Category Archives: anthologies

Poems from ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World’

For Rhino in a Shrinking World 
 
 
 
For Rhino in a Shrinking World, An International Anthology
Published by The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013
 
Edited by Harry Owen
Illustrated by Sally Scott
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
All proceeds from the sale of this volume go, via the Chipembere Rhino Foundation, to support the work of fighting poaching and protecting our gravely threatened natural heritage. 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
“What we need in the world today is to hear within us
the sounds of the earth crying”
(Taken from a Zen Poem)
 
 
Man’s connection with the earth is a mystifying confusion of physical, chemical and spiritual beauty. The depth and complexity of nature’s secrets has scarcely begun to be understood by the overwhelming tide of human beings. To be able to appreciate and take care of the abundance of life on our planet has always been a challenge.
 
Life has always been a mystery that many of us scarcely take the time to consider. The poets bring glimpses of a reality beyond our known sense and the beauty of their words lingers for centuries, be it Virgil, Wordsworth or Rupert Brooke. As we fail to understand the depth of the natural world, we place ourselves at risk.
 
The poets who have contributed to this book forcibly bring to mind the terrible plight of the rhino in the modern world. We applaud their efforts.
 
Rhino have a particularly plaintive cry, which once heard is never forgotten. The screams of agony from rhino that have had their horns chopped off while still alive should reach out into the hearts of all of us. We believe that it is only through a GLOBAL campaign and POLITICAL will that we can save this remnant of the dinosaur age – the rhino.
 
The heritage of a species, the rhino, and the environment we share with it, symbolises so much of what the Wilderness Foundation is driven to take care of. It is our hope that what lies within this anthology will reveal enough to inspire everyone to respond to the “sounds of the earth crying”.”
 
– Dr Ian Player and Andrew Muir, Wilderness Foundation
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“The deepening crisis faced by our rhino threatens to overwhelm us as we are assaulted daily by rotting images of animals mutilated at the hands of greedy man. The gruesome account of just two of the victims of poaching has reached into the hearts of these writers and resonates back on us from across the world. A challenge for us all to react. Our simple personal responses as caring custodians in the face of such a daunting reality, is all that stands between life and extinction.
 
Who will join this global collection of humane reactions? Will there be enough to express our value for the natural world? Are we able to focus fear, anger and bitter sadness into those simple abilities we have been blessed with and create the change on which we all depend? I trust the power of the written word gathered within this wonderful collection, inspired by Harry Owen as an expression of his own journey, is enough to change our hearts and ignite us into action.”
 
– Dr William Fowlds
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Contributors: Hannah Armour, Natalie Armour, AE Ballakisten, Shabbir Banoobhai, Mike Barlow, Brett Beiles, Marike Beyers, Alison Brackenbury, Roger Bradley, Peter Branson, Mark Burnhope, Chloë Callistemon, Veronica Caperon, Hélène Cardona, Alfred Corn, Richard de Nooy, Dónall Dempsey, Gail Dendy, Bandile Dlabantu, Jordan du Toit, Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, Margaret Eddershaw, Chukwudi-prince Ehilegbu, Roger Elkin, Nola Firth, John Forbis, Myfanwy Fox, w. Terry Fox, Lance Fredericks, Hailey Gaunt, Kim Goldberg, Veronica Golos, Matt Goodfellow, Elizabeth Gowans, Geraldine Green, Kerry Hammerton, Rosemund Handler, Geoffrey Haresnape, Caroline Hawkridge, Silke Heiss, Denis Hirson, Linda Hofke, Phil Howard, Louisa Howerow, Chris Jackson, Simon Jackson, Lorne Johnson, Madeleine Begun Kane, Peter Kantey, Andy Kissane, Valerie Laws, Stuart Thembisile Lewis, John Lindley, Pippa Little, Alison Lock, Moira Lovell, David Mallett, Chris Mann, Andrew Martin, Agnes Marton, Ian McCallum, Fokkina McDonnell, Jeannie Wallace McKeown, Joan Metelerkamp, Sonwabo Meyi, John Mhongovoyo, Bill Milner, Ian Mole, Norman Morrissey, Mary Mullen, Tendai Mwanaka, Philip Neilsen, Kate Noakes, Edward Nudelman, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Harry Owen, Val Payn, Pascale Petit, Pauline Plummer, Joan Poulson, Ron Pretty, Sheenagh Pugh, Wonga Qina, Lesego Rampolokeng, Andrew Renard, Susan Richardson, Mark Roberts, Amali Rodrigo, Sam Schramski, Sally Scott, Richard Slater-Jones, Dennis Slattery, JD Smith, Annette Snyckers, Leih Steggall, John Stocks, Adam Tavel, Michael James Treacy, Megan van der Nest, Ellen van Neerven-Currie, Marc Vincenz, Elmé Vivier, Wendy Wallace, Brian Walter, Mal Westcott, Tony Williams, Phil Williams, Jennifer Wong, Ruth Woudstra, Dan Wylie and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Dear Rhino, love from Hippo
Tony Williams
 
