Monthly Archives: December 2012

Estuary: A Confluence of Art & Poetry

Estuary: A Confluence of Art & Poetry
Published by Moon and Mountain, 2012

Art Editor: Harriette Lawler
Poetry Editor: Agnes Marton
“An estuary is that part of the mouth or lower course of a river in which the river’s current meets the sea’s tide. An abundance of nutrient-rich food is found in this biome. Estuarine environments are among the most productive on earth, creating habitats for 1000s of species to live, feed, and reproduce. 26 artists and 57 poets from around the world have come together in this 120 page, full color book to create an estuary of images and words, art and poetry flowing together.”
Poets: Kathleen Jones, Pippa Little, Ágnes Lehóczky, Suzannah Evans, JP Reese, Ira Lightman, Leo Schulz, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Joshua Kam, Alex Pruteanu, Meg Tuite, Ruth Aylett, Kim Moore, Kevin Ridgeway, Ian Duhig, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Graham Burchell, Tiffany Anne Tondut, Mary Stone Dockery, Claire Trévien, Ameerah Arjanee, Karen Dennison, Tara Birch, Laura Kasischke, Rachel McGladdery, Kristine Ong Muslim, Ryan Van Winkle, Vera Pejovič, Dom Gabrielli, Rick Holland, Susan Keiser, Carolyn Srygley-Moore, Tricia McCallum, Pascale Petit, Noel Duffy, Anna Puhakka, Harry Owen, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Rose Aiello Morales, Yuyutsu Sharma, Antoine Cassar, Peycho Kanev, Robert Vaughan, Agnes Marton, Lisa Gordon, Linda Rose Parkes, Michelle McGrane, Abegail Morley, Kushal Poddar, Rowyda Amin, Lindsey Holland, Sonja Benskin Mesher, Zoë Brigley, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Traci Brimhall, Adrienne J. Odasso and Aad de Gids.
Artists: Véronique Brosset, Mark Erickson, Virginia Erdie, Pia B. Lehmann, Ilham Badreddine Mahfouz, Midori McCabe, Brad Michael Moore, Alberto D’Assumpção, Hego Goevert, Olga Dmytrenko, Neil Nieuwoudt, Goro Endow, Ljiljana Lazičić-Putnik, Constantin Severin, Michael Berry, Mohammad Bin Lamin, Katerina Dramitinou, Adrian Bayreuther, Mi-Sun Lee, Emmy Verschoor, Izabella Pavlushko, Mani Bour, Linaji, Harriette Lawler, Oralei Fauble and Juan Rodrigo Piedrahita.
‘Dusted Beans and Broken Beams’
by Mark Erickson
diptych, oil and acrylic on canvas
46 x 41 cm (left )
46 x 38 cm (right)
Zones of Convergence
Pippa Little
What washes up on different shores?
You walk with your camera, I walk with mine:
orange globes, nets and lines, hasps, rusted pulleys,

a child’s sandal warped and bleached, toys, bottle-tops,
soft drink cans and crab-legs’ bright enamel blue,
truck tyres and crockery and scatterings of coal,

sea glass and souls, bloated ships’ cats,
jellyfish and hag-stones, tampax applicators, drums and sleeves
kettles and car parts, cans of beans in Cyrillic alphabets …

‘it might be a boat, gathering the interest of gannets
who follow in her wake, rest on her prow,
might be small plastics, wrapped tight by a net

which comes to be a community of various fish, dolphins,
    even sharks’*
… they are gathering and gathering in spirals, like and unlike
finding each other, massing and accruing,

and the sea for all its muscle cannot swallow, rot them down
or spit them free, but must suffer them
as a bull its goads:

our seas are strange to one another
but in these mirror maps we make
Leviathan rises, knows our complicity.
* from ‘Convergences’, Jon Bonfiglio, Captain,

The Clipperton Project, Blog, March 2012.
Lit Out for the Territory 
‘Lit Out for the Territory’
by Mark Erickson
oil and acrylic on canvas
101 x 76 cm
Moving Out
Suzannah Evans
Before we left we took the fireworks from the attic
to Ynyslas to let them go on the dunes.

We stood close together, heard marram
scratch against its neighbours as sand

came into our shoes, warm
in memory of the day’s heat.

The last train clanked out across the estuary
red tail lights tracking the marsh.

Night sliced open blue and silver, and inside it
we saw water, Aberdyfi stacked on the hillside.

Then one taut voice said go
and we ran, five of us jumped

in the back of the Escort, shivering,
smelling gunpowder on each other’s hair.
‘Lost Playground’
by Pia B. Lehmann
toys, plaster, wood, sand, metal, and color on canvas
60 x 70 x 7 cm
Sand Dollar
JP Reese
Washed ashore, I am the coin

of mermaids in your palm.
Your eyes see only treasure,

not the measure of my end.
The sand moves, sculpted by wind.

