Monthly Archives: August 2009

Sarah Hills’ Floral Planet

 
“Our response to the world is essentially one of wonder, of confronting the mysterious with a sense, not of being small, or insignificant, but of being part of a rich and complex narrative.”

- John Burnside

Sarah's flowers.a
 
Sarah's flowers.b
 
Sarah's flowers.c
 
Sarah's flowers.d
 
Sarah's flowers.e
 
Sarah's flowers.f
 
Sarah's flowers.g

Siriol Troup’s Beneath the Rime

  
 
The Final Stretch
    
Having used dogs to haul their sledges over the pack ice towards the North Pole, Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen finally reached open water on August 6th 1895, with only two dogs left.
    
Lift your head from the snow, Kaifas,
this is the final stretch. One hundred
and forty-six days, over six hundred
miles on the ice. Tomorrow
at the glacier’s edge there will be open
water and the plash of little waves
against canvas. The sledges will fall
silent, the kayaks will dance like Samoyeds.
   
Bear blood on the wind, a wounded
bear-cub lowing in the distance, no cartridge
to spare for his pain. His wails track us
across the floe, a bitter requiem
for the fresh meat in our gut. Do you
remember, Kaifas, how this journey
began? The market at Berezov,
the stink of reindeer skins and brandy,
   
the Ostiaks in their reincalf caps
bartering for dogs? How far we have come
since then, following the twisted line
of lichen across the Urals
to the frozen lanes of this white world.
Forty we were at the beginning,
beautiful dogs, thick coats, pricked ears, bright
eyes, ready for anything. Now we are two,
   
Kaifas and Suggen, high-priest and thug,
waiting under the dark water-sky
while our masters wave their hats and celebrate
with chocolate. So many deaths, and I
have watched them all: the ones I barely knew
who strangled on their ropes; my brother
Gammelen taken by a bear; poor Job, poor
Fox, torn into pieces by the other dogs,
    
Livjaegeren felled by Johansen’s spear,
his skinned flesh thrown to us for supper;
Katta, Kvik, Baro, Klapperslangen,
Potifar … I have sat by their corpses
and waited for their souls to fly up
from this hostile land towards the forests
of Siberia where the earth is soft
and wolves howl louder than the Arctic wind.
    
Now we have served our purpose. See, Kaifas,
how the sky fills with birds – little auks,
skuas, kittiwakes, fulmars, ivory gulls,
terns tacking through the mist like prayers.
Bear-breath puckers the snow-drifts, the air
is brackish with seal-fume. We face
each other’s masters, they cannot face
their own. Two shots – two easy deaths –
   
but who will watch our corpses on this last
sheet of floating ice while they set off
in their swift kayaks, paddling towards the land?
   
   
 
Wall
   
All evening there were rumblings: my father
sweating in black tie, my mother snared
in a cocktail frock that swished like a fan.
Even the garden ants were playing up,
pouring from cracks in the lawn
with rustling wings pinned to their metal backs.
  
I put on my new petticoat and climbed
over our fence into the wood. A bristling
of needles, the chill of pine; arrows carved
in the bark, leaking a sour grey sap.
I knew I must follow the signs or be bundled
into the oven, eaten by witches, trapped
  
forever in the fairy-tale. But it was hard to keep
my head while night-owls thrummed like tanks
and waves of thunder boomed through the dark
like guns. My feet were numb, my hem was ripped,
the bread behind me on the path blew away
where it fell, a gust of silver crumbs.
  
We woke next day to road blocks and barbed wire,
a twitching of commentators and politicians.
No one had planned to build a wall, they said,
though it was obvious to any child
that wolves had turned at dawn into Alsatians,
masking their snarls and growls with doggy smiles.
  
  
  
Published in Beneath the Rime (Shearsman Books, 2009).
     
Read more about Siriol and Beneath the Rime here.
   
Order Beneath the Rime.
   
Read ‘Willow Pattern’ at Carrie Etter’s blog.
  
Read ‘Flint, Rime, Paint: An Interview with Siriol Troup’ at
Andrew Philip’s blog, Tonguefire.
   
Read more of Siriol’s poems at poetry pf and The Poem.

