Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Editor Blog: at Poetry International, Rotterdam

Arriving in Rotterdam for 2016’s Poetry International (7th – 10th June 2016) it felt refreshing, at first, to escape the shrill and anxiety-inducing debate on the UK’s future in or outside the European Union. Of course it’s what most people asked me about once there. But to enter poetry’s dimension for a few days was relief. Not because it transported me away from the conversation of political complexity, (there is no escape, we are all connected), but because it placed me more deeply within it.

Poetry realises language’s complexity. Speaking at the festival on the panel ‘Newspeak’ the Swedish poet Aase Berg described how in her upbringing language was used in a very simple fashion – black and white, good and bad. It was either us or them. Her rebellion was to invent new words, pushing them together, new language with new meanings. Her radical poetry now forces transformation out of the language of advertising, the internet and other sterile discourses.

The theme of the festival was Newspeak – a provocation under the name of the language in George Orwell’s 1984. The aim with Newspeak was that there would be no double meanings, no ambiguity where unorthodox thinking may develop. Of course the nature of language – formed in the mouths of humans who are infinitely shifty – dooms Newspeak to failure. Even Newspeak has a double meaning to me now: New-speak also now suggests News-speak, the language of the media.

In some ways the current use of language in the political-media sphere is a new Newspeak in that it simplifies and converts complexity to soundbites, tweets, slogans, rumour. In the EU referendum campaign, the complex interaction of bureaucracy and people that is the UK’s relationship with the EU and Europe was condensed into seemingly simple ideas like ‘economy’ or ‘immigration’. For the Leave campaign it was reduced to the idea of ‘control’.

Meanwhile poets like Aase Berg hack this language. She enters ‘perverted, simplified’ discourses such as those available on the dark web, in the how-to-get-rich or self-help books. She listens to the language therein, refashioning the words for her own strange and sometimes dystopian poetry. She is interested in the metaphor of hacking as a way of taking down capitalist patriarchy from the inside like a parasite.

In the same talk on Newspeak, Canadian poet Lisa Robertson noted the recent change of words in France where ‘strike’ has been replaced by ‘social movement’ in the media. What does this do? What meanings does this change or erase and what new connotations does that shift bring, how does it suit the agenda of those using it? Another contributor to the same discussion, young Dutch poet Maarten van der Graaff, spoke about getting ‘dirty’ down at the level of language’s multiplicity. He interrogated the hidden hierarchy in the hyphen in ‘Judeo-Christian’, whereby Jewish culture is secondary to the Christian and other cultures – Muslim, secular etc – are excluded altogether.

 

The poets here were paying close attention to the language of Newspeak. This is the work of the listening poet. The discussion made me think again about the often-simplified key words in the EU debate – ‘control’, ‘country’, ‘future’, ‘migrant’. ‘Control’ was supposed to stand for democracy, something we all want more of – a say in the future of our communities. But what has been promised – a British exit from the European Union – is not going to bring people democratic control to their lives, it will not give individuals agency under global capitalism. And ‘control’ of course also suggests enforcement, policed borders, state violence…

In language everything is connected to everything else – this is why doublethink was probably never going to be eradicated from the Newspeak dictionary despite the best efforts of the characters in 1984. Words cannot be cut loose from other words, neither can people, neither can countries. The isles that make up Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Island are connected. The seas are being crossed continually, dangerously. We cannot cut ourselves loose from other cultures, cannot say ‘here we are on our own, this is Britain and it means just this one thing alone: Britain’. We cannot deny the other meanings and contradictions. Everything is connected.

Solipsism, newspeak and an illusion of simple nationalistic ‘control’ will not save us from the violence of capital, climate change and war. Or to put it as Abdel-Ilah Salhi the Moroccan poet at the festival in his poem ‘Running in the opposite direction of beer’:

‘Astray like dogs. We opposed all directions and lost more awareness.’

and

‘Stupidity is not enough excuse in the face of all of this crumbling.’

 

Nia Davies’s visit to Poetry International, Rotterdam, was part of the Literary Europe Live project from Literature Across Frontiers

Read more about poets on Poetry International website.

Poems by Aase Berg, translated by Johannes Göransson will appear in the Winter issue of Poetry Wales, later this year.

 

Editorial: Desire

From Poetry Wales Spring 2016, Volume 51 Issue 3

‘There is something very unsettling about unconscious desire’ said Tamara Dellutri to me when I discussed the topic of this issue with her. We learn desire in our earliest moments, when we learn to love, to be with and apart from someone else. So a manifestation of adult desire is in some obscure way an expression that takes us back to the love of our caregivers in the earliest part of our lives. Not a very sexy place to start from. It’s the one put-off in sex. Thinking of your parents. And the other horrifying thought: your parents in coitus. But in this taboo, the moment that made us.

And yet it is difficult to deny the importance of those earliest moments of life in the formation of ourselves as human beings. ‘Our first experiences of desire inevitably come from our mothers and caregivers, with whom our relationship with language is first kindled,’ Melissa Lee-Houghton points out in her essay on desire and poetry in this issue. So in amongst the formation of desire is also the beginning of language. Is this why poetry can unlock something secret about desire and why the poetry of desire can touch upon our most excruciating taboos?

