Monthly Archives: April 2013

Jonathan Taylor’s Musicolepsy

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As well as his poetry collection, Musicolepsy (Shoestring Press, 2013), Jonathan Taylor is author of the novel Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), and the memoir Take Me Home: Parkinson’s, My Father, Myself (Granta Books, 2007). His short-story collection, Kontakte and Other Stories, will be published by Roman Books in mid-2013. He is editor of the anthology Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt, 2012).

Jonathan is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University in Leicester in the United Kingdom, and co-director of arts organisation and small publisher, Crystal Clear Creators. Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, he now lives in Leicestershire with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind.
     After Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia
At sixty, she woke into a non-stop Ode to Joy
and couldn’t switch off these L.P.-ish hallucinations,
playing at the wrong r.p.m.s, squeaking like a toy,
or yawningly slow, tired from incessant celebrations.

Beethoven stalked her like Pink Panther’s cloud
to Post Office, hairdresser’s, on the phone,
her nerve-deafness, once so quiet, now loud,
filled with O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!

G.P.s and consultants gave her E.E.G.s, M.R.I.s
that showed blossomings in the basal ganglia
up to the thalamocortical systems, musical lies
scored for chorus and full orchestra.

They put her on gabapentin, risperidone,
checked for cerebral aneurysms,
gave her quetiapine, prednisone,
an analyst tried therapy for narcissism,

but nothing worked, and she felt stampeded
by pressing Brotherhood, drunk from Nature’s wine,
recitatived, prestoed and allegro energicoed
into submission and marched into line.

Forced to ear-drink at the Brüsten der Natur,
she remembered nursing long ago
as a young girl: “You’re so mature,”
they’d said, but life had never felt so slow

before or after, when she’s tried returning
to college and its choir – no longer wanted:
“You’ll need time for grieving not learning,”
they’d said, meaning: forget life, get husbanded,

have another. But she’d thought she hadn’t
liked the first, till too late, Beethoven-haunted,
Joy’s timpani seemed more like a mallet,
the trumpets like tannoys, feedback-distorted;

and, as time went on, the ear assaults shortened,
no longer whole recitatives or verses, and soon
all that was left was Tochter and Götterfunken,
those sporano As, over and over again.

Still the music never reached its end,
the coda and As stretching to eternity,
as with Schumann, who was maddened
by that note, sirened by Angels into lunacy,

or those endless As in Shostakovich Five:
“You will rejoice, you will rejoice, you will rejoice,”
beating you with a Joy-stick till you’re barely alive,
and you know you do not have a choice.
Things Not to Talk About in Ante-Natal Classes:
A Simple Guide for Fathers-to-be
Caesareans, bleeding,

intensive care, depression,

because it’s a snyonym for pain, poetry,
religion in case one couple is evangelical,
Darwinism and certainly not the Fittest and Survival,
cosmology because everyone’ll think you’re eccentric,
politics, global economics, sex, race, films, music,

everything else.

If in doubt, sit behind your partner slightly
smiling redundantly, embarrassed mildly
by what your sperm has done.

Afterwards, take your partner by the hand,
help her to the car, close doors, central lock
and chatter together like a pair of puppet-socks
about anything you want.
The Critic As Baby
Watching my baby daughter turning
pages of Lost Puppy Finds a Home,
patiently, steadily,
as if she were Adenoid Hynkel
spinning the globe,
pointing where to strike next,
reminds me of my father toward the end
turning pages of a TV dinosaur book,
pictures upside-down,
monsters of the Cretaceous inverted,
hanging onto the world by talons,
Hebrew-like, world and history turning backward
from apocalyptic comet to T. Rex to protozoa,
turning, turning, back to world as lava,
then forward again to the end credits –

and it would be all too easy to see
such turning as mechanical echo of forgotten skill,
to see my daughter’s turning
as pre-echo of forgetting
before she can even remember,
too easy to criticise
when all we in-betweeners do is the same,
perhaps worse, in our turnings forward, backward,
our atomising Middlemarch and Pound,
just as I look up and find my daughter
shredding Lost Puppy, Eliot, dinosaurs
into an efflorescence of snowflakes,
an intertextual blizzard,
but with more pleasure,
and perhaps more beauty.
On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
my daughter is threatening to eat petals.

          On a sofa ten years ago
          my father keeps threatening the edge.

