022 all poetry issue of The Stinging Fly, with thanks to editor Cal Doyle.

    You can read section 2 here: http://numerocinqmagazine.com/2017/02/09/uimhir-a-cuig-poems-billy-mills/

    And section 3 (PDF) here: https://otatablog.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/2017-december-otata.pdf

    Video of David Bremner’s cantata setting the entire text is here:

     
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