Category Archives: Poetry

Local Colour

smith

Local Colour
By Sam Smith
Indigo Dreams Publishing – £6.00

Slow, older men, indulge their miserable
natures behind moustaches and with
snarling commands to their dogs.
[…].
The searching nurse, a lift of her chin, unsmiling
comes towards him with a lesbian’s swagger. He
believes himself infested with rats and frogs;
and the world of men is of no help to him

                                       How Elusive Is Truth?

I have to say, the initial batch of these poems (out of a collection of thirty-seven), merely
passed me by, as if a mere creeping murmur of rain. As if a writer still searching; and as an immediate result thereof, ultimately trying way too hard.

That said, by the time I stumbled upon the final three lines of ‘Mocked By Windows’

cleaners and the homeless keeping warm
mocked by windows
divisions of glass

it became a little more clear that Sam Smith – nothing to do with the much over-rated singer of the same name – clearly has a vision of sorts. Even if said vision does appear to suffer as a direct result of becoming side-tracked – if not a trifle blighted by far too much tangential information.

For as potentially in depth as the poem which opens this review, ‘How Elusive Is Truth,’ undoubtedly is, it’s horribly let down due to such crass’n’caustic, throwaway lines such as:

for a semi-liquid shit, which dock and dandelion
leaves didn’t shift, only spread. His awkward attempt to wash
the stink off saw him part fall into a galvanised sheep-trough
(my italics).

One could pertain to arguing that eccentricity can sometimes make for a frivolous, yet high water-mark of literary prowess, although on this occasion, such, most definitely isn’t the case.
As such, Sam Smith may well pertain to a certain, poetic promise, which Local Colour both hints at and occasionally dip into; but really, that’s about it.

David Marx

Advertisements

The Plural of Us

plural

The Plural of Us –
Poetry and Community in Auden and Others
By Bonnie Costello
Princeton University Press – £37.95

When will we learn, what should be clear as day,
We cannot choose what we are free to love.

          ‘The Future of Us’

Poetry’s ‘we” can be highly nuanced and variable […]
marking overlapping and concentric circles.

          ‘Speaking Of Us’

In the final chapter of this highly focused book (‘The Future of Us’), Bonnie Costello endeavours to once more enter, and finally come to terms with the great chasm of an elongated, and at times self-induced ambiguity; by highlighting the non-definable space that surely lies betwixt the most pronounced personal of ‘I,’ and the most assumptive universal of ‘we.’

In so doing, she reinvests a certain assertion that the reader might readily agree with what is at best, a poetically endorsed thesis, wherein analysis takes centre stage almost throughout these 225 pages ( excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, Biography and Index). For example, when she writes: ”Whatever the scale of relations, being is always already being ”with” – ”we are pressed, pressed on each other” – and one effort of the poetry is to discover meaningful unity within this condition of proximity, for ”we have chosen the meaning /of being numerous;” are we to readily agree?

What does the authoress essentially mean when she writes of ”meaningful unity”?
As for the ”condition of proximity,”this surely differs in relation to each and every varying circumstance?

I have to confess to initially being drawn to The Plural of Us – Poetry and Community in Auden and Others, largely due to the Auden in the title. For along with Eliot and both Dylans’, Auden is for me, the quintessential poet of the twentieth century.

As such, I was inquisitive to embrace the rather scientific formality of the subject matter ([…] some poetry seeks to harness the rhetorical power of the first-person plural to posit and promote community, often where there is social fragmentation. It can also alert us, intentionally or not, to the pronoun’s dangers and exclusions […]), within the context, or at least within the realm of the Auden trajectory.

Rather like Costello herself: ”He is perhaps the preeminent modern poet for thinking about groups and group organization, intuitively and in the abstract, but he is he rarely fixed to a particular theory or ideology for long. He is the poet of ”private faces in public places,” and of ”private stuff”and ”public spirit,” interested in the tensions and continuities between our intimate lives and our historical relations. He loves theories and doctrines, sometimes to the detriment of his verse, and passes through them like the pages of a calender, but the questions remain the same, and give coherence to the process. He is a writer not only interested to think about but interesting to think with, in part because he is always thinking, always changing position and genre.”

One could readily assert that it was said change that enabled Auden to remain at the vanguard of true poetic thinking.
Even to this day.
All the more so I’d have thought, simply because he did wrestle with (and love) theories and doctrines. Even if he did pass ”through them like the pages of a calender.”