Much of the work in this issue touches the skin of such uncomfortable zones. Chrissy Williams quotes Kim Gordon in her poem: “Remember mother? We were close … very very … close” and continues – ‘I allowed my lust to deprioritise her and I ask forgiveness. / I never wanted to be killed with kindness.’ Later Amy McCauley invokes Jokasta (perhaps the original fucker-mother):

If only you would touch me
like a / shriek / good
girl / thank /
fuck I’ve
got a heart / it’s here
somewhere / how it // feels

Good girl. Thank fuck I’ve got a heart . In the place we experience desire we find demanding paradoxes: we want to be good or bad so the other will desire us, we want to be wanted, and in wanting learn how others want to be wanted. It is the instance we learn to be good to others, in order that we may be good, thank fuck , to be as good as mother requested, even, to be just what mother is to father… Into this confusing territory go the poems of Williams and McCauley as well as Nicky Arscott, Malika Booker, Jasmine Donahaye and others in this issue. Poetry for dodgy desirous waters, the taboo-zone. The poetry here gestures to the real, the real sex, the fucking that goes beyond language. The realness of contact with another person or a confrontation with the physical reality of desire can be overpowering, dark. We see the girl on the body board in Nicky Arscott’s poem-comic, but we’re not sure if we should see her, possibly she is dead. We, the narrator and reader, look anyway. Unconscious desire is at odds with our normal grammar and syntax. This is possibly the reason human beings don’t often start complex discussions before orgasm.

I would say that poetry – especially the poetry in these pages – somehow arches towards that Real. It gets some of the way there, touches its flesh briefly. The inexpressible and obscured place can be gestured towards unconsciously and the language that materialises – the non- or beyond-sense – may sound like, or is in fact poetry. This, as Tamara Dellutri explains in her piece in this issue, is the material the psychoanalyst deals with. And the analyst is very like the poet, charting through the slips  of the tongue, the language beyond language, expressions of desire and jouissance  beyond sense, beyond communication.

In curating this issue I was interested in the paradoxes writing desire entails. Writers who are not classic heterosexual ‘cis’, male, straight, white etc, have had their desires dismissed or demonised many times over; often as too bodily and physical, all hormones, no rationalism, no reality . These desires have also been shamed and prepresumed, packaged and marketed back at us.

So there is a huge power dynamic stacked against the desire that is not the desire of the dominant gaze. ‘A cry from the ovaries’ is how George Barker dismissed Elizabeth Smart’s poetry written out of passionate love of him. In her essay ‘Erotic tendencies’ Lee-Houghton explores this poetry and that of the desiring confessional mode – a mode often dismissed, probably as it is seen as pertaining to women. Lee-Houghton also calls for more interesting poetry of desire from men. I have to say this issue does not include very many cries from the testicles though they are there if you look hard. I approached women writers for the most part because they were the ones I wanted to hear from most keenly. I was interested in the undertold poetry of desire.

Desire is also an urge to the future. Fantasy, for example, is a testing of the ‘what do I want’? ‘What would it be like if I wanted XYZ?’ Writing desire is a kind of futurism; it is speculation, it brings about the future and calls it forth. It is the opposite of the death drive, the repetitive deadening reflex of destructive  compulsive want, of jouissance  as described by Lacan and as illuminated by Dellutri in this issue. Poetry is a forcing, Lacan wrote, a bursting through barriers, a creation of a new language of desire, a new path out of the old.

So I would request that before you dismiss this poetry as a cry from the sex-organs also remember that it is a cry for the future. For what we might want, for the relationships, the communities of relationships and societies we want to live in.

Alice Entwistle: Can we talk about Wales, rather than Welshness? What is Wales for you? Somewhere – anywhere – where Welshness can be found? Or is it perhaps imaginary?’

Menna Elfyn: ‘It’s imaginary. It’s a desire.’

Cambrofuturism/Cymruddyfodoliaeth – what future do we desire for Wales or for any community of the future? That is a theme for a future issue.

Nia Davies

Llefaru Unigol (the process of remembering)

by Sophie McKeand

 

Whenever the great cultural juggernaut of Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru rolls into Y Gogs I sign up for the solo recital (llefaru unigol) competition in the Maes D: dysgu Cymraeg. The reason I do so is that, in addition to improving my Cymraeg, it offers a unique opportunity to fold open the creative process and map new terrain.

In 2015 I drove to Welshpool to recite Ty’r Ysgol by TH Parry-Williams. The standard of entry is exceptional, with competitors learning poems by heart, not by rote. It’s an important distinction. It’s the difference between inching through a poem’s undergrowth to grasp bough, barb and bracken, and memorising a photo of it.