Endings clarify, chasten.
Lifted from a suitcase, I am the memory

of sun slashed across a cheekbone,
wind-ruffled sea grass, the curl of foam

that spumes above green waves;
bonfires that sear the night sky,

a kiss from one whose footprints
disappeared beyond the dunes.

I am the arid bone of flowered stars.
‘Great Big Floating Hellcat in My Kitchen’
by Neil Nieuwoudt
mixed media collage on 200 gsm watercolor paper
55 x 65 cm
From the Plague Journal
Ian Duhig
I have been asked to write about our food.

I remember nights spent hulling ration-rice,
soya beans pressed dry before they got to us,
boiling black market sweetfish to hide their smell
from our Neighbourhood Monitor. We ate everything:
reed-root, pig-weed, tugwort, bar-weed –
these may not be the scientific names.
We smuggled grated radish and bracken-sprouts
past our Neighbourhood Monitor once he started fainting,
propped beneath his Government banderoles:
‘There’s Always Space to Plant a Pumpkin!’
‘The War is Only Just Beginning!’

Later, our food became medicine:
dried fig-grubs for the incontinence;
ant-lions in sake for the headaches;
leek-leaves and cucumber for the burns.
I sold my son’s thousand-stitch belt
for peaches and eggs which I mashed and strained,
mashed and strained. Still my children died,
the last little Tadashi, setting his weasel-traps
of bamboo and abalone shells round the pond
he’d stocked with a few, tiny carp fry.

That is all I remember about our food.
‘Patch Ponders Paradise’
by Michael Berry
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 cm
The Island Dog
Tricia McCallum
He is everyone’s,
Yet he is no one’s.
Vacationers arrive, discover him,
dote on him for two weeks,
then disappear.

He is their holiday project,
a story they’ll tell over dinner at home.
Some allow him in, to sleep at the foot of their beds,
to guard their front door,
Some even toy with the idea of a rescue,
Could we, should we? Shots? Papers?
Questions asked
with the exuberance of the relaxed and the happy,
but as the time to leave draws near,
reality encroaches, the idea stalls.

A new band takes their place.
The island dog waits,
knowing it will take only one,
one, to give him a name that won’t change,
one, to call it out in the dark
should he wander too far.
One, to call to him
and him alone:
Come home.
Journey Inside the Whale’
by Ilham Badreddine Mahfouz
acrylic on canvas
163 x 214 cm
Virginia’s Last Walk
Nuala Ní Chonchúir

The day collapsed on me:
there was nowhere to go
but full forward,
so my feet stepped on,
surer than I that
there was no way back.

I loaded the pockets
of my smock with
stone on grey stone,
and stood on the bank
smelling the river-stink,
watching the churn of weeds.

A wood-pigeon broke
from a high branch,
and I lifted my head
to the slap-flutter of wings,
the flash of a purple throat –
a momentary distraction.

I eased myself into the Ouse,
let its wet fingers mangle me,
and the weight of my dress
pull me down and down.
The river swallowed me,
closed in over my head.

The day had collapsed:
I had nowhere to go
but full, fast forward,
so my feet stepped on,
surer than I that
there was no way back.
from Estuary: A Confluence of Art & Poetry
(Moon and Mountain, 2012).
Visit Moon and Mountain’s website
Order Estuary (hardcover).

Order Estuary (softcover).

Aurélia Lassaque’s Solstice and Other Poems

Aurelia Lassaque 
Aurélia Lassaque is an Occitan and French poet. She is keenly interested in the relationship between poetry and music and has collaborated with musicians for numerous music and poetry shows. She has also collaborated creatively with various painters and visual artists for exhibitions in France, Italy and the United States. Her poems have been translated into English, Italian, Asturian, Basque, Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish, Turkish and Finnish for numerous journals and anthologies. She regularly takes part in international poetry festivals. In 2010 she was artistic director of the Festival of European and Mediterranean Minority Literatures (held in Italy). She is also a book reviewer for regional television and has dedicated her doctorate to Occitan baroque drama. Her Occitan collection, Solstice and Other Poems (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2012), is translated into English by James Thomas.
Solstice and Other Poems 
Solstice and Other Poems is the first major parallel Occitan–English publication of prize-winning Occitan and French poet Aurélia Lassaque.