That Bonnie Costello substantiates the fact that Auden was ”a writer not only interested to think about but interesting to think with,” accounts for much this book’s adherent allegiance to that of deciphering what its title suggests.

As not once does Costello remotely deviate or straddle off course.

There again, she appears to understand Auden all too well: ”As a ventriloquizing poet, always playing us back to ourselves so that we may hear what we mean, he is highly sensitive to the many postures and tonalities that can arise in the use of the first-person plural.”

In and of itself therefore, many could readily assert that this book is something of a first within its field; or, as Jahan Ramazani, the author of Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres, has since written: ”Bonnie Costello’s exquisite book brilliantly explores how Auden and other poets use the first-person plural to conjure collectivities into being even as they also unsettle them. Her rigorous and commanding reflections on the pronoun ‘we,’ her luminous close readings, her deep knowledge of lyric poetry, and her nuanced yet cogent arguments make this book a model of literary criticism.”

As the title The Plural of Us might suggest, this book circumnavigates the plurality of humanistic value in such a way that sheds new light on an oft, far too forgotten subject.

David Marx

Radioactive Starlings

Hardy

Radioactive Starlings
By Myronn Hardy
Princeton University Press – £14.95

Like most art, poetry is obviously subjective to personal taste, provision and persuasion.

As such, to all literary intent and home’n’dry poetic purposes, Radioactive Starlings is, to my mind at least, fundamentally governed by one sensational poem: ‘But I Must Forget;’ while much of the remainder suffer from being far too esoteric (therefore, frustratingly closed) for their own good.

In the words of Khaled Mattawa (author of Tocqueville: Poems), Myronn Hardy ”is a citizen of worlds, including the North Africa where he lives and the America where he was born.”

Hmm, that the twain don’t particularly meet or see eye to eye – Lord knows the deplorable Donald Trump has intrinsically put paid to that – really ought not hold any influential sway amid the reading of these fifty-seven poems. But it somehow does; especially within the sphere of that which is neither North Africa nor America. Admittedly, this may be partially due to me not being especially well versed in the daily happenings and goings on in North Africa.

The US meanwhile, is clearly a different matter altogether – for all the wrong reasons might I add. So when Hardy ends his poem ‘The Inescapable Escape’ with the lines:

Know that kind
of defeat that horrific clarity.
The women begin to sing.

he was either inadvertently psychic, or so acutely up-to-date so far as the direction of where Washington politics were/are heading (especially given the many, many thousands of women who marched in protest of Trump’s wholly unethical administration – if such it can be called – last the weekend), that ”horrific clarity” equates with something of a perverse, yet current-day, malignant mantra.

And when such thinking is invariably placed alongside the aforementioned ‘But I Must Forget,’ there’s a whole lot of unforeseen depth to contend with. Indeed, right from the the very outset:

I must travel to a paradise of ashes,
walk among its hidden trees.- Adonis

Although it’s within the actual body of the text itself, where the many variegated particles of political poetry reins home:

[…]They ascend to smoking
towers but still gaze the piles
of themselves the cinders of civilization.
To be civil means to be at peace.
But peace is processed through its opposite.

The mere fact that Hardy claims peace itself, can genuinely be processed; may lend a glimmer of hope to that of a mighty dangerous, contentious world. That he then goes on to assert that ”peace” can only be processed ”through its opposite,” substantiates said potential for hope; but surely, only by way dialogue and dare I say it, intelligence?

Neither of which the odious Donald Trump for one (leader of the Free World!) is capable of understanding.

Let alone embracing:

rather like said poem’s penultimate line:
like them dead in churches?

David Marx

 

She Who Pays The Piper

sue

She Who Pays The Piper
Sue Kindon
Three Drops Press – £5.99

From such considered clarity as ”gathered on unhallowed ground” (‘Just Short Of Midsummer’) to the idiosyncratic, yet variegated romance of ”frog prince promises” (Three Promises’), there’s a pronounced equilibrium of harlequin density that allineate the twenty-three poems of She Who Pays The Piper.
All of which are aligned with a most profound sense of wonderment.
Of place

And of course, invention.

Whether influenced by her native Westmorland in the UK, or inspired by the regal serenity of her adopted home in the Ariege region of south-western France, Sue Kindon shoots from the heart (rather than the hip) and equates beauty with inevitable grit (rather than saccharine folly).

