Category Archives: Poetry

She Who Pays The Piper

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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

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The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries

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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

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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

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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

Scaffolding – Poems

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Scaffolding – Poems
By Elena Rivera
Princeton University Press – £13.95

tenderness passes by like mists in one’s head

                                                        (‘Nov. 24th (Finished Aug 3rd)

When I first stumbled upon the title of a book called Scaffolding, I have to admit to having my curiosity mighty piqued.

As the author of The Laughter of the Sphinx, Michael Palmer has since said, the book: ”represents a vibrant, exploratory addition to the venerable and diverse New York tradition of ‘city sonnets.”’ Although to what degree these eighty-two sonnets are wholly representative of one of the world’s greatest cities, is clearly paramount to readers objective, if not initial analysis and thought process of what New York fundamentally means.

It is in fact, polar to being: ”not ready to listen to one’s own nothing, ” the most grounded, albeit opaque sixth line of the poem ‘Dec. 4th (Revised N.D.).’

There again, it is some of this collection’s prime simplicity that tends to perhaps inadvertently home in the most. With such lines as:

”And when you least expect it it all comes back
I’m at a window elated by the sky
the moment where lights branched out and I was small”
(my italics)

and:

””by the fall of a shadow across the ground”
The ”pollution tolerant” Lindens and Oaks
witness our delusion, we work in the dark
(again, my italics)

one cannot help but feel lured in by something other – only to find that what ever that otherness is or was, punctuated by something we may have subliminally known all along. A poetic quality, which, for better or for worse, is what a certain amount of poetry is all about anyway.

That almost all of the poems are titled by date, eventually gets a tad wearing after a while; even if only from a premise of wanting a different vision from which to embark.

As is, these ”city sonnets” lean towards being far too mathematical – which to my mind at least, is a b-i-g shame. Reason being, some of Elena Rivera’s patterned randomness is truly beguiling:

”Clearly the idea of fairness was a sham
The failure of not being able to see

and most blindness turn to imitation not
being, the real fiction needs an audience”

The ‘real fiction’ does indeed need ”an audience,” and here’s hoping Rivera’s grows as a result hereof.

David Marx

C.K. Williams on Whitman

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C.K. Williams on Whitman
Princeton University Press

But which of us isn’t a similar jerry-built motion machine? Which of us doesn’t sometimes feel that we’re weird pop-ups of impulses, ambitions, desires, and dreams? But we don’t live in poems, even those of us who are poets; unlike Whitman, we plunge into our poems, but then we emerge: we are the makers of our poems – Whitman’s poems made him; he existed in them in a way he existed nowhere else.

Whether Marc Chagall or Jimi Hendrix. Sylvia Plath or Tom Waits – ought not a similar persuasion be applied to most true artists who essentially live both inside of and with their art? It’s hard to think of any of these artists, including Walt Whitman, in any other way, which, to varying degrees, is exactly what this fine little pocket book addresses.

That C.K. Williams on Whitman is deeply entrenched within the parameters of (fine) poetry, most certainly helps it along its way; and is therefore, all the more readable for it. As Robert Pinsky has written: ”This is the exuberant, true book of a poet, of two poets: a personal, illuminating, and beautiful demonstration of the truest reading.”

That it most definitely is.

From such musicality as:

The carnival of sleighs, the clinking and
shouted jokes and pelts of snowball…

to such colourful and kaleidoscopic revelation as: ”Just reading it, the brilliance of the moments of inspiration are like raw synaptic explosions, like flashbulbs going off in the brain, in the mind: pop, pop, pop. The images, the ideas, the visions, the insights, the proclamations, the stacks of brilliant verbal conjunctions, the musical inventiveness and uniqueness: one after the other, again and again, in a form that reveals them naked, unmodulated, undimmed by any apparent resort to the traditional resources of poetic artfulness.”

Phew., as a lover of poetry and the occasional analysis thereof: what more could one ask for?