In Solstice, the Call of Janus (Solstici, lo Bram de Janus), her most recent work, a woman (Bella, in the English version) arrives alone amongst a rural community on the eve of the summer solstice. As annual rituals are performed, she encounters the sensual forces of a universe that questions the fixed nature of temporal and earthly borders. Dawn of Wolves (L’Alba dels Lops) brings together nineteen other poems, highly-polished fragments of a powerfully-imagined world of surreal encounters and unresolved emotions. This volume confirms Aurélia Lassaque as one of the leading contemporary voices in Occitan literature.”
Fai freg dins mon anma
Es romantic e desuet.
Auriái presa la nau en Grècia.
A Santorin auriái limpat
Fins a la mar.
Auriái penjat mon lum
A la branca d’un olivièr.
E dins un ostal blanc
Auriái aimat de pescaires esperitals
E de monges desfrocats.
My soul is cold inside;
It’s quaint, romantic.
I would have boarded the boat in Greece.
At Santorini I’d have drifted
On the back of a mule
Right out to sea.
I would have hung up my light
On the branch of an olive tree.
Inside a whitewashed house
I’d have made love to divine fishermen
And defrocked monks.
Lo rei de seda saura
Engana l’aucelum e tuteja l’aura.
Quilhat dins l’èrba salvatja
A perdut sos uèlhs
Raubats a la vèsta d’un soldat.
Tres gojats son venguts
Qu’an escampat sas tripas pel sòl
Per i prene qualque dròlla mal pintrada.

Privat de son còs de seda saura,
Fa de sòmis descabestrats
Que desvarian los aucèls.
The king of golden silk
He ensnares birds and banters with the wind.
Pitched on wild grassland
He’s lost his eyes
Stolen from the coat of a soldier.
Three young lads came along
Scattered his guts on the ground
Where they laid a dishevelled girl.

Without his body of golden silk
The scarecrow
Dreams ungovernable dreams
That bewilder the birds.
As pres lo camin del país de nuèch.
Lo desèrt i es de gèl
E las estèlas se languisson.
Obris tos braces e cava,
La posca serà ton pan,
T’abeuraràn nòstras lagremas.
Vai, vai e t’entornes pas.
S’ausisses udolar la pèira,
Es que s’i gravan las letras de ton nom
You’ve chosen the path for the land of night.
The desert is made of ice there
And the stars die of boredom.
Stretch out your arms and dig,
Dust will be your bread,
You’ll swallow our tears.
Go now, go, and don’t return.
If you hear the stones wailing,
The letters of your name are being engraved.
Lo sòmi d’Orfèu
Dins los infèrns que los òmes
Son pas mai que d’ombras,
Me farai ombra al dedins de ton còs.

Bastirai de ciutats de sabla
Qu’agotaràn lo flum que degun ne tòrna.

Dansarem sus de torres que nòstres uèlhs veiràn pas.

Serai ta lenga trencada que sap pas mentir.

E maudirem l’amor que nos a perduts.
The Dream of Orpheus
In the Underworld, where men
Are nothing more than shades,
I’ll shadow myself within your body.

I’ll fashion cities of sand
That bleed dry the river of no return.

We’ll dance upon towers that our eyes cannot see.

I’ll be your severed tongue that tells no lies.

And we’ll curse the love that lost us.
from Solstice and Other Poems (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2012).

Order Solstice and Other Poems.

Read about Aurélia’s UK tour at Literature Across Frontiers.

Giles Goodland’s The Dumb Messengers

Giles Goodland 
Giles Goodland was born in Taunton, educated at the universities of Wales and California, took a D. Phil at Oxford and has published several books of poetry including A Spy in the House of Years (Leviathan, 2001), Capital (Salt, 2006) and What the Things Sang (Shearsman, 2009). The Dumb Messengers (Salt, 2012) is his sixth book. He works in Oxford as a lexicographer and lives in West London. In 2010, he won the 2010 Cardiff International Poetry Competition.

The Dumb Messengers 
The Dumb Messengers collects shorter and lyrical poems Goodland has written over the past ten years. During this period he started a family, and many of the poems reveal an attitude to life and language that has been profoundly influenced by the presence of children.

Goodland believes most language is a waste of time, a failure. Anything really new or meaningful that anyone has to say will probably be misunderstood or ignored.

For Goodland, poems are dumb messengers, unable to tell us what they need to say, even though they rush into our minds urgently. This book is about failed or lapsed communication, particularly between adults and children. It tells us a failed message is still a message and there is hope in that.

The dumb messengers of the title are also children. They come from the other world to tell us something, but instead we teach them language and, in consequence, they forget or become unable to tell us what the message was.”
“Giles Goodland makes nonsense of the old us-and-them tussle between experimental and mainstream that so occupied the poetry battles of the last decades with his poems that are variously lyric, or avant-garde, and sometimes both; often inflected with surrealist play, and an interest in formal constraints.”

– Todd Swift
“A poet with truly international appeal.”

– Michael Hulse
“Goodland is one of those rare writers whose mix of experimentation and play is … as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.”

– Steve Spence
“A world-class poet.”

– Peter Finch

Shush the syllabic drift, the white note
crumpling against. Shush the stone,
shush the whispering immense, shush.
You bruise easily, your long-unsinging
lungs fill with wind, bellow hearing.
My son asks me, can sea win
against sun? Shush, son, shush.