To be sure, Kindon writes with all the sparkling finesse of someone who clearly knows and understands their craft – as if second nature.
As if there were no second choice.
No-where is this more noteable than in the book’s second poem ‘Long Meg and her Daughters;’ where such a literal constellation as ”Udders splayed like bagpipes. Meg’s in her wellies at the churn of dawn,” is enough to beckon the most cynical of taciturn matrons unto further investigation:

Another time they’re a constellation: shining sisters in a looking-glass
a necklace of whispered secrets giggling until they snap over a knitting needle.
Mother Meg wipes grainy hands on her apron sweeps up the spilt beads of cup-and-ring storm.

[…].

There are full-on nights when menstrual tides run high her harem inconsolable without a master
the ache of granite in a chaste brothel. Somehow their Madam Superior
she who podded them without intervention keeps them ruly.

Suffice to say, Kindon enables to keeps both us, as mere onlookers, and ”them” as ”shining sisters,” very demonstrably ruly indeed.

If such a line as: ”a necklace of whispered secrets giggling until they snap over a knitting needle” won’t evoke a certain, seething, high-octane, potential permissiveness; as perhaps subscribed to by the ideologically risible likes of a pent-up, funked-up Jane Austin – then I don’t know what (ever) will

There again, such poetic, social rabble aside, ”the ache of granite in a chaste brothel,” invariably sets the record straight – as if (once again) second nature.

To underline such reflective continuity, the inevitable outcome is further brought to bear when Kindon writes:

Princesses succumbing to the sleep of centuries.

before (invariably?) bequeathing the innocent bystander with the magnitude of a biological thunderbolt:

She dreams of the granddaughters she’ll never have whole moonscapes of ’em.

To suggest that the outcome of ‘Long Meg and her Daughters’ is capable of stopping one in one’s tracks, would be something of a veiled understatement.

If nothing else, it, along with She Who Pays The Piper as a whole, ought to be considered as nothing short of a sparkling template, from which Sue Kindon ought to embark on a v-a-s-t continuation of further poetic onslaught.

And then some.

David Marx

The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries

hand

The Princeton Handbook of World of Poetries
By Roland Greene and Stephen Cushman
Princeton University Press – £27.95

Where to literally begin with regards reviewing this veritable tomb of a reference book, is anyone’s guess. With over a million words and more than one thousand entries, this latest edition of The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries may well evolve into becoming the most important reference book in anyone’s library; serious writers, novelists, short story tellers and those with a penchant for world language and poetry in particular.

Replete with a comprehensive synthesis of fully explained, requisite biographies and movements – and I’m not just talking the Confessional Poetry of say the ever great Allen Ginsberg, whose naked brilliance in Howl ‘’I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn,looking for an angry fix’’ (page 580); but also countless other explanations, such as the historical background behind that of a more dense approach like French Prosody, which, ‘’from the 16th to the 19th c., certain poets (i.e. the vers measures a l’antique) based on differences in syllabic duration […] failed because this system was too complicated and too unlike the established one (pages 203 – 206).

As a result, I’m hard pressed to think of anything remotely comparative; which, in and of itself, goes some way in partially substantiating why I wholeheartedly agree with the ringing endorsement of Classical Journal – who refer to these 693 pages as ‘’a reference work of distinction which all who work in the field of literary studies will find extremely useful if not, indeed, indispensable.’’

From the very first entry of African Poetry (‘’With the end of the colonial period and the advance of literacy and higher education in Africa came a rapid efflorescence of Af. poetry written in Eng […] ’’) to the very last entry of Zulu Poetry (which, apart from being broken down into the three sections of Verse Structure, Early Zulu Poets and Post-Apartheid Era; informs us that: ‘’Zulu traditional poems, esp. praise poems, are composed in lines that are based on the stresses resulting from the meaning of the line and its natural and punctuated pauses. Intonation is important in Zulu praise poems because Zulu is a tonal lang., like most Af. Langs., and it is difficult to apply to Eng.’’); there’s a regal realisation, along with a quintessential understanding, that we are in good, reliable and erudite hands.

With more than 165 authoritative entries, which expand upon recent developments in poetries (including cognitive poetics, electronic poetry and poetry slams) an array of movements (everything from Sumerian to Sanskrit to Slavic)) and related topics; this mighty reference book also contains an exceedingly broad international coverage – including articles on the poetries of more than one hundred and ten nations, languages and regions (such as English, Scottish, Welsh, Celtic and Cornish poetry).