David Marx

The Essential Goethe

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The Essential Goethe
Edited by Matthew Bell
Princeton University Press – £27.95

He was committed to empirical observation, but he disliked the mental and physical apparatus that accompanied science: contrived experimental conditions, doctrinaire theoretical models, and arid mathematical methods, as he saw them. His allergy to the formal scientific method limited his progress but also inspired some of his more interesting ideas.

The above, rather like much of this inviting and at times, complex anthology of one of Europe’s most influential thinkers and writers, reads like a modern day assimilation of the most acute comprehension. It’s as if Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, perhaps the most profound artist of the German Romantic period, were waxing lyrical only yesterday – for such is the translation, not to mention the interpretation of (t)his vast body of work.

And what an unquestionably vast, cohesive and pertinent body of work it continues to remain. As given its sheer dexterity and enormity, is what fundamentally accounts for the work itself successfully alluding to the fact that The Essential Goethe is a one-off.

A one-off, definitive representation like no other.

One of the prime reasons being, it provides English language readers with easier access than ever before, to the widest range of work by ”one of the greatest writers in world history.” Amid these 1007 pages, Goethe’s work as a poet, a playwright, a novelist and an autobiographer, is more than confidently and comprehensively revisited by Matthew Bell – himself a Professor of German and Comparative Literature at King’s College, London, whose previous books include Goethe’s Naturalistic Anthropology and Melancholia: The Western Malady.

As he has written in the book’s Introduction: ” The volume has been produced first and foremost with the general reader in mind, though we hope it will also prove useful for students of European and comparative literature, where Goethe is an important but often inaccessible figure. Readers will find many of Goethe’s canonical works here.”

Indeed, from ‘Selected Poems’ to the Shakespearianesque Egmont (translated by Michael Hamburger), from Faust. A Tragedy (translated by John R. Williams) to the second of Goethe’s novels, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; from ‘On Literature and Art’ (which includes ‘Shakespeare: A Tribute (1771),’ ‘Simple Imitation, Manner, Style (1789),’ ‘Response to a Literary Rabble-Rouser (1795),’ ‘Winckelmann and His Age (1805)’) to ‘On Philosophy and Science’ (which among others, includes ‘A ‘Study on Spinoza (c. 1785),’ ‘Observation on Morphology in General (c. 1795),’ ‘The Influence of Modern Philosophy (1817),’ ‘Colours in the Sky (1817-20),’ ‘Problems (1823),’ ‘Analysis and Synthesis (c. 1829)’ and ‘A More Intense Chemical Activity in Primordial Matter (1826)’); this utterly breath-taking appreciation, can only be described as something to behold, appreciate and what’s more, be inspired by.

Where else might one read: ”For all that he abhorred chaos, he knew it could be creative. For an opponent of the revolution, he invested a remarkable amount of creative energy into trying to come to terms with it. What alienated Goethe most from his fellow Germans was the advent of Napoleon, whom Goethe admired and the young generation of German nationalists demonized. But Goethe had long since abandoned any thoughts of German nationhood or even a unified national culture. After Italy, Europe and the wider world mattered more to him.”

Whether ‘drunk on exaltation’ or ‘brimming [with] tears’ amid ‘the mordant storm,’ the Frankfurt-Am-Main born Goethe, was a both a poet and a philosopher of pristine brilliance and, given the era, urgency; a facet I believe the opening quote of this review rather substantiates.

There again: ”Like his father, Goethe took academic study and scholarship very seriously, and both were avid art collectors. Goethe was well read in art history and aesthetics, philosophy, theology, and science. He firmly believed that any creative work, even the very direct and life-orientated poetry that is one of his hallmarks, had to be informed by ideas from these fields; in this broad sense he was a determinedly philosophical writer. This is the Goethe whom the reader will meet in these pages: a lover, a thinker, a scholar, a practical man, a controversialist, a writer of very diverse moods and urges.”

David Marx