At the beginning, it’s difficult to ascertain Ty’r Ysgol’s shape in the black thicket but I know she’s there. I start by clearing and hacking space: Mae’r cyrn yn mygu er pob awel groes. I turn. The language feels thick and green, swinging in veils. I hack. Turn. Hack. Repeat this process at least four times a day. After two days the pathway clears. I face forward: A rhywun yno weithiau’n’sgubo’r llawr/Ac agor y ffenestri. I repeat the process, beat y ffordd, stumble into craters that can take days to clamber out of (getting the right pronunciation for synhwyro rywsut was agonising), chant yn Gymraeg, forward and back, excavating sounds, shouting them to mountains or whispering a looped-line until I am hyper-sensitised to its airflow.

The line ar ol y chwalfa fawr is deeply satisfying to chant, especially in the woods. Meaning dissipates. The words undulate out of the mouth in a distinctly Gog fashion with no regard for the speaker’s intentions.

I pause at the word chwalfa: kh-oo-al-va.

Chwalfa: dispersal, upheaval. In this context it’s describing the collapse and dispersal of rural villages as people moved to the towns and cities during Parry-Williams’ time. Quizzing Dr Gwilym Morus via email I also learn that ‘Chwalfa is still used to describe what happens to a sheep carcass after the predators have been at it, like it’s just exploded over the hillside.’

The carcass remains in situ. I hack on.

It takes about four weeks to learn this relatively short poem by heart and by rote. The challenge is to walk with the former and not become lazy and distracted and topple into the latter. Mapping the poem again I discover a fork in the path. I’ve remembered a line wrong: it’s nes bod rhai/ Yn synnu’n gweld. I’ve been dropping the g in gweld, mutating where there is none. I place a way-marker, drag foliage across the errant route, stamp the true ground back and forth; chant.

That these events are important for the language and culture Cymraeg is a given. What I’m slowly realising is how much they also shape the poets who compete. This process is instilling in me a greater appreciation of the Eisteddfod. I’m handed a gift: a beautifully crafted poem to learn, and a stage on which to share my findings. Each time I do this I understand more about the language and myself as a poet. Mastering these words becomes a ceremonial gateway to a previously undiscovered world: I fold language, chant the terrain, pack my head with sounds and walk.

Eisteddfod 2015

Eisteddfod 2015

Winter 2015 Editorial

Oh such wealth, great caskets of sunlight unlocked pouring all over me like the water in the lake – all your letters – three envelopes of your letters – all waiting there today. Darling, darling, darling Frieda, making me feel so many multitudes in my heart & thoughts and manness and one deep mood after another gravely approaching and in the brave pattern dancing. – From Cypress Walk – Alun Lewis’s letters to Freda Aykroyd.

dose of intoxicating intimacy, sheer emotive – almost unconscious – gutty desiring poetry. Alun Lewis’s letters are, to me, his most striking works and yet it is writing that may never have been meant for an audience like us. These are secret missives from his troubled interior – a place strung between two loves, between pacifism and war and between people and aloneness.

In the British army, stationed in India and Burma, Lewis rode a cog in the killing machine of empire and war, compelled to enact its orders in the repeating manner of the death drive. And death was something he seemed drawn towards over and over until the end – something Jeremy Hooker examines in his essay in this issue. To die or kill, perhaps Lewis chose the former.

It could be the language of something entirely personal in the above letter that makes the writing so compelling. Though he misspells his lover’s name (perhaps intentionally), Lewis’s declaration of masculine desire is somehow, to me at least, refreshingly un-objectifying because of its rawness, its unmediated intimacy. Have we lost something now that we no longer write these kinds of letters? Zoë Brigley Thompson in her essay explores this question through her examination of Lewis’s letters and epistolary poems.

But though the particular epistolary world of literary (love) letters may be gone, their era reminds us still of the far-reaching implications contemporary communication technologies pose for poetry. Digital correspondence is still a pleasure and opportunity like letters, though it be quicker flighty conversation, often dashed off half way between chat, admin and literary discourse. The sheer number of emails and messages involved in curating a poetry magazine, or in much of today’s daily life, would perhaps not have surprised Lewis – though he hated it, he appears to have been in fact very capable at bureaucracy. But it is the poetry inherent in correspondence between human beings that Lewis understood and channelled in his writing.

The new expanded format of Poetry Wales has lead to many more not unpleasurable email threads but it has also allowed for some far travelling. In 96 pages you’ll find Orlando pulling the ornate rug out from under the colonial English canon (Sophie Mayer), sea-traveling émigré-exiles (Geraldine Monk), the bodies of beetles (Mario Petrucci), noir-soaked Cardiff Victoriana (Damian Walford Davies). Collaborations from the Gelynion project brings us Iceland vs Iceland (S J Fowler and Joe Dunthorne), a conversation across the Bristol channel between cwm and combe (Robert Minhinnick and Frances Presley), mis-translations of Welsh and Azeri words (Ifor Ap Glyn and Ghazal Mosadeq) and more. There are objects that have been strangely tinkered with – a tea strainer loaded with assassins and a coal scuttle stuffed with sagaro cactus (David Greenslade), atoms that listen, mould that breathes (Suze de Lee), Scylla in batik pants (Francine Elena) and poetry that waltzes with Shelley and Byron (David Annwn). We also get a deep appreciation of Anne Cluysenaar (Alice Entwistle) and a demand for the rescue of poetry from attention-deficit irrelevance (Ian Gregson).