The sand prints with so many feet
that are not yours. Sea seethes and sieves,
speaks suspiciously of its past. Pours
its guts, hangs its washing out on you.
Layers statements with salt, grudgingly
obeys the moon, knows something of
nothing but also knows nothing.

Sifts rifts, ripples a stone’s seaweed-heavy
nipples and its lodged groins,
instils the sand’s standstill.
People print their backs with sun under
the stun of a light too heavy to lift.

What the sea tastes as it licks.
It froths forth, forces tongues, sings
she-shanties in its sea-chantry, sticks
the stung tongues that lied you,
when you were here with me. You were.

The sea swears it is so and it is.
There are things that you can’t
contradict, like the sand coved
between your toes, the fish in
the sway of because. Like the unturned
urn, return of sand, suspension of salt,
the loss of words, more, the loss of loss.
A meteorite the size of William Blake was
leafing across the sky
and some people mistook it for a meteorite
the size of Walt Whitman, but this was the result of
the meteorite the size of William Blake
fragmenting, its fingers spread
wide, its massive atoms experiencing air and what
hit the ground in a field of stubble
in a night full of hearing
was a meteorite the size of Emily Dickinson’s
eye, crying a last tear that
hissed in the soil as children came to retrieve it,
but they still heard its whisper:
it was saying that with the exception of everything
it could think of, you hardly even exist.
Signals died in the pulse
and the soil hardened against it, its
flames scratched up the clothes of
the children and started to ruin them.
They did not think to run or pat themselves free
they walked home in flames and their fingers
spoke flame and when they opened their mouths
there was flame and
their clothes were, their skin was
a bush of nerves trembling
toward long sleeps, into their ashes
they whistled and poked their
being fingers, dreaming these particles
apart but tied with
the rain’s unspeakable hands.
They branded the night
and all that they knew was enough to make
air strange with their tongues
their heads ran blood
and their minds ran on a head,
as their tongue’s pulps were rooting
the tips of the words, their blaze, their stream.
So many ways to come home,
all of them wrong.
Dragonflies glitter and are gone.

So many ways to make love,
all of them strange.
The body opens on its hinge.

So many kinds of hope,
all of them lost.
Even the fastest runner ended last.

The runner keeps running,
the lover loves on.
The dragonfly’s wings beat again,

and under the closed eye
we see through the skin, see,
in the near distance, the rain.
Pack your limbs, the word is small
that makes you, we must spend our
lives like moons. As father I act as
organ of the state, and you are
that ruined self from which
you make a sleeping gesture.
You push words, suffer from ancient dreams.

My finger moves inside your fist,
you watch spiders usher shadows over
the ceiling, dependent like them on such
thin stems as hand, as eye.
I hear the books singing inside.

Then the oblivious breath of sleep
as if the eared key for bleeding
in my hand turns, and the air hisses.
Nightly escapee from the cot,
end up beside us.

We heal the blanket over us
and from somewhere outside
an animal is still sobbing:
it so much wanted to be human.
Moon and little Nina
Daughter, booted, struck out of
stride by the dogs, bicycles,
the unattached sky.

The horses made honest sounds
and when we were gone they turned
and lied to each other.

You unfastened the puddles,
jumping from one splash to the next.
Your year-and-a-little-long arms spread
and the trees printed out leaves.

Birds were concerning the lake, or
among chiselled beech leaves waited,
compact as buds. A moorhen stitched
with needles of light. Cattle hinged
loosely. A spider was at the end

of its tether when you stopped,
at a loss to move.
You could hardly mistake
a ditch on which the moon

shone near a half-decomposed fox
where frogs copulated slowly
and you reached and pointed
past the growing and rotting trees

and said get me. Get me.
I’m thinking about that snake we swerved
from, in Spain, only last year, before we
disintegrated. It seemed unusually long
and the builder’s van behind
us tacked the other way, to crush it.
It had not been so much crossing the road
as using road as a medium, not moving
in the sense we apply to most animals:
almost swimming, and appearing
as a long straight stick will do
with a clear river rippling over it, seeing it
like this with just time while driving
to shout to the children who did
not break from their long squabble, Snake!
and by the time they said What? it was
dead under the wheel of the van
which had been trying to overtake us
but I had not noticed because the wheel
pulled my whole attention, numbed by
a too-early morning, a budget flight,
unfoldable pushchairs and unfolding arguments,
the turn-off into the mountains missed,
the map misread—which had to be someone’s fault—
although we had then at least a destination,
a stay against the always unavoidable
breaking apart, slow or otherwise,
that a family amounts to, over time.
from The Dumb Messengers (Salt Publishing, 2012).

Order The Dumb Messengers.