Furthermore, there is expanded upon coverage of the poetry from non-Western, developing worlds, which, apart from the very brief example given above, includes further African poetry, along with numerous works from Latin America, East and South Asia as well as Eastern European nations.

All, or at least most of which, is aligned with considerable cross-referencing. The latter of which is particularly pertinent in relation to the numerous updated biographies.

Ever since its first publication, The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries has oft been referred to as the ultimate, authoritative reference with regards the study of world poetry. With its menagerie of terms, concepts, schools, movements and international tradition(s), contained herein is an almost one-of-kind reference book.

It’s so good – it makes for interesting and stimulating reading in its own right; and there really aren’t many reference books one can say that about!

David Marx

From Small Beginnings

notyeats

From Small Beginnings –
A stage in the poet’s progress – from song to stanza
By Sean Notyeats
The Book Guild Ltd – £7.99

We discover so much about the world
And learn so little about ourselves
History only lasts as long as the eldest take to die
Then versions of history proliferate
We use the version that best suits our purpose
Generations repeat mistakes of their fore-fathers
Data mushrooms, more facts bring less clarity
More reason to see things as we want to see them

(‘Mirror Mirror’)

A catharsis, a clarification; to finally stumble upon a poet who’s more politically correct than an entire platoon of annoying hypocrites, who merely purport to know all by simply subscribing to anaesthetized political correctness itself.
You know the sort:
So-called social workers with about as much compassion as Donald Trump.
Wailing tarts with as much singing finesse as a viper with migraine.
Smiling insurance-men with both eyes on nothing other than their end of year bonus.

The risks and rewards were even higher

A one-year contract, bonus high
Your value now could reach the sky
But in a year you could be a pariah

(‘Two Can Play At That Game’)

The list is both relatively and unfortunately endless, which, from a political perspective, From Small Beginnings – A stage in the poet’s progress – from song to stanza, wholeheartedly addresses full-on. Traversing an entire gambit of modern-day topics from around the world – with a particular focus on Europe – the book includes such far reaching themes as politics, death and sex (Nick Cave would have a field day…).

Indeed, this collection of sixty poems by Sean Notyeats, surely a made up name?, is the result of a two-year period of experimental efforts, where song was the initial kernel of endeavour. As the above opening lines substantiate, there’s a huge emphasis throughout these pages that addresses warped and mixed messages. A feature, which is hugely responsible for the current day array of lunatics, who have not only taken over the asylum, but are both running and ruining the world as they see fit:

As data grows we remember less
Attentions span is constant
While media proliferates
Technology breeds celebrity
What was that poem about?

(‘More is Less?’)

Along with just some of the aforementioned, there are such engaging poems as ‘Hiss Tory In The Making,’ The Day Big Ian Died’ and ‘The Mirage of America,’ that in all, assures From Small Beginnings is, if nothing else, an entertaining read.

The only thing I would say, is that one cannot help but veer more to what is actually being said, rather than the actual form of poetry itself.

That said, maybe this was/is the intention?

David Marx

The Thinking Eye

eye

The Thinking Eye
By Jennifer Atkinson
Parlor Press – $14.00

This is Jennifer Atkinson’s fifth collection, and once again, it address some of the inadvertent addressing of life itself. As if we never knew she’d all embrace – but kinda knew all along…

Divided into three sections, these thirty-three poems traverse the everyday syntax of our ever (re)evolving world in such a way that one needs to stand back.
Even if just momentarily.
Even if just to re-read some of the words contained herein.

For instance, some of the intense imagery in the poem ‘Landscape with Goat’s Eye,’ wherein the poetess writes of:

”Past temples and tea stalls, pilgrims and tourists”

ought to surely provide a moment’s solace (regardless of how fleeting)? While the very next poem ‘Drawn from Memory,’ is as potent as it is poetic as it is profoundly honest:

A thousand lit
distinct moments, caught
each one like a raindrop on a thorn,

[…]

A subway car
jammed with bodies, none talking,
all seething with plans and complaints,
after-work weariness, longing,
or sly pleasure in contact?

So many of us, each sealed in a separate skin.

Was it not Lorca who talked of having to harm oneself in order to grasp the truth?

Atkinson may not traverse the same sort of poetic grit as someone like Patti Smith, but The Thinking Eye, along with assorted poems throughout her previous collections (The Dogwood Tree, The Drowned City, Drift Ice and Canticle of the Night Path), does nevertheless warrant acute investigation. Continue reading