Happy reading in the brave pattern dancing.

Order Winter 2015 here.

PW 51.2 Cover_pw cover.qxd

Review: Gwalia Patagonia by Jon Gower

Reviewed by Dylan Moore

Gwalia Patagonia

Half a decade in the writing, Gwalia Patagonia has been a labour of love for self-confessed ‘professional Welshman’ Jon Gower. For such a small colony (just 162 people originally set out on the old tea clipper Mimosa), in such an obscure end of the world – ‘grey – tough and stunted – wiry, desert shrubs on parched dry scrubland’ – Y Wladfa has attracted an inordinate amount of attention, especially this year, from both academic historians and the popular media. Who better then, than Gower, whose most successful book, The Story of Wales, spans both realms, to pen a volume on the colony to mark its 150th indefatigable year?

It can feel like home,’ he argues in the prologue, emphasising how, extraordinarily, this very un-Wales-like place continues to exert its almost mystical hold on the national imagination. Quite reasonably, the author questions at the outset, ‘the need for another book about the place.’ But ‘I was somehow doomed to write one,’ he goes on to protest, ‘writers don’t have much choice. The books come to seek us out.’ Of course, this is true. Gower and Patagonia were made for each other. The author is the kind of researcher who will make it his mission to read all the previous books, watch all of the documentaries and films then visit every Welsh tearoom in South America. Gower’s passion for Wales and Welshness in all its forms and his inimitable prose style – evocative, effervescent, exuberant – meets its perfect match in the challenge of describing the wildernesses of Chubut.

The writer clearly delights in employing the full breadth of his Brobdingnagian vocabulary. South Atlantic wave patterns are in ‘aquamarine flux’; Puerto Madryn is ‘[h]arsh and dessicated in the arc-lamp heat of summer’; fruit farms are ‘kaleidoscopic’. Pick a page and luxuriate in imagery. But there is more – much more – to Gwalia than descriptive indulgence. There are explorations of the origins of the colonial project and the relationship between the Welsh settlers and the indigenous Tehuelche, chapters focusing on Y Wladfa’s principal towns and others giving voice to the people whose tenacity keeps the Welsh language and Welsh customs alive today, thousands of miles from their forebears’ home.

Gower’s back catalogue contains histories, psychogeographies and travel writing in addition to accomplished fiction, and in Gwalia there is balance and blend of all these styles. As well as giving voice to the inhabitants of the land, the book is haunted by the ghosts of the author’s prodigious reading. If Borges and Marquez are obvious touchstones for any writing about the southern portion of the American continent, it is fascinating to be introduced to lesser-known figures who nevertheless loom large in the writing of Welsh Patagonia. Gower is clearly enchanted by Y Wladfa’s unofficial writer-in-residence Eluned Morgan, daughter of Lewis Jones (for whom Trelew is named), while being less than impressed by the occasional chicanery of Bruce Chatwin, not to mention slightly miffed that his most famous literary predecessor in the region beat him to a description of some ‘Neapolitan ice-cream’ cliffs.

The volume’s structure, with chapters of history followed by chapters of travel and chapters of more personal writing, suits Gower’s propensity for indulging esoteric passions as well as his capacity to encapsulate big-picture visions. He is a Philomath, a bibliophile and a helpless addict of ‘ornithology porn’. But however enjoyable the indulgences that are the hallmark of the writer’s work, only one question really needs to be asked, soberly, of Gwalia Patagonia. Was it worth it? Five years of writing, a six-foot writing desk’s span of reading and a Creative Wales Award to fund the fieldwork, to produce a book about a place already over-trampled by hopeless dreamers and literary giants. The answer, of course, is a resounding ‘yes’; Gwalia Patagonia won’t be the last word on Y Wladfa, but it may be the last for some time.

Review: Soleïman Adel Guémar

 

Les Yeux Fermés (Eyes Closed), by Soleïman Adel Guémar, translated by Tom Cheesman & John Goodby (Hafan Books, 2014), ISBN 9780992656423.

Reviewed by Andrea Tallarita

 

Consider – ‘à ses pieds / les disparus / les massacrés / les torturés / les détenus’ (‘at his feet / the disappeared / the massacred / the tortured / the detained’). While these lines are not necessarily representative of the whole body of work contained within Les Yeux Fermés (LYF), the new collection by Soleïman Adel Guémar, they remind us that poetry of exile can be crude and bleak in a way it is seldom written in our pacified European Union.

Adel Guémar was born in Algeria, in 1963, and has been residing as an asylum-seeker in Swansea since 2002. Having lived through the Algerian ‘terror decade’ makes his work valuable poetry of testimony even in its simplicity and brutality. His first collection, State of Emergency, brought together the poems he wrote in Algeria; Eyes Closed now contains what he wrote while living in Swansea.