Claire Crowther’s The Clockwork Gift

   
    
Abuelita
   
Praise to the grandmother high on a balcony.
Its wearied fencing shuts space into miles.
She scrubs a coconut shell.
Pours dirty water over a herb pot.
Dust from black deposits under her feet blow
towards a terracotta emperor astride
a vent rattling out hot air.
She varnishes her hundredth soap dish
while seven floors below, white van roofs
lie like water lilies and glittering gems
of cars are packed with crystalline couples.
 
I praise the turret she hangs on.
Gardenless, it humbles the low villas,
the opal-crusted scarab beetles on wheels.
  
  
 
Outside the Beauty School
   
Twilight Hour for Senior Customers.
The trees turn, in a May
that pulls their branches gently inside out,
and paints charcoal bark with green polish.
 
While trees think they’re not trunk-stopped
on one spot, it is as good a season as any
for wings to pulse, swollen reddish-pink;
for a heart to rise to it, float up and beat in the wind.
  
  
 
Published in The Clockwork Gift (Shearsman Books, 2009).
  
Read more about Claire and The Clockwork Gift here.
   
Order The Clockwork Gift.
   
Visit Claire’s website.
   
Read ‘Petra Genetrix’ on Carrie Etter’s blog.
   
Read Rob A. Mackenzie’s review at Surroundings.
   
Read Sophie Mayer’s review at Delirium’s Library.

Jacqueline Saphra’s ‘The Dark Art’

 

 
     
The Dark Art
Jacqueline Saphra

  
I once knew a wife with rattling bones,
whose face was made of rice cakes
whose blood was made of consommé
whose skin was hard as eggshell.
There was no melting her.
Her child swallowed nothing
but greens and goat’s milk;
he was spindly and failed to thrive.
    
I once knew a wife, plump as a doughnut
with buttered hands and a floury lap
whose babies always wanted more.
Her sighs weighed heavy on the rolling pin,
her crusts were never tender,
there was fury in her kneading;
her loaves would take on air and multiply;
her children grew too fat.
    
I once knew a pitiless wife
who smelled of peach and salt
who warmed her skin like a caramel glaze.
She kept a secret book of recipes,
lured her husband with a calculated sauce,
then killed him slowly
with foie gras, double cream and hollandaise.
    
 
    
Visit Jacqueline’s website.
    
Order Jacqueline’s pamphlet, Rock’n’Roll Mamma (Flarestack Publishing, 2008).

Eavan Boland, from ‘Letter to a young woman poet’

  
“Occasionally I see myself, or the ghost of myself, in the places where I first became a poet. On the pavement just around Stephen’s Green for instance, with its wet trees and sharp railings. What I see is not an actual figure, but a sort of remembered loneliness. The poets I knew were not women: the women I knew were not poets.  The conversations I had, or wanted to have, were never complete.
  
Sometimes I think of how time might become magical:  How I might get out of the car even now and cross the road and stop that young woman and surprise her with the complete conversation she hardly knew she missed.  How I might stand there with her in the dusk, the way neighbours stand on their front steps before they go in to their respective houses for the night: half-talking and half-leaving.”
  
- Eavan Boland, from ‘Letter to a young woman poet’

Liz Gallagher’s The Wrong Miracle

 
   
Spring the Life Fandango
Liz Gallagher
 
I want something and there are twinges in my heart.
My heart twinges so badly that I fear the act of dropping
 
down dead before I get what I want. How is that for
momentum or for a god that has the sauciest way of telling
 
me that I have pushed the boat out too far, I have let
the boat land with a splash and a hoot and I am left in mid
 
ocean without a paddle – the paddle they had warned me
about, the paddle that takes on a life of its own and even beats
  
me over the head in my dreams to make me wake
up in the middle of the night with a bunch of hair stuck in my
  
mouth and my cat licking the back of my hand, frantically
reaching a high meter of lickability that says the big gong is
  
going to gong and tell me Time’s Up. I’d hoped to never want
something as badly as I want this – all the karma and jinxing
  
in the world could take it from me with one loose crack
of the whip. I could be sent marching the long way home
  
without the thing I want badly tucked up in my inside
pocket near my heart, no, on my heart, which now has stopped
  
twanging and is doing a la-la-la beat. It is not about wanting
to hold your hand nor about shaking all over, it’s about seeing
 
a tiny dream, like a foamy insole for a favourite winter
boot (a size too big), become something I can lay
myself on and spring, spring, spring the life fandango.
 