Emer Gillespie’s The Instinct Against Death

Emer Gillespie
Emer Gillespie began her career as an actress appearing in films such as Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover and on television in Chimera, Ultraviolet and Troubles. She began to write in her early thirties and has published two novels, Virtual Stranger, which was long-listed for the WH Smith first novel award and Five Dead Men. Emer has won or placed in several script competitions in the United Kingdom and the United States and last year she was awarded a Writers Development Award through Northern Ireland Screen and the BFI for her feature thriller, The Agreement. She was also selected for the Women in Film and Television Mentor Scheme, which runs throughout 2012. She is currently finishing a new novel set in Ireland in the 1970s and is also working towards an MA in Poetry and Translation at the University of Kent. Poetry has always been her main interest and private passion. Brought up in Belfast, Emer lives and works in London.
 The Instinct Against Death

The Instinct Against Death (Pindrop Press, 2012) is a book in two parts. The first section comprises a long poem, in the form of a dramatic monologue, which retells the Demeter myth. This is a form that Emer is well placed to write, understanding not only how to hold a reader’s attention, but also how to keep an audience spellbound. ‘Demeter’ is an astonishing achievement – Emer has taken the myth and retold it in a way that transcends time. The voice of Demeter is wholly believable and to sustain this through a poem of length is quite a feat. The sequence is especially successful when read aloud, which speaks to its origins in both myth and the epic/long poem. In the second half of the book, Emer has collected a series of powerful, fiercely honest poems, which write of the every day, the hearth, the heart, yet are infused with magic and myth.”
“Emer Gillespie is a writer for whom ‘the magical’ and ‘the real’ can be effortlessly, exquisitely blended, resulting in rich, psychologically complex, nuanced poetry. In the stunning opening sequence, using direct, energetic language, Gillespie re-imagines the story of Demeter’s search for her lost daughter, Persephone, both as a classical myth and as an agonised contemporary tale of loss, learning and redemption. Demeter’s pain is palpable, visceral, eternal. Throughout this collection, Gillespie examines, with unflinching clarity and a restless quest for personal honesty, motherhood, love and friendship, with all their complexities, contradictions, unspoken betrayals. Emer Gillespie is a courageous poet who deals in blood and sunlight, grief and birdsong.”

– Catherine Smith
“‘Whose loss brings darkness?” I have been hoping to see this book happen ever since Emer’s powerful and mesmerising performance of the opening dramatic monologue. As deceptively nonchalant in her contemporary spin on the ancients as Eavan Boland, she controls our attention in story and sonnet till we can in fact hear a pin drop.”

– Medbh McGuckian
from Demeter
For nine days and nine longer nights,
I searched everywhere.
In shopping malls I put up posters of my daughter,
‘Missing’. In Westfield, gangs of girls linked arms
and passed them by without looking.
The hive hummed on without her.
In ancient times the Minotaur was locked up
deep within the bowels of the Earth.
A winding maze, a Labyrinth,
designed by Daedalus, father of ambitious Icarus,
kept him in his place. The price?
Seven boys and seven girls brought to
satisfy his appetite for human flesh.
All know that Theseus defeated him.
The Minotaur is dead, but the Beast lives on.
This annual harvest of our girls –
year in, year out, it comes about;
no one knows who next or when.
At least in ancient times the victims
found some glory. Their plight, their sacrifice,
bought freedom for the rest.
Now we lose our perfect daughters one by one.
Each sordid story soils our whole society.
I knew someone had seen just her sex –
not my Persephone.
I thought of Helios and how that day
he couldn’t look me in the eye.
Hecate agreed to wait a while.
She hung low in the sky as the sun rose,
a perfect orb of white against the palest blue.
Stuck between the two of us, he could not hide.
Still he tried, covered his eyes with cumulus,
wrapped himself in thunder clouds –
their rumbling did not frighten me.
He swore he hadn’t lied.
I knew he hadn’t told the truth.
Such equivocation is deception by another name.
And so Erinys I became. Furious, I pulled back
the clouds he tried to hide behind, threw off my veil,
my golden hair the perfect match for his bright gaze.
He shied away, tried to ride on,
but I caught hold of his reins and the sun stopped.
‘Tell me Helios. Where is my child?’
I could hear Zeus pause,
sense Poseidon in his seven seas,
feel Hades lurking like some guilty child.
The earth wobbled to a halt,
people hid their heads in fear,
birds from each and every tree
flew alarmed into the air. But I did not care.
I would not be reconciled with more false words.
And so I learned that Hades had emerged
from deep within the underworld
and carried off my perfect girl.
Those boys, always a conspiracy of silence,
a tacit understanding that things will go their way.
I looked at Zeus, her father, and saw he was not bothered.
Why should he be? It wasn’t he who’d nurtured her.
Once more I asked for her return.
They all stood there, grey-suited, smiling smugly,
their judgement passed already behind closed doors.
I knew then what I had to do.
I would withdraw my labour; exercise that simple right.
In the story of the Snow Queen,
no one asks what shard of ice grew in her heart.
So this is what I now decreed,
‘As long as you keep my daughter from me,
so shall I keep the seed underground,
nothing in this world will grow.’
At first no one cared. I didn’t mind.
Time was on my side. I was used to being ignored.
For weeks, the trees flared a vivid warning.
It went unheeded. Exhausted,
they dropped their leaves to the ground.
Frantic birds ate what they could find,
squirrels hoarded nuts, but mankind
just carried on as they’d carried on before.
And then the food ran out.
Across the land came scenes of malnutrition
like those seen at a distance on the television,
coupled with a dreadful cold.
Hades, in the business of death,
needed to take on more staff,
his turnover increased exponentially.
He had no time for my Persephone.
Witch II
Me they would have hung,
led me up the stairs
to the trapdoor and the rope,
watched with eager eyes
as my neck snapped.