The book includes poetry that spans eight years of the poet’s life, so there’s an understandably broad span to the form and the themes. By and large, it is musical free verse, with the odd loose rhyme or Alexandrine appearing in some of the poems. The recurring topic is – of course – Algeria, treated by turns as a nightmarish locus of oppression and violence, or on the other hand as a mythical Garden of Eden in which the land itself is conflated with the poet’s youth. The speaker’s perspective is always intimate, often to the point of abstraction – Adel Guémar is, formally at least, an old-school Romantic, and his verse has certain debts to the big names of 19th Century French poetry (Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine).

The poetry here is energetic and irregular. It tumbles over itself with abundant, spontaneous imagery, often leaving behind such trifles as punctuation, and the result is raw – for the good and for the bad. It’s genuinely odd how Guémar goes from some rather bland, even cringe-worthy clichés in one poem to memorable and powerful imagery only a few pages after that. A stanza like, ‘I dream of your sky / tender and fertile / that tells me about us / that writes me collections / of poems I’ll read / that I’ll sing / till the dawn’, strikes me as the kind of thing you’re more likely to find in an adolescent’s notebook than in a collection by a mature poet. But then Adel Guémar may produce a poem in which emotion is conveyed so efficiently, so simply and with such synthesis of language that commentary itself seems superfluous, such as in this extract from a memorial poem for the poet’s father:

I saw you arriving
hardly in time before your leaving
I miss you already I love you
you know it my great friend my father
my song
my splendid capital letter

While defining Eyes Closed as a mixed bag may not be very helpful in terms of a review, it really does describe the sense one gets from reading the collection. Adel Guémar’s poems are powerful, but they also seem unpolished. The urgency of his writing is palpable, but on occasion it takes over his lucidity.

Perhaps the best example of this is Adel Guémar’s approach to the problem of testimony in poetry. I mentioned – and I stand by the statement – that his poetry is highly valuable in terms of giving a voice to those who lived (and died) in Algeria between 1991 and 2002, the ‘terror decade’. Here we have a poet who can relay the anguish of civil oppression, and the melancholy of exile, with considerable success. But he also takes a very uncomplicated approach to the questions that he raises. For instance, and as mentioned above, there is a clear tension between Adel Guémar’s deliberately crude representations of Algeria as the site of traumatic violence, and his recollections of the country as an earthly paradise (‘tomorrow I’ll go back / to my lovely Algiers / her Casbah’s warrens / her smiling children / dive back into the warm / and blue water of my love / into the magic of her eyes’). Naturally there is a difference between Algeria as Adel Guémar experienced it in his childhood and what it became in the years of terror, but how does the poet account for the (apparent) contradiction of the same place representing both heaven and hell in his mind? The answer is that he does not, or at least not as far as this reader could glean – this type of question receives scant consideration in Eyes Closed, making for a reading experience that, while largely powerful and interesting, is conceptually not as agile as one might like.

A word on the translation. Rendering other people’s poetry into your language is a task that is both indispensable and noble, and it deserves an amount of praise inversely proportional to the attention it actually receives. So it is with genuine regret that I say this, but in my opinion the work of translation by Tom Cheesman and John Goodby was inadequate. The poetry is not especially complex, but the way it is rendered seems approximative, sometimes even sloppy. Take this example among various: ‘je serai toujours celui-là qui / essuie les larmes / des laissés pour compte / mis entre parenthèses / et oubliés’.

In English, it’s rendered as: ‘I will always be the one who / wipes the tears / of the dispossessed / the excluded / and forgotten’.

Here, ‘the excluded’ seems very much out of touch with what ‘mis entre parenthèses’ (‘placed in brackets’) is suggesting, not only because the two meanings don’t really correspond, but because it lets the entire metaphorical richness of the original expression fall away.

On another occasion, the verse ‘belle qui voici m’appelle’ is translated as ‘beauty here calls me’. That the verse won’t render the internal rhyme is understandable, but ‘belle’ is a (feminine) adjective for ‘beautiful’ – changing it to beauty itself alters the meaning considerably, and to no benefit that I am aware of.

Part of this may simply speak to my limitations as a critic – I was unaware, for instance, that ‘cwtching’ was a Welsh term, and when I encountered it used in a translation for ‘se blottir’, I took it for a typo. But to the extent that dual-language editions should provide translations as a way of helping a reader into the poems and clarifying those aspects of language and expression that seem obscure, I felt that the translators here deserved more praise for their effort than their achievement. Eyes Closed is an interesting, powerful and ambiguous literary challenge, but it’s one you’ll be facing, for the most part, alone.

 

Andrea Tallarita was born in Rome in 1985. He commissions and edits articles for Dr Fulminare’s Irregular Features.