 
With skin like ours, friend, the usual
          insults of a rivalry descend
          harmlessly as confetti or the blossom of trees
          we rub our backs against.
Nor would expressions of sympathy survive
          the foul tempers of our readership. Instead
          I’m sending you this chatty letter, a crocodilian
          sickle of courtesy in the poisoned soup,
          which might worry you if crocodiles did.
          Be assured of my continuing hostility and indifference.
 
In the past month
          I have eaten a rare fly, a wristwatch,
          a silhouette, odd chunks of my rivals’ chins
          and a vast tonnage of hay which you,
dense hoover of the midday sun, missed
          when the eternal salad drawer of the night
          clanked open as you slept. Or are you
          nocturnal too? It’s hard to see in the dark.
 
You doomed swordsman, me cloven-hoofed
          and cackling like a whale. You unicorn,
          me Cadillac bumping up
          against the blond girl’s legs.
Whatever happened
          to your ambition to become a freelance illustrator?
Every time I pass the hospital
          done out like the concourse of an old European station
          with the pediments high up based, unattributed,
          on your sketch of an elephant’s toenails
I think dommage! and of the royalties we’d claim
          if I’d ever passed my law exams and you
          weren’t such a raging and wretchedly cantankerous drunk.
 
At least we don’t owe money to the giraffes.
Down at the waterhole it’s O’Casey
          the lion this O’Casey
          the lion that but it’s us
          they come to when the drains are blocked.
You, woodcut engraving from the days of the plague,
          me poster paints printed by a dipped-in bum.
 
Listen, priapus-face, I’ve been
          divining the future in the map of illness
          disclosed in my own used nappy.
I think you’d enjoy a cheese and pickle sandwich
          if you dared to enter a deli. I think the jackals would swoon
          like spinach wilting if only you’d show them The Dance.
I’ve been listening to local radio over the internet.
          I’ve bid on a doll’s house and
          a signed photo of Lothar Matthaus.
I’ve heard a grown man singing falsetto
          for the amusement of chumps.
 
Thanks very much for the library card. I’ve read of
          isotopes, anarchists, artistic foibles of heretical sects.
I’ve read a few classics, and enjoyed your waspish annotations.
          (I dreamed I saw your initials
          carved into the brickwork of the Bradford Alhambra
          but didn’t inform the police.)
 
You tin opener, me turtle without a shell,
          you me, me you. How long
          will we put up with being haunted
          by the ghosts of all the antelopes
          mistaking us for mobile crypts to hole up in?
Now that I’ve developed the transmogrifier
          we could go anywhere, do anything –
          spend a century as a standard lamp, become amoebas
          in the eye-sockets of a monkey, and get elected.
So don’t get pettish. Sling your keys in the bowl.
          We’ll put our heads together, become a
          hiprhiponopocetarosmus,
          get a scholarship to university, mend a motorbike,
step out one morning after a pot of tea,
          carrying a cudgel, thinking
          how the sky’s colour reminds us of approaching evening,
          how the deaths of our loved ones will become
as quaint a topic as the weather and the history of the Anabaptist Church
          which we might tease open with a little sullen laugh
          over a tall glass of Pernod.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
You’ll never become a rhinoceros, really you won’t …
you haven’t got the vocation
(‘Rhinoceros’ – Eugène Ionesco)
Susan Richardson 
 
 
There comes a day when making donations
and signing petitions isn’t enough,
when braver decisions are needed.
So you practise detachment
from your knees,
trample the lunchtime prattle of fat loss
and anti-wrinkle creams.
You commit to omitting to moisturise,
will your skin to thicken,
thrill to fashion callouses and warts.
 
When the first horn forms, it triggers
second thoughts, till you use it to gore
your twinges of caution.
From raw veg and fruit, you move
to woody shrubs and thorns,
snort through weeks
of stomach cramps and wind.
But the wallowing’s a breeze,
and the shift to horizontal’s eased
by your umpteen years of yoga.
 