Me they would have pricked
to see if I could bleed,
searched for marks of concourse
with the devil,
marks left upon my skin
at birth, the proof of sin.

Me they would have swum,
thrown into the local pond
while all the village gathered round
to see if I would drown,
and if I did, perhaps one or two
would say, as final bubbles
broke the surface, that really
I was not that bad.

Or if I managed to survive,
take me sopping to a local tree
and string me up  –
sure now of my witchery.

Me they would have burned,
piled the green sticks in a pyre
to make the fire burn longer
and tied me to the stake,
told their daughters to look at me,
at how I scream and how I beg,
despite my hatred of them all,
told their daughters to look at me,
and learn from my mistakes.
Witch III
They threw me in. I held my tongue,
would give none of them the satisfaction,
felt the cold burn into me and the dank
slime of the pond, its putrefaction
a forewarning of the grave to come.
I let the water close above my head,
heard their jeering cease and let myself
sink down, my skirts a swirl of storm-tossed
leaves. I never thought the pond so deep.
Light lessened, vanished and the dark was
quiet. I let myself sink down, down,
came to rest among the silt and mud.
Down here was pillow soft.
I waited, breathed through gills
that had appeared. Two toads I knew
approached like cats, one to sit upon my lap,
one to stand guard and watch.
Far, far above, the sunlight was a distant
dream, of flower-filled meadows, human
cruelty. Night fell. The blacky depths
were velvet on my skin. It was time.
I stirred myself, floated up and broke
the surface, felt again the burning cold.
The air was strange to breathe.
Houses round about the pond
were shuttered tight. A few lights
burned but others had gone early
to bed that night, to put an end
to the day, for people do not always
say what they think when there’s a crowd
and this can gnaw away at them.
They only have themselves to blame.
I found the shallows, stood on firm ground
and dogs began to bark with fear.
To anyone who expresses outrage,
who wants to know why so and so
did such and such, how could they,
what were they thinking of, I say,
you haven’t understood. It’s easy.
They were beyond thinking.
They’d reached the point
where they thought nothing.
Instead of grinding over hurt and anger,
rehearsing conversations in his head,
plotting revenge, wishing things
could change, he’d taken the gun
and, without thought, pulled the trigger,
letting consequences take care of themselves.
She’d written the note, swallowed the pills
with a What the hell, not connecting each
of these actions with any genuine farewell.
That mother holding her daughter’s head
under water is not thinking of how hard the years
have been and how they stretch ahead,
she’s not registering her daughter’s
struggle, thinks of nothing other than
the bubbles, stays there, in just that place,
till they stop rising to the surface.
It takes more thought, effort, consideration
to keep the wheel in the middle of the road,
than to see the bend ahead and just let go.
from The Instinct Against Death (Pindrop Press, 2012).
Order The Instinct Against Death here, here or here.

Part Three: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bones Will Crow 
Bones Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne

with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman, Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye

Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel

Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
the burden of being bama
ko ko thett
it’s living on
sawdust and shrimp paste
to save for diamonds

it’s being a lustrous luna
in a bamboo tube
thinking ‘how dainty i am!’

it’s being a haystack fire
flaring suddenly
fading out swiftly

it’s aching for the aunt
from the embrace of the mother

what’s your key
majority in minor-c or minority in major-d
cease-fire in flat-b or cease-identity in sharp-g
give me a falsetto
let’s improvise
no need for harmony

what would you choose
want, rage or ignorance
defeatism or maldevelopment
an increase in viral load or a decrease in internet speed
sexual preoccupation or self-denial
power cuts or power crazes
a bag of rice or an ounce of democracy
myopic blitheness, escapist wizardry and alchemy
syncretisation of incompatibilities
internalisation of irreconcilabilities
the four noble truths
the four oaths ………
the menu is endless
the die’s been cast

your karma is you
life short
suffering tall
plenty of water
no fish, no fish at all
The Day (Before That Day)
The day before that day
A huntress held her breath
The day that annihilated itself
The day that dressed my wounds …