 

Summer 2015 Editorial

Wales, Patagonia and the cultures of the imagination 

This issue arises from a fascination with a two-way gaze: the ways in which Patagonia imagines Wales and in turn how Wales imagines Patagonia. At its extremes, one place may be imagined as ‘the end of the earth’, as an empty wild west ripe for a white saviour-style takeover. The other as a kitsch reconstruction of the Land of My Fathers with its tea, cake, chapels and male voice choirs. These instances of mismatch, where diaspora and post-colonial myths are expounded may result in the inauthentic, in sham ideals of origin and destiny and even neo-colonial or liberal propaganda for land and culture grab (see: clothing companies that have bought up huge swathes of Patagonia, evicted people living on the land and in one case even opened a museum dedicated ‘to narrating the culture and history of a mythical land’).

Civilisation bites your    _______   stomach
Civilisation bites your    _______   lungs
Civilisation bites your    _______   memory
Luna Montenegro

 But emerging from these conflicting and juxtaposing images there may be certain stories to be found that can help us understand what culture actually is.

When?     ______I was born    ______When?      ___ ___I was born   ___  ___When?
Luna Montenegro

 Cultures – our own and others – may be constructs of the imagination, narratives that can be continually rewritten in the foreground of a remembered (or ill-remembered) past.

In the same way as the Rio Chubut or Rio Percy, during one of their frequent floods, lays down layers of silt and sand, we can also create a literary stratigraphy for our places in the world.
Hywel Griffiths

 But the urge to construct cultures from a basis of origins can be a shaky path. Steven Hitchins writes of the mythic obsessions of the Druids of Pontypridd:

In forging a past they highlight the spectrality of origins.

 Like the extinct Patagonian languages that haunt Luna Montenegro’s poems, lost language-cultures are lost, they cannot come back except in the ghostly.

Ouarouch                   __________________ ( tree / arbol)
Loimushka
Ouarouch
Loimushka                __________________  ( flower / flor)
Luna Montenegro

 Narratives about what Wales and Patagonia is, or was, are being retold even now: what is Wales’s place within Britain? Was the y Wladfa settlement a colonial project? Should  nationalism be used as a force to unite people? Anniversaries – what exactly are we celebrating?

These [centenary and sesquicentenary] celebrations are a part of the process of taking bearings, of dropping anchor in the turbulent present. As the creaky Mimosa was a vessel chartered to carry hopes and aspirations as well as men, women and children, so too is recollecting its voyage an investment in ideas, a means of staying afloat. If this is the case, then important questions follow. In the act of remembering, which ideas stay on board? Which do we jettison?
Kieron Smith

 Both the cultures of Wales and the Welsh Patagonian settlement whether wilfully or through compulsion and despite efforts to speak out against exploitation and genocide, have played their parts in the larger projects of British, Argentinian and global colonialisation. Projects of civilisation  and even utopia  can easily become projects of appropriation and dominance. This is why utopia  needs to be rooted in empathy and be constantly subject to reinvention.

The contemporary speaks…of the necessity of reinvention and a re-imagining of the social order, for an epistemological break from the tried and tested economic and political ideologies.
Cris Paul

 The works in the first part of this issue by writers and translators from Wales, Argentina, Chile and beyond have been brought together on the occasion of the 150th  anniversary of the landing of the Mimosa and because they explore the imagined constructs and frontiers of culture, language and memory.

it’s at a hundred and eighty degrees
that you conjugate yourself
Samira Negrouche

 Language and poetry are tools for invention and for survival.

And if Welsh Patagonia teaches anything it is that not only is economic survival possible but that re-invention at the edge of the possible is too.
Cris Paul

 ‘The precarious but resistant position of poetry’, as Ben Bollig describes poet Christian Aliaga’s Patagonian concerns, gives us a place from which to reinvent ‘at the edge of the possible’, to invert and re-make the narratives and ideas that we need to live.

this is how you advance in the sea
there is also calm
why then to invent the storm
to invent fear and also invent
adventure, invent the wind
Romina Freschi

NIA DAVIES

Buy Poetry Wales Summer 2015 here.

(Re)Generation: Amy McCauley


Amy McCauley’s contribution to the series (Re)Generation – on influence – which ran throughout the 50th volume of Poetry Wales.


Influence
, n. The action or fact of flowing in; inflowing, inflow, influx. Influence, v. To affect the mind or action of; to move or induce by influence