On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
my daughter keeps toddling to the petunias.

          In a living room ten years ago
          my father keeps shuffling to get up.

On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
I keep putting my wine down, getting up.

          In a living room ten years ago
          I keep groaning from the piano stool.

On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
I keep taking the petals from her hand.

          In a living room ten years ago
          I keep pulling him back: “Stay still.”

On a verandah in Cypriot high summer
I sit back down again, sip the wine.

          In a living room ten years ago
          I sit back down again, stroke a discord.

But on a verandah in Cypriot high summer
my daughter is trundling to a flower box.

          On a sofa ten years ago
          my father keeps threatening the edge …

… and I know I’ll have to put down my wine
          or leave the piano stool again, again,

and with inch by painful inch of toddling
          and shuffling and edging and threatening

comes that creeping horror
that the precipice of sofa ends
only in the Underworld,
that caring for someone
is Sisyphian in its circularity,
even Tantalusian, or at least
the seemingly endless repetition of the
cared-for almost getting the dangerous
or poisonous or self-harmful
thing he or she wants –
to eat rainbow petals,
to escape the safety of a sofa
for a potentially hip-breaking,
                              floor –

and you the carer are condemned
to be Hades,
forever taking away
what Tantalus thinks
Tantalus wants.
from Musicolepsy (Shoestring Press, 2013).

Order Musicolepsy here or here.

Visit Jonathan’s website.

Read three poems at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.

Sabotage Reviews and the Saboteur Awards

Saboteur Awards 
Sabotage Reviews and the Saboteur Awards

by Richard T. Watson
(with James Webster and Claire Trévien)
Sabotage Reviews started off modestly as a blog in May 2010 with reviews mostly by Claire Trévien, and has developed into to a website with three editors and a small but dedicated team of regular reviewers. Early Sabotage focused on small-scale published poetry, but in the last two years we’ve tried to expand on this by reviewing short story collections, zines, anthologies and novellas as well as published and performance poetry. Claire wanted Sabotage to be about more than her own tastes, which lie firmly in the world of poetry pamphlets and magazines, and so James Webster and Richard T. Watson joined as Performance and Fiction Editors, with their own varied interests.
It’s still very much a labour of love dependent on the goodwill of strangers to send us their 500 to 1000 word reviews, of editors to come home from work and press ‘track changes’ and, of course, of publishers, organisers, authors and performers, to introduce us to, send us, and invite us into their worlds.

Our Saboteur Awards mark Sabotage’s birthday each year, but our third birthday is the first time we’ve held a party. It’s on May 29th and we’re really looking forward to it. We’ve experimented with different ways of choosing who wins, and this year – wanting readers and audiences (not just of Sabotage) to be able to have their say – we’ve opened the whole thing up to popular vote. The party’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit, with music, poetry and awards, as well as a book fair.
Over the course of the last three years, an increasing concern at the heart of the website has been to maintain a balance between encouragement and criticism. On the one hand, we believe in giving exposure to small scale endeavours, but don’t think that anyone benefits from blanket approval and, of course, each reviewer is entitled to their own opinion. A good example of that practice is Éireann Lorsung’s review of Colette Sensier’s Holdfire Press pamphlet which, while finding much to admire in the writing, also highlighted a worrying trend among Western writers to practice what she calls poetic tourism. The review was one of many of the new Holdfire Press pamphlets covered by different reviewers who brought their unique viewpoint to them.
Our growing team of fiction reviewers has covered, among others, Danish mini-sagas, demonic rock bands, lesbian steampunk, and a twelve-page story of a cockroach at the Gates of St Peter – a collection of real quality writing (and some howlers!) that Richard likes to think of as the Fiction stable. Not everything in our stable strictly counts as ‘fiction’ or prose, but this isn’t something that’s ever bothered us. Sabotage aims to give some exposure to the ephemeral, the self-published, the unspoken-for, and strict categories get in the way of that; so our ‘Fiction’ happily encompasses publications that include a variety of forms which might otherwise not get reviewed because they don’t fit into an easily-described box.
For example, US-based Armchair/Shotgun has short fiction alongside poetry and visual artwork – and Richard’s particularly proud that A/S #2 went on to win the second of our Saboteur Awards. For sheer baffled disgust, our review of the Swedish Anger Mode is worth reading in full. That said, one of our favourite reviews has been Tori Truslow’s review of Steam-Powered II: The Lesbian Steampunk Anthology, if only for that airship comparison.
The performance side of Sabotage is one that folds very neatly into our envelope of ‘Reviews of the Ephemeral’. Because of the nature of spoken word, there are aspects of a performance or a certain poetry night that will not and cannot be recreated; nuances to one reading that change by the next, or things that went unfortunately and hilariously wrong. It’s one of the real pleasures of editing for Sabotage that we manage to catch and preserve some of these individual moments and serve them up to a wider audience (such as the ridiculous exchange between poet Paul Askew and his mother or the time a champagne bottle spontaneously popped during a performance by Amy Acre). And due to the kind of ‘crowd-sourced’ nature of open mic and slam events many of the spoken word artists we’ve ended up reviewing are people who have simply turned up on the off-chance of a reading and whose performances otherwise might have gone unnoticed. Instead, they’ve been caught in our reviewers’ crosshairs, suddenly receiving a barrage of critique or praise that was unexpected and has almost always been appreciated.
We’ve had the pleasure of covering a whole host of different events, but favourites include our Edinburgh Fringe coverage and Koel Mukherjee’s review of Carmina’s Poetry Tease, which exemplified our attempts to capture the spirit and feel of an event.
What we hope to achieve with these awards is a balance similar to the balance of the site’s coverage as a whole; the winners will be decided by popular vote, but there will also be a critical counterpart in the form of a review or interview to go along with the results. We want to celebrate the exciting things that are going on in underground literature, while at the same time encouraging greater quality by highlighting these excellent endeavours.
Visit Sabotage Reviews.