That day
With the cold-bloodedness of
A public executioner
Needed nerve to reconstruct itself …

That day
Of amnesia without special effects
Needed a genuine gasp for air
To purify its lungs …

That day
Could have been the moon jumping out
From the grim underside of clouds
That day
Could have been a ticket
For a journey that never began …

On that day
He switched off the song he’d been singing along to
I shelved the book I’d been reading
The nameless café bored him
And my aimless yacht anchored

In fact …
I achieved nothing
It was a day of horrid loss …
Horrifying disintegration …

In fact …
Uncertain were the days
The bitter days disfigured by experiments
They will never be resold
For the price I paid

In fact …
In life …
I was in the habit of abhorring

On that day
He mocked me
With the worst of words
I took all his barbs
And laughed them off

On the day before that day
Is it today
Is it really today?

The day before that day
I poisoned the arrowhead
That would shoot me down.
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
The Sniper
When you see them on a flag march
Repress your swelling bugs
No mortar shells, no hand grenade explosion
This battle must go on quietly
With a calm mind, in cold blood
With sharp shooting, trained hands
Hone your skills when the sun shines
Camouflage like a chameleon
Be immovable as a sleeper
Don’t blink, don’t doze off
Don’t miss your chance
If necessary, play dead
Don’t flinch, even if they walk all over you
Blame fate if they shoot you point-blank
To double-check you are dead
Life may end up in anticipation, in lethe
There isn’t much of a choice to make
For example …
Five enemies are approaching
Five bullets are all you have.
Translated by ko ko thett
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.

Part Two: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bones Will Crow


Bones Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne

with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman,  
Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye

Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel

Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
Sling Bag
Zeyar Lynn
Wherever he goes, in his sling bag
He carries his severed leg. If he has to shake hands,
He takes his severed leg out from the bag,
And touches it on the other person’s hand
As he says ‘Nice to meet you’
He must have gone through a lot of suffering
With that severed leg in his bag,
Though he still has his two legs intact.
When he needs reassurance, he’ll insert his right hand,
Like a dead hand, into the bag slung on his right shoulder,
To feel the sinews and greasy slime of the severed leg.
That’s how he recharges himself.
That’s how his pride is uplifted; his self-confidence restored.
The severed leg serves as his pillow when he sleeps.
The severed leg is placed on the dining table when he eats.
(Is he married? Let’s say he is.)
When he makes love to his wife,
The severed leg welds their two bodies together.
(Only then does he feel the hit, he says.)
The severed leg is his life, his past, his present and
His future, he says. ‘It’s truth’, he says.
‘It’s honesty’, he says.
‘It’s just him’, (says someone else).
Someone who claims to be a childhood friend.
He too always carries a sling bag.
Translated by ko ko thett & Vicky Bowman
the heat bearer
Maung Thein Zaw
in a not-so-new morning
in sunshine

i have been infatuated with
that fragrant little ear
of my dream

what a gusty wind

on my heart
a homeless crow is cawing
all my longings are in staccato
i have descended
like a melody who has sobbed herself out of tune
‘not really very special’ she says

the screechy
dry branch
soothes me in magada
not having found any cure under the waterfall

i build a tower
the height of my heart
and look out on the genesis of the world

the person who discovered fire happened to be me
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
Rose, 1985
Moe Zaw

At a certain café in New York City
If you happen to leaf through this page
The poem is dedicated to you,
Bold Rose, swelling with petals.

I have often taken
a stroll
On your burgundy lips
The humid breeze
Your tongue
Your teeth
How can I forget
The scent of grapes it carried.

As I combed your drenched hair
You laced up my jungle boots.
Shall we call it a predestined meeting
Between water drops of life?
Many wrongs have since occurred.

We didn’t love Hitler.
We loved Shakespeare.
We didn’t love Mussolini.
We loved Modigliani.
We didn’t love Stalin.
We loved Yushchenko.

Mr. Columbus!
I couldn’t have predicted her plight
How my Rose walked the American plank.

My fragrance of Shinmadaung thanaka,
Has just hurried
From Pazuntaung Yekyaw
To North America.

Will your itch be relieved
In the land of cowboys
Riding the world like a horse?
Will you be gazing
At the image
Of a sensitive boy
From a whisky glass?
What will you be doing
During the American holidays?
How will be greet
One another
Whenever we meet?

From beneath the tragacanth tree
My soul, like the feather of a paddy bird, is marching
Towards the native land of the Apaches
Towards the Wild West, wherever you are.
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.