Tottenham Hotspur four / Tranmere Rovers nil // Everton one / Crystal Palace two // Chelsea two / Liverpool five // Man City nil / Arsenal four // They are playing a game / They are playing at not playing a game / If I show them I see they are / I shall break the rules and they will punish me / I must play their game / of not seeing I see the game // Ting! // Hare Hare / Krishna Hare / Hare Hare / Krishna Hare / Hare Hare / Krishna Hare / Hare Hare / Krishna Hare // Have mercy on us, O Lord / For we have sinned against you / Show us, O Lord, your mercy / And grant us your salvation / May almighty God have mercy on us and lead us / with our sins forgiven / to eternal life // Amen // I have decided that too much thinking is bad for your health // Heaven // I’m in heaven // & my heart beats so that I can hardly speak // & I seem to find the happiness I seek // When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek // Did you know that a laugh is something that comes out of a hole in your face? // Anywhere else & you’re in dead trouble // You and me // 3 // Legs // 11 // Two little ducks // 22 // Unlucky for some // 13 // Doctor’s orders // 9 // Duck & a crutch // 27 // Man alive // 5 // Kelly’s eye // 1 // Be-bop-a-lula / she’s my baby // Be-bop-a-lula / I don’t mean maybe // Be-bop-a-lula / she-e-e’s mybabylovemybabylovemybabylove // They are not having fun / I can’t have fun if they don’t / If I get them to have fun, then I can have fun with them / Getting them to have fun, is not fun / It is hard work // Some people don’t know they’re born // Hare Hare / Krishna Hare / Hare Hare / Krishna Hare / Hare Hare / Krishna Hare / Ting! / Silence / Ting! // Four days will quickly steep themselves in night / Four nights will quickly dream away the time / & then the moon, like to a silver bow / New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night / Of our solemnities // Yes, there were times / I’m sure you knew // When I bit off / more than I could chew // But through it all / when there was doubt // I ate it up / and spat it out // I faced it all / & I stood tall / & did it // My Dad knew I was going to be a comedian / When I was a baby he said, ‘Is this a joke?’ // I like a nice cup of tea in the morning / I like a nice cup of tea with my tea / And when it’s time for bed / there’s a lot to be said / for a nice // We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking // Two fat ladies // 88 // The grin / Sank back, temporarily nonplussed / Into the skull // Hare Hare / Krishna Hare / Hare Hare / Krishna Hare / Hare Hare / Krishna Hare // How dare you have fun when Christ died on the Cross for you! / Was He having fun? //*

*// Football results circa 1989 / R.D. Laing Knots / Overheard Hare Krishnas / Extract from the Catholic Mass / My mother’s diary (1979 edition) / Irving Berlin Cheek to Cheek / Ken Dodd joke / Bingo / Gene Vincent Be-bop-a-lula / R.D. Laing Knots / Dictation from my father / More overheard Hare Krishnas / William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night’s Dream / Frank Sinatra My Way / Another Ken Dodd joke / Nana’s morning song / Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus / More bingo / Ted Hughes A Grin / More Hare Krishnas / R.D. Laing Knots //

 

Amy McCauley’s poetry has appeared widely in magazines, including Ink Sweat & Tears, New Welsh Review, The North, The Quietus and The Stinging Fly. Amy regularly reviews books for New Welsh Review has just completed a PhD at Aberystwyth University.

This piece was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Poetry Wales alongside other (Re)Generation pieces on influence by Rhys Trimble and Jonathan Edwards. For more on the whole series visit our back issues pages.

Review: three pamphlets

IN YOUR OWN WORDS: Poetry, academia and media madness collide in three very different pamphlets

 

Pick Me Up by Anna Kiernan and Harriet Lee-Merrion (Atlantic Press Books, 2014), £9.00 ISBN 978-0957154926.
Trench Feet by Nicholas Murray (Rack Press, 2014), £5.00 ISBN 978-0992765453
Dylanation by Phil Knight (Green Arrow Press, 2014) £5.00 ISBN 978-0957503366

Reviewed by Rosie Breese

 

The great benefit of the pamphlet form is that it offers a dedicated space for intense focus on often-overlooked areas. With this, one of the most enjoyable things about reviewing pamphlets is the sheer variety of intriguing voices that can be encountered, each on their own terms, without the jostling for attention that seems almost inherent in the anthology. Here, a poet’s quieter moments can sit comfortably alongside their explosive showstoppers: there is room for development of the themes that fascinate the writer, and space for these undercurrents to resonate.

Autumn 2014 brought three very different pamphlets, each with its own undercurrent, its own world to speak from. The first of these, Nicholas Murray’s Trench Feet, thrusts the reader behind the scenes of the frenzied media-courting of world-weary academic Jeremy Button who is, with a note of panic, ‘confronting the question: and what about Me?’ Bounding along in perfectly paced quatrains, this neat narrative follows Jeremy’s progress through the creation of a TV series on the poets of World War I, illuminated by the odd stand-out line with a shining sting in the tail:

..the Laureate stands to deliver the view
that the poets were victims, their generals malign.
Yet ‘Englishness’ glistens in every last line.

And

Just outside Arras, where Rosenberg lies
Jerry’s adjusting his brightest of ties
that flames like the stubble when harvest is done.

The romance of sacrifice seems to have clouded everybody’s judgement in this wryly drawn caricature of the sentiment-fest that is Remembrance Day at its worst. ‘Englishness’ takes over (itself a comment on the absence of the rest of the British population from Remembrance commemorations?). We’re so busy looking, misty-eyed, at the brightness of this idea, with its jumbled associations of dank trenches and blazing poppy fields, that we’ve forgotten what it means in the present day. Actual soldiers are, appropriately enough, completely absent from the story, replaced by a jumbled assortment of WWI clichés: ‘greatcoats and duckboards, ponies and rats, / poppies and skeletons, mud and tin hats’.