 
 
from The Wrong Miracle (Salt Publishing, 2009).
  
Read more about Liz and The Wrong Miracle here.
  
Visit Liz’s blog.

Scottish poet Rob A. Mackenzie interviewed on his De-Cabbage Yourself! tour

 
   
Rob A. Mackenzie was born and brought up in Glasgow.  He received a law degree from Aberdeen University and then abandoned the possibility of significant personal wealth by switching to theology at Edinburgh University.  He wrote over seven hundred songs and doubled on guitar and saxophone for cult art-rock bands Pure Television and Plastic Chicken.  Despite airplay on Radio Scotland and a rash of gigs in tiny Glasgow pubs, he failed miserably to achieve rock stardom.  He spent a year in Seoul, eight years in a Lanarkshire housing scheme, five years in Turin, and now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and daughter where he organises the Poetry at the Great Grog reading series by night and works as a Church of Scotland minister by day.  His pamphlet collection, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by HappenStance Press in 2005.  The Opposite of Cabbage was published this year by Salt Publishing .  His poems, articles and criticism have featured in many literary publications over the last decade or so.  He is an associate editor with Magma magazine. He blogs at Surroundings and at the Magma blog.
    
Rob, will you describe the Glasgow of your childhood?  What were the main social, political and cultural influences of your youth?
    
I lived in the south-west of the city.  Like most boys, I was a football fanatic.  My great uncle took me to games (I maybe won’t mention which team) and I played for my Boys Brigade team until I became a teenager and left the BB.  I was a chess fanatic and played for an under-18 team when I was 12.  I also learned the bagpipe and entered many competitions.  A big change took place when I turned 15 or so.  I dropped the bagpipe in favour of the guitar and started a band.  Glasgow briefly became the centre of everything that was happening in UK music during the 80s.  Indie pop music, particularly the jangly guitar variety, was vital to me.  I sat in my bedroom and listened to The Smiths, Orange Juice and Josef K.  I watched Woody Allen movies and read Graham Greene novels.  I guess I was typical of a certain type of teenager – the kind who wears black clothes and finds solace in Joy Division lyrics.  I might have had better fun hanging around outside the chip shop and going to parties, but it’s too late now.
 
You spent a year in Seoul.  Would you recount something of that experience?
       
It was a great experience, from 1989 to 1990.  I studied Korean liberation theology, taught English, and generally had a great time meeting people and travelling around a country many people would never think of going to.  I loved the food, the friendliness of the people, the clamour of the city, the maccoli houses (maccoli is a Korean alcoholic drink, made from rice, more like beer than wine) and the beauty of the countryside.  The country was a still a little unstable, despite 1988’s democratic election, and there were protests daily on the streets.  The college where I was studying was shut down for two months due to student unrest.  There was often tear gas in the air and I learned to carry a hanky around with me to cover my nose and eyes, just in case.  But people, especially young people, seemed positive about the future and were excited over the new freedoms.  They wanted to talk all the time about politics, the west, and Korean identity.  When I returned to Scotland, people seemed really jaded and cynical in comparison, and I often wonder whether Koreans have become similarly cynical over the last twenty years or not.
     
Later, you moved to Turin for five years.  Has living in other countries, among different cultures and languages, affected your writing and the way you see the world?  Has moving around the world been beneficial for you?
     
That’s hard to know.  I’ve enjoyed the experiences I’ve had living abroad.  It’s widened my social and cultural experience, helped me understand what it’s like to live as a foreigner, and introduced me to some great people.  It also, perhaps, gives me a particular perspective on Scotland.  I can look at how things are done here and compare it to other places.  I’ve no excuses when I’m small-minded.  Of course, there are strengths to living in the same place for an entire life as well.
 