You can view the Saboteur Awards shortlist with a link to the voting page here.
Sabotage Reviews

‘Now and Then’ by Alison Brackenbury

Alison Brackenbury 
Alison Brackenbury grew up in the countryside in Lincolnshire, in the North Midlands of England. She is descended from a family of farmworkers, including five generations of prize-winning shepherds. She was the first member of her family to go to university, having won a scholarship to Oxford.

From 1990 to 2012, she may have been Britain’s only poet in a boiler suit, as she helped to run the tiny metal finishing business which supported her husband’s family. Although town-based, she also managed to spend inexcusable amounts of time on the hills of Gloucestershire with a series of shaggy and unaffordable ponies.

Despite (and sometimes because of) these distractions, she has produced eight collections of poetry. She has also scripted a variety of poetry programmes which have been broadcast on BBC Radio, including Singing in the Dark, about the stubborn survival of traditional song, praised as ‘evocative, amusing, and utterly compelling’. Her work has won an Eric Gregory and a Cholmondeley Award. Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales, wrote recently: ‘Alison Brackenbury loves, lives, hymns and rhymes the natural world and its people like no other poet’.

Alison Brackenbury’s latest collection is Then, published by Carcanet Press in 2013.
Then draws on Alison Brackenbury’s lifetime’s experience of rural England, its people and its ways, and the threats to its survival. From the lapwings of her childhood Lincolnshire to the recurrent floods in Gloucestershire, where she has lived for many years, the poems reach urgently to both past and future, finding connections and disconnections. The signs of a changing climate are emblematic of larger erasures. The poems keenly focus the beauty and the harshness of the natural world. They remind us of our own fragility, and our responsibility: “We are made of water. But we forgot”.”
Now and Then
Time gallops. In my twenties, when I published my first collection, Dreams of Power, I thought time both infinite and irritating. The young wear black (beautifully) because they are, of course, immortal. In my twenties, despite my full time job and the other distractions I invented for myself (like horses), I did have time to write. As long as I ignored most of the claims of most of the people in my life (and all the claims of a dusty house) I could spend hours, for example, struggling with long poems.

Why did I try so hard to write long poems? It was partly because of the example of past time. I had ‘read English’ at university. Absorbed and admiring, I had read Paradise Lost, The (unfinished) Faerie Queene, and The Prelude. My lengthy ambitions were not unique. Time can be a dangerous friend to the writer, who may end up writing for its own sake.

But, as a publisher once said to me, a first book comes with a weight of experience behind it: the whole of the poet’s previous life. So I was very lucky to have time to unleash this flood (and to start to build some techniques to harness it). The results were wildly uneven. I very much admire young poets who now tell me that they are careful about what they offer for publication. I was not. Especially in my first two collections, poems were rushed into print.