Ok, so rhyming quatrains aren’t exactly the in thing right now, and arguably, this poem which caricatures modernity so entertainingly hasn’t succeeded in doing so in any kind of ‘modern’ way. Perhaps, like Jeremy Button, whose own love affair comes back to bite him on the arse, the author himself is being hampered by history. But it’s difficult to think of this pamphlet as being ‘hampered’. Innovative in style it may not be, but it certainly makes for an original and entertaining read in its own right.

Also academically inspired, albeit in a completely different way, is Pick me up from Atlantic Press. The result of a collaboration between illustrator Harriet Lee-Merrion and poet Anna Kiernan, Pick me up draws on a fascinating array of sources, from the life stories of 18th-century artists to academic articles on motive processing (whatever that might be) to dodgy maps and the Victorian classic The Secret Language of Flowers. Lee-Merrion’s gorgeously understated line drawings, in which bodies are juxtaposed with and almost obscured by maps, diagrams and flowers, have an anatomical feel; a kind of clinical elegance which offsets the ever-shifting attention of Kiernan’s poems.

The poems themselves have a sort of hummingbird quality to them: Kiernan’s intense focus draws on personal narrative and family relationships, the lives of historical others, James Joyce, tyre impressions in mud, childbirth, and buildings insurance. The language itself is indeed ‘intriguing’, as Owen Sheers’ single-word jacket note suggests. There is the sense of being in contact with the tips of many icebergs. Easiest to connect with are the poems that show a little more of the iceberg, such as ‘The beaten track’, a meditative bike ride which builds to an elegantly complex tumble:

I am catapulted forward,
the map lost, the spokes caught

in memory turned inside out,
where the lost space of reversals

hurts less.

As evidenced by this corker, Kiernan is great at last lines. ‘Bloomsday is a cod’, in which she candidly narrates the story of her son Leo’s birth, also packs a punch at the end:

Here comes everything, I thought,
Here comes everything.

In places, though, her shifts in focus trip the reader up. In ‘The robot nursemaid domain’ it could be argued that the juxtaposition of references to obscure artist Nicholson with snippets from the above-mentioned article on motive processing doesn’t give us much to ‘go on’; there is the sense that the poem is speaking from far within its own world. And in ‘Epitaph for the unrequited’, references to Shakespeare’s Ophelia  muscle in on something that doesn’t seem to have asked for it:

An archive of lost looks,
a database of bones.

This place is as organic
as Ophelia’s floral rant …

That said, where its own language shines through, this is a gorgeously meditative collection that carries moments of surprise, explosions even, that are delightful despite the occasional sense of being a little shut out. Kiernan’s magpie instinct turns up some diamonds, and hers is certainly an interesting voice to listen out for.

Finally, but by no means least, Phil Knight’s helpfully titled collection Dylanation – A Collection of Poetry (Green Arrow) takes the Dylan Thomas centenary and the accompanying programme of tenuously linked events (roundly condemned by John Goodby in the Autumn 2014 issue of Poetry Wales) as a jumping-off point for an exploration of the Wales he knows: place, voice, ‘cracked castle crap pit’ and all. Knight’s exploration of these themes is varied: poems range from ‘Hillside’, a Fern Hill-esque reminiscence which carries some truly dazzling moments:

The sky was full of blazing
jump jet tail lights
flying along the belt of
Orion the hunter
and the beams of the cop choppers
were brighter than all
the stars.

…to ‘Wales Celebrates Dylan Thomas With’, an inventory of Dylan celebrations, some with names so fanciful they must have been made up (or probably, depressingly, not), and the ambitious ‘Elegy’, which draws on Dylan’s own titles to create a fascinating, if disorientating, piece which seems to hint at numerous untold narratives:

A tale winter’s
paper deaths and stick entrances
in her head lying down
to park the hunchback in the
unluckily death for a
asylum in the love.

These flights of experimentation seem a little at odds with the rollicking spoken-word feel of other poems within the collection where syntax is occasionally sacrificed to the demands of the rhyme scheme:

Here are the forgotten people
Troublemakers, addicts, just out of jail
In a block higher than any church steeple
To Urban Planning let us all hail

But it seems ungenerous to pick at the way individual lines scan when the overall message is so important. Knight is clearly a poet of passion and purpose: you won’t find fancy binding, illustrations or, in all likelihood, a PBS endorsement here. What you will find is voice, first and foremost –  refreshing honesty and lack of pretension, which, lets face it, many of us poets could learn from. This is a genuine and thought-provoking portrait of a world the poet knows intimately and can speak from in a way that lets the reader understand, and understanding is important. As  Cathy Park Hong points out, ‘the disenfranchised need such bourgeois niceties like voice to alter conditions forged in history’, and that is exactly the argument that needs to be made for writing like this. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, pamphlet publishing creates opportunities for lesser-known writers to get their work out there, and for readers to hear from worlds they may never encounter. And the effort of listening and learning is always worth it.

 

Rosie Breese‘s poems have appeared in Poetry Review3:AM MagazineShearsman and Poems in Which. In 2014, she was nominated for a Saboteur award for her work as a reviewer of poetry pamphlets and anthologies.

NEWS

ARCHIVES

CATEGORIES

SEARCH