You’re the organiser of Poetry at the Great Grog in Edinburgh.  Tell me about the history and some of the highlights of the reading series.  How does a Great Grog poetry evening unfold?
      
It began when Scottish poet, Roddy Lumsden, who lives in London, asked me to organise a venue for him to read in during a trip to Edinburgh.  I found the Great Grog Bar and decided afterwards that I could do it more often.  It’s now developed into a monthly series – three or four poets read each time.  The event has recently moved from the Great Grog to the Jekyll & Hyde Bar, which suits the readings better, and the event is now called ‘Poetry at the…’.  Poets read for 15 to 20 minutes with a short break after each reading.  There are no gimmicks, no bells and whistles – just quality poems.  As organiser, I wouldn’t want to pick out highlights.  I’m grateful to everyone who has read.  Really, there have been no poor readings at all and I hope that continues.
    
The Guardian is currently running a series called Writers’ Rooms.  Will you describe your creative space?
    
My office is chaotic.  I don’t have enough space on my bookcase.  Books and CDs are spread all over the place in no particular order.  In one corner is my computer, where I tend to write.  At another wall, there’s a desk, which is rarely free from clutter.  That’s dominated by my day job – notes, admin, forms to fill in, stuff I need to read for professional reasons.  Copies of The Opposite of Cabbage lie morosely in a box on the floor.  Pictures drawn by my seven-year-old daughter adorn the walls.  A naked bulb hangs from the ceiling.  There are no curtains or blinds at the window, which overlooks my neighbour’s garden.  As I write this, their washing is being soaked by a sudden downpour…
      
How transformative has fatherhood been for you?  Has it made you feel differently about yourself?  Has it changed your outlook on life?
    
I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate how much becoming a parent changes a life.  Everything begins to revolve around your children.  This is made more complicated for my wife and I because my daughter is autistic.  She is extremely intelligent, with unbelievable memory, sight, hearing etc, but she also has real difficulties, especially in social situations.  One thing I realised quickly was how few resources are directed to the condition compared to many other disabilities.  We spend a lot of time agitating for support and help, often being met with official indifference and excuses.  We get the feeling that countries such as Australia and (to an extent) the USA are far more geared up to deal with autism, although I could be wrong.
    
I don’t feel that children and young people are valued much in the UK at the best of times compared to, for example, Italy.  I doubt I would have been as aware of this if I hadn’t been a parent.  And is the UK the only country in the world where it’s actually cool to be apathetic?  I think that’s because deliberate apathy is only a short step from helplessness.  Having a child means I can’t afford to be apathetic.
      
Could you name a few of your favourite books?  Why are they important to you?
     
I’ll stick to five, otherwise I could go on forever.  Tomorrow, I’d probably choose different books.  In no particular order:
    
Harmonium by Wallace Stevens:  His debut collection from 1921.  It’s like a foundation for me when I come to write. Nothing has been easily won or thoughtlessly written.  I return to this collection periodically to remind myself what poetry can be.
    
The Truth of Poetry by Michael Hamburger:  on one level, an international overview of 20th century poetry but, on another, an uncompromising and visionary view of what poetry has been and could be.  Warning: this book may change the way you see every poem you read or write.
    
Black Sea by Neal Ascherson:  ostensibly a chronicle of the history, culture and people of the Black Sea region, this fascinating book delves into deep questions of human identity.  Ascherson shows how past events in this region resonate powerfully in the present day.  It’s also terrific writing.
    
Jesus and Judaism by E.P. Sanders:  I appreciate heavyweight, well written, impeccably researched theology, and this is one of the most interesting books I’ve read.  The book questions and revises received opinion but, unlike populist books on Christianity, knows what it’s talking about.
     
Selected Poems by Michael Hofmann:  can’t recommend this book of poems enough.  One of the best poets of the 20th century’s tail-end?  I think so.
     
*
     
Read more about The Opposite of Cabbage.
    
Visit Rob’s blog, Surroundings.
    
If you haven’t been following Rob’s book tour and want to catch up on his interviews, do check out his previous hosts.  
    
Rob’s next tour stop is Nic Sebastian’s Very Like A Whale on
10 August 2009.  See you there.