Next to varied breathing speeds
and scent-marking middens of dung,
texting seems so naive. In fact,
if you still had fingers and thumbs
you’d just use them to pinch yourself,
for you’ve done what none
can believe. And while the strain of raising
your head has led
to chronic pain in your neck,
your brain hums with infrasonic success.
 
As you roam your home range,
oxpeckers divest you of ticks
and outmoded emotions,
though you insist they must not strip you
of awareness
of your rare, endangered state.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Crushed Dragon Bones
Marc Vincenz

          Tiger Claw Apothecary, Shanghai, 1999
 
 
Quan leads me through an array of popping scents,
this lingering whiff of Bombay spice bazaar,
 
medicine healing scars, prehensile fungi, blooming
rhino horn, white deer antler, mandible of stag beetle,
 
snapping tail of scorpion, turtle snout, all crushed to steep
in clear hot liquids bubbling right into the very centre
 
of the maze where a woman in a nightdress waits patiently.
Here he goes whispering in the corner.
 
Lady behind the counter turns flushed-cheek red,
titters under her breath, holds her hand to cover her teeth.
 
Eyes him apprehensively. Eyebrows arch-raised,
coughs in syncopated answer. Fiddles with her stethoscope.
 
Another woman looks me up and down: Hey you, big nose?
Want me check your pulse? I sit down across the counter.
 
She applies the leather-puffing contraption to my left biceps.
Pumps until I feel my left side is ready to explode.
 
Aha, take this. She fiddles a powder, rattling grains from
that drawer, granules from another. All marked in red.
 
Grinds the mixture in mortar humming some old love tune.
Flips the dust into a paper bag. Hand palm out:
 
Fifty yuan. Releases the catch and Ssssss spins down.
Quan’s smiling ear to ear and we’re out the door
 
through the hedgerows and into haze of open space.
Quan rumbles something about bones old bones.
 
Crushed dragon bones for the little man inside.
No problem like you, he says. This will keep me going all night.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
The Dead are Bored
Philip Neilsen
 
 
We the dead are bored with your concerns
 
your endless talk on radio and TV about diet and pets
 
your fear of impotence
 
your fascination with genealogy
 
your colour photos taken on holiday in Africa:
 
speak for us now
 
or condemn us all by your tiny fears
 
your politeness about customs and magical beliefs.
 
Listen, only this is magic – human and rhino
 
conjoined. When we depart
 
and clumsy birds mop the plain
 
you see there your own remains.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
‘Best Selling: Father and Son Hunting Package Deals’
Valerie Laws
 
 
The world is big and wide, son.
It’s ours to rule and ride, son.
Come hunting the Big Five, son,
It’s all about male pride.
 
Game animals are grand, son,
And you must understand, son,
They are ours, as is the land, son,
It’s all about God’s plan.
 
The elephant, the lion, son,
The buffalo and leopard, son,
The rare and savage rhino, son;
Stalking them is hard.
 
So beautiful they are, son,
Most dangerous by far, son.
Come hunting with your Pa, son,
For nights beneath the stars.
 
I promise you it’s fun, son,
With servants and two guns, son,
We’ll bag them every one, son,
Until the job is done.
 
They’ll snap us with our Five, son,
Propped up as if alive, son,
Then carve steaks with their knives, son,
For us to feast upon.
 
And when you eat your fill, son,
Of meat and see blood spill, son,
And when you’ve learned to kill, son,
You’ve learned a manly skill.
 
We’ll fly back home to Mom, son,
With washing to be done, son,
And trophies to be shown, son,
The skins, the horns, the bone.
 
It’s a kind of conservation, son,
These beasts need preservation, son,
So we shoot them on reservations, son,
So you can take your son.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Why Save The Fckn Rhino, Harry?
Richard de Nooy
 
 
Let’s face it, Harry, every fckn war we’ve ever
 
fought every nation squashed and generation
 
stolen each pre-fckn-cision bombing and
 
concentration camp the man-high heaps of
 
napalmed children grotesque decapitated
 
privates draped over barbed wire and women
 
raped for days on end the in-fckn-terminable
 
talks of peace and cease fires that only serve
 
to replenish and prepare for world war fckn
 
eight hundred and thirty-three the scorched
 
earth blacker than Satan’s arsehole into which
 
the orphans creep in search of cover and
 
AK-47s, grenades and mines to
 
blow their barren fckn world to kingdom
 
fckn come and every martyr strapped with
 
semtex every broken life and drop of fckn blood
 
endless inventories of collateral damage poorly