Part One: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

 Bones Will Crow

Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne
with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman,
Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye
Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel
Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
“This collection is important because these poems are a splendid counter to the current scholars’ obsession with ‘cultural authenticity’ of national literatures. What we have got here is not so much just Burmese poetry as simply poetry (in the cosmopolitan sense) that happens to have been composed by the Burmese in their language. It shows that Burma is part of the world and significantly part of World Literary Culture. The fact that we have both the Burmese language originals and the English translations (which are really lovely and wonderfully free of the usual attempt to ‘Burmanise-Buddhacise’ the English) makes the collection not only enjoyable to readers anywhere, but also of serious importance to scholarship on Burmese literature.”

– FKL Chit Hlaing
Bones Will Crow is an illuminating account of real Burma narrated by uncensored and often deviant Burmese, who dare to dream and challenge the norms. Burma Studies scholars and literature fans often lament the lack of authentic Burmese voices in print, accessible to the world outside Burma. Bones Will Crow not only fills this gap but also presents the readers with a counter-narrative of ‘exotic’ Burma often associated with golden pagodas and smiling faces. Daily struggles under crony capitalism, confronting commercialisation of female bodies, an exile’s homesickness, issues Burmese grapple with leap out of the pages of this anthology. This anthology is a long overdue, much-welcomed addition to everyone interested in Burma and Burmese poetry.”

– Tharapi Than
About the editors

ko ko thett is a Burmese poet who writes in English. He translates Western poetry into Burmese, and he is working on his first full poetry collection, the burden of being burmese.
James Byrne’s
second poetry collection, Blood/Sugar, was published by Arc Publications in 2009. He edits The Wolf, an international poetry magazine, which has published various Burmese poets like Zeyar Lynn, Saw Wai and Zawgyi. In 2008, Byrne won the Treci Trg poetry festival prize in Serbia. His Selected Poems: The Vanishing House was published by Treci Trg (in a bilingual edition) in Belgrade. He is the co-editor of Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, an anthology of poets under 35, published by Bloodaxe in 2009, and he recently edited The Wolf: A Decade (Poems 2002-2012).
Desert Years
Tin Moe
a strand of grey hair
a decade gone

In those years
the honey wasn’t sweet
mushrooms wouldn’t sprout
farmlands were parched

The mist hung low
the skies were gloomy
Clouds of dust on the cart tracks
Acacia and creepers
and thorn-spiral blossoms
But it never rained
and when it did rain, it never poured

At the village front monastery
no bells rang
no music for the ear
no novice monks
no voices reading aloud
Only the old servant with a shaved head
sprawled among the posts

And the earth
like fruit too shy to emerge
without fruit
in shame and sorrow
glances at me
When will the tears change
and the bells ring sweet?
Translated by Maung Tha Noe & Christopher Merrill
My Island
Ma Ei
Singhala for Prince Wizaya
Saint Helena for Napoleon
Tahiti for Gauguin
The Isles of Belles for Maung Shin
The Coco Islands for a baby turtle.

An island is a landmass surrounded by water.
But what do you call a place surrounded by dukkha?
Amalgams of body and soul,
Angst and anguish, suffering, doubt and delusion,
Circled by an illusory life,
I keep on trying … Yes, trying so hard to stand upright.

It was me! I was such a handful,
Such a flirt, such a red.
I’ve had no reward, just fingers pointing.
Dying ain’t much of a living!
The lady is a crank.

I’m out of shape,
A sculpture chiselled by two masters,
Here’s a chipped ear …
there’s a cock-eyed eye.
(Let them be chipped and cock-eyed).

Diluted in water
After slurping curses down
I turn a new page,
But life is un-renewed.
Sometimes I sing ‘I Seek Retention Loss’.

Look …
To purify the soul
Firstly, don’t deceive yourself.
Secondly, don’t deceive others.
In the long run, lies grow legs.

How I hate to spit it out,
Some men are too featherweight,
The copulate with their own craft.
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
A Sun-ripened Song
Maung Chaw Nwe
Don’t chime in with
A definition of ‘the individual’
Just live within your own meaning
Just be sure
You’ve known defeat.

To punch a man
You need a strong lower jaw
When I land my fists on you
I maintain a good solid chin.

You are jawless
Yet your jabs keep raining on me
Mr. Truth
You are beyond the dhamma

What I hate most in this whole world is
That scumbag named Truth
Whose fat face is
Scarred with chicken pox.

In this life
You don’t need four, five, or six.
You only need two.
Just two, real love and
An authentic foe.

Maung San Aye, my friend,
Who has had to survive
By the smell of strangers
You need not install
Mercury lights in the town.
Towns are made of mercury.

There at Table No. 1 is
The man who lays down the law
Unerringly over his life.
Firmly seated there,
Isn’t Aung Cheimt, my pal,
A booming city?

Like Pompeii
Inundated with lava
The poet Phaw Way
Had once been a thriving city.

Who has lost
The whole earth?
Only they
Will get it back.

Maradona channelled
‘The Hand of God’
To score.
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.