There might have been a certain logic to this. It was the period when I fell off a galloping (riding-school) horse and thirteen other horses leapt over me. Curled up like a fallen jockey, I counted each one. Time did slow then, as hooves and bellies flashed above me. Only the tip of one hoof brushed my shoulder.

I was lucky again when it came to the gallop of poetry. My publisher was at my shoulder, tactfully preventing me from publishing two long poems in my second book, Breaking Ground. The unpublished one was, I’d now guess, as suspect as my riding technique. (I must still have it somewhere, buried in a wardrobe.) Yet that book also contained, I am sure, some of the best lines I ever wrote. The young of the tribe are meant to be its risk-takers, to rush into fights – or childbirth.

Then I did have a child. Again, I note, admiringly, that several younger poets whose work I value now write as well – or even better – after their first child. Some women, after childbirth – no names, no packdrill! – seem to have lost publishers, direction, or even the desire to write. What most parents lose, of course, is ‘free’ time.

I can warn writers of either gender that the arrival of a child proves starkly that writers need two kinds of time. One is spent scribbling, or pattering furiously on a keyboard. That time may still be there, if children will sleep, and your household will tolerate some degree of disorder. (Until my daughter was at least three, it was not a good idea to cross our floors barefoot.) But there is another kind of time, when you are apparently doing other tasks, but the mind is quietly brewing and brooding. It cannot do that with children tugging at your sleeve, spilling drinks or fighting. This can be terribly frustrating both for the demanding infant and the de-railed poet, now parent.

I also faced a double-trick of lost time. My shreds of technique seemed to have disappeared into some maternal abyss. I was writing in fragments, clutching at straws. (There are no long poems in my third book, Christmas Roses, and technically, it is probably my most unsure.) Then pockets of time began to open up, as my daughter began school and Went to Tea with friends. I remember, during one of these sudden absences, sitting down and writing a poem which, once again, rang strongly, like the legs of a fit horse.

But this poem had bitter echoes, of history and power. For time brings new subjects. Having children exposes you to the raw mess of your world, in hospitals without enough midwives, and in schools where ceilings fall in and bullying goes unchecked, while the middle classes scramble for places in small grammar schools, or demand inflated professional wages to ship their children off to the immaculate private school, half a mile from the state classroom’s splintered plaster.

I came to look back at my own work with equal severity. I decided, rightly, that too many badly groomed poems had galloped into print. I also decided, probably wrongly, that I would leave a seven year gap before I published my fourth collection, 1829. An excellent young poet recently told me of their plan to delay the publication of their second collection. I strongly advised against this.

For, despite the appearance of a Selected Poems in the early Nineties, I am sure there are early readers of mine who now think that I am dead, or have mercifully abandoned poetry to its own devices. I must add, in my self-defence, that those ‘lost’ years were probably some of my busiest, spent on horses, travel, time-consuming activities with my daughter, and on grass-roots politics. Some poets ramble in middle-age. I did not have time.

When I was an impatient, time-rich, younger poet, I sometimes cast around for subjects. As the Millennium rose drunkenly over the horizon I found, soberly, that subjects I would never have chosen had descended on me, following death and a dark period. Every family has its monsters and demons. Sometimes they all arrive together.

“Then life, obligingly, showed teeth”. (This quotation comes from ‘Leaving Cheltenham’, a poem in my new collection, Then.) I did not, in fact, leave Cheltenham. But I began to realise that certain subjects were leaving me, especially a vein of love poetry which had become more and more guarded. Through cowardice as much as principle, I do not like writing directly about my living family. But, though I was writing more sparely, I began to sense a new season: stories of other lives, terrible events crashing in from the world beyond my own troubles, which echo through my fifth and sixth collections, After Beethoven, and Bricks and Ballads.

As their titles suggest, strangely, this was a season of music. My daughter grew up and left home. I again had that dual time to write, both to scribble, and to brood. The new century’s extravagance and disasters had an unexpected accompaniment: a revival of Britain’s traditional songs. I listened to these more and more, both in the echoing recordings of dead singers, and the assured (and regional ) voices of the very young. I called my seventh collection, after a poem about Edward Thomas: Singing in the Dark. A new time had come for what Thomas called ‘the old songs’, and for my own poetry.

My new collection, my eighth, has just been published in my sixtieth year, (by Carcanet Press, who have published me loyally since the beginning). It is called Then. There is no poem in the book of that name. Why did I choose that urgent, cryptic title? I have come to see this book as a swinging hinge. In one direction, it opens back, into my country family. There are poems about my father, who started work as a ploughboy, and told me the litany of the great horses’ names: “Spanker, Sharper, Prince and Bob/ were horses that my father drove”. There are poems about his family, a dynasty of notable shepherds:
          My grandfather, his tallest son,
          grasp ribbons, cups to keep.
          Gone, gone. All waste. And yet they laugh.
Past time is not all darkness. My parents, like my grandfather, had a passion for observing birds. Some. almost driven out by the practices of modern farming, have now begun to return, like the lapwings I saw in the last year of my mother’s and father’s life.
          And I forgot their massive arcs of wing.
          When their raw cries swept over, my head spun

          With all the brilliance of their black and white
          As though you cracked the dark and found the sun.
But the hinge swings two ways. Then begins with the short account of a past Lincolnshire flood, in the small town which was my birthplace:
          When you heard the water whisper
          in Crown Yard and Sailors’ Alley,
Just before the book’s door closes, there is a longer poem: the account of another flood, which left the small town in Gloucestershire, where I now live, without mains water for eight days:
          Then came the panic. For the pumps were drowned.
          In wastes of water, taps would soon run dry.
          Then people fought in queues across the town
          as bottled water, glittering, swept by
          on rain-soaked pallets, for the rain was sharp
          as ice. Cars loaded. Then the shops fell dark.
We had seen the future, and it was not going to work. The floods of 2007 convinced many people in Gloucestershire that our climate had, indeed, swung against us. Like everyone who continues to get up in the morning, I cherish unreasonable hope. The final poem of Then is called ‘No’, but suggests, with timely perversity:
          Nothing in all history
          can reach to take your hand from me,
          the dark, the rain’s gift, O
          we should be glad.
Do I have any time left? I hope so. My country family (when not worn out by shepherding) was long-lived. I have poems, instead of sheep, to mill around younger, and patient editors. But I wonder about the circumstances in which even my own life will end.

Traditional farming, whose strengths are praised in Then, has been replaced by a very different way of treating land and stock. Cruelly intensive animal-rearing (world-wide) has over-used antibiotics. We may soon lose our best defences against infection. And what have we done, in my lifetime, to our fragile and beautiful world? I did not mean, as a young poet, to prophesy. If I must do so now, I do not want to be Cassandra.
          I cry like water. Do not hope.
          Switch off, then walk. Refuse to cope,
          in Hatherley, Hawling, Whaddon.

          The rivers rise, the doomed pumps hum,
          the walls are down, the waters come
          to Munich, Paris, London.
Now, the door swings. Soon it will be shut. What then? Time gallops. Listen.
The Trent rises, 1947
When you heard the water whisper
in Crown Yard and Sailors’ Alley,
when your husband saw the river
no longer lazy – swollen, free;
what did you grab, to take with you upstairs?
What would I take with me?

Would I snatch letters from the flood,
so their clearest lines and kisses
did not meet condoms, tampons, mud?
Save bills? Saucepans? Water misses
no hidden, plastered wire. No kettle could
boil. The fusebox hisses.

Computers, in a leaky boat?
They hauled fresh water, tins. The swell
of river made the hall a moat.
Tortoise to bucket! Chickens fell
into their bath. Aboard the Co-op’s milk float,
the pigs raised merry hell.
The shepherd’s son’s photo-album
I could show you sad stories
as bright shy children peep
by wind-bent trees, grey ditches,
in crippled love that keeps

the girl a kitchen shadow
with fine hair, crooked teeth,
who, when brain tumours seize her,
rages into sleep.

The quick one fails all papers,
sits still, as clocks strike; eats.
But two work hard; one marries.
Here are the three fat sheep.

You laugh till pages quiver:
three perfect spheres with fleece
washed soft and deep as pom-poms,
three full moons stuffed with swedes.

They fill the narrow hill-lane
as marchers crowd a street.
They peer at us like judges.
They float on tiny feet.

Lined up with dangling nose ropes
they calmly wait their feast.
Only one glances sideways.
Beware a knowing beast.

Here I am, dandled. Orphaned lambs
strain to their bottles, deep
in rough grass by my smiling aunt
who has no child to keep.

My grandmother, in her long coat,
frowns till the ram stands meek.
Her youngest waves his camera
before his mind finds sleep.

My grandfather, his tallest son,
grasp ribbons, cups to keep.
Gone, gone. All waste. And yet they laugh.
Here are the three fat sheep.
No one is ever good enough,
or kind enough.
No one stays awake
through the lovely rush of rain which fills our dark.
No one can hold the music.
They are counting coins or frowning,
they are toppling, they are drowning.
No one is good.

But nothing is as quick as us,
no screen can match us,
tape’s whirr catch us,
nothing tilts like sun
to light from sad.
Nothing in all history
can reach to take your hand from me,
the dark, the rain’s gift, O
we should be glad.
from Then (Carcanet Press, 2013).

Order Then here, here or here.

Visit Alison’s website.
Alison has a Facebook group, Poems from Alison, whose members receive a free new poem from her every two months. It can be found here.

Shaindel Beers’ The Children’s War and Other Poems

© Image by Catching Violet Photography

© Image by Catching Violet Photography

Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in the Eastern Oregon high desert town of Pendleton, and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary. The Children’s War and Other Poems is her second collection with Salt Publishing.
Shaindel Beers2 
“In the first half of The Children’s War and Other Poems, Shaindel Beers looks at artwork done by and about child survivors of war, embodying the voices of the children, their families, and the humanitarian aid workers sent to help them. From there, the book opens out into an exploration of the war at home and the war within ourselves, exploring violence in mythology, domestic violence, and the wars that occur, sometimes, within our own bodies.
These poems act as a survival guide, showing that hope exists even in the darkest of places and that perhaps poetry is the key to our healing.”
The Children's War 
“Shaindel Beers’ The Children’s War and Other Poems is a poetry survival kit. It offers beauty and balance, provides necessary news of how to survive the war against innocence, how to start over — from a child’s point of view, and from a woman’s. The poems lend perspective that is both global and intimate.”
– Marilyn Kallet
“What Shaindel Beers offers us in this fine collection is a poetic humanizing and individualizing of the impersonal and ubiquitous violence that saturates the contemporary world. From a young Chechen girl who takes joy in the happiness she causes other passengers on the bus to a child drawing the cat she could not protect in the attack that killed her entire family, these poems show us unexpected reprieves from suffering alongside unfathomable new depths of horror. Given the ekphrastic nature of Beers’ project, we also feel something of the war journalist’s documentation in addition to the poetic humanizing effect. The combination is emotional and heady stuff. These poems are rare in that they have an aesthetic, emotional, and political impact in equal measure. You would do well to read them many times.”
– Okla Elliott
“In the title sequence of The Children’s War and Other Poems, an atelier of ekphrastic lyrics based on artworks by children from Chechnya, Darfur, and other recent war zones, Shaindel Beers tells us “There are things that can happen that you can’t draw”. Yet with gem-hard language and heartrending imagery, she confronts us with the unspeakable reality of “children being scattered/ like a broken strand of brightly colored beads”. Beers joins the ranks of Edgar Lee Masters and Ted Kooser with her portraits of ordinary Americans, many of them women, devastated by physical and emotional hardship, but she enters risky and breathtaking territory all her own with her intimate portraits of domestic abuse and of her fears, as a new mother, that “violence is the one tool/ I have been given”. Yet for all their darkness, the poems find hope: in memory, in everyday beauty, in the bonds of love. “This isn’t much, but it’s the gift”, Beers assures students at a reservation, “the one gift, these stories, that can’t be taken away”. Shaindel Beers’ poems place a moral burden upon us, one that can’t be taken away, but they offer the strength to bear it up.”
– Temple Cone
Shaindel writes: 
“This book wouldn’t have been written if it were not for the article ‘The Art of War’ by Dr. Annie Sparrow and Olivier Bercault, which first inspired me to pursue this project, as well as the countless humanitarians who catalogue and publish artwork done by and about children during war-time. Thank you so much for giving voices to the voiceless. Sources of artwork in book form include They Still Draw Pictures by Anthony L. Geist and Peter N. Carroll and Sunflowers in the Sand: Stories from Children of War by Lisa Curtin.
Corium Magazine has featured some of the artwork alongside the poems here and here.”


After a drawing by Mercedes Comellas
Ricart, 13, during the Spanish Civil War
The plane drops a single black tear of a bomb
that tears a hole in the mountains. The station
bell is mute next to the air raid sirens, and we run,
leaving our bags at the station. Papá reaches for me;
Mamá reaches for Pilar, and we run, never quite grasping
hands, never quite touching. It is a ghost train, light grey
and see-through because we never got on. I didn’t finish
the tracks because I never learned where they would go.
After a drawing by Mercedes Comellas Ricart, 13,
during the Spanish Civil War

After Martija’s Watercolor, Croatia
There are things that can happen that you can’t draw.
A soldier ripping off the baby’s diaper and slamming him
into the wall because it will be easier if the baby
cannot cry. Your mother without a head. You paint splotches.
Green and blue are peaceful. That was before.
Now, everything is red. The red mixed with the green
becomes a sickening brown. The brown that covered
your thighs when the soldier was done with you.
After Martija’s Watercolor, Croatia
From Sunflowers in the Sand: Stories from Children of War
by Leah Curtin

Little Amira Honors Her Cat, Pepa
Fourteen in hiding in a basement
and we all need something to protect.
The men guard the door, the women guard
the children. Grandma holds me, and I hold
Pepa. Pepa himself was love. So when I draw
him, his face is an orange heart. He is smiling
with his mouth and his eyes and his whiskers.
He wears a blue flower as a collar. When
the grenade blew open the shelter, the world
became only Lejla and me. No Mama, no
Grandma, no Jusuf, no Pepa. No Pepa.
I draw Pepa over and over. No one else
because he was mine to take care of.
When I grow up, I will own a pet store.
I will have ten cats named Pepa.
I will do a better job because
I will be bigger.
Little Amira Honors Her Cat, Pepa
From Sunflowers in the Sand: Stories from Children of War
by Leah Curtin 


Painting by Azerbaijan War Survivor
Nighar Aliyeva, age 9
The woman could be any mother out walking
a baby in the cool, night air, hoping the twelve
stars, the moon, will lull him to sleep.
In her blue caftan, her black hijab, she could be
Mary, the mother of Jesus, Fatimah, daughter
of Muhammad. The three bloody men
in the background believe she is one;
the men who shot them believe she’s the other.
Painting by Azerbaijan War Survivor Nighar Aliyeva, age 9

Pain: A Tutorial
First, a memory. One painful enough to scar.
To bruise. Your father leaving. Your brother’s
death you’ve blamed yourself for since childhood.
If only you hadn’t said, Fine, then! Leave! If you
hadn’t played with matches. Had watched him
closer down by the river. Now, press slowly
with scalpel or finger the outline of the wound.
Remind yourself daily. A song you used to sing
when you were little. How you would lie
on your backs and make up stories about cloud animals.
The smell of the flowers in Grandma’s window boxes
just before—
Find someone who feels designed to fill this void.
You’ll know by matching scars. Let him press them,
too. He’ll say, No wonder your father left.
I wonder how your brother would feel if he were
here. He knows all the tricks. The little places inside you
no one else has ever gone. Pretend this is the pain
you deserve. That this is the closest love there is.
Let him press. Sometimes hold the scalpel yourself.
Let him guide your hand along the contours. He
cuts so beautifully. He’s shaping you. You’re his
lovely. His beloved. He’ll be so lost without you.
There Are Men …
Who are at once scalpel and salve.
They have only one spigot for honey or gasoline,
and you don’t know which you will get until it hits
your tongue. Sip slowly. Protect the soft palate.
They will whittle you until you become
the loneliest statue on the planet. Some days
this will make you feel special and singular.
Your pedestal will be dizzying. When you
and the other muses lean toward one another,
some of you will shatter. This is to be expected;
this was always the plan. There will be more of you;
there always are, always have been.
My parents were lonely geniuses.
I found their letters to each other in a plastic bag,
my twentieth year, when my mom was in jail,
and I was trying to sort out the life they’d given
my siblings and me. You were the smartest person
I’d ever met they’d each written to the other.
But they couldn’t function like other parents.
It was all yelling and name-calling
and eventually knives and guns. And I grew up,
wondering where smart would get you.
But it always seemed better than the alternative—
my friends, whose parents had plenty of love
but no books, no imagination, a limited vocabulary
with which to rip out the heart of the beloved.
from The Children’s War and Other Poems (Salt Publishing, 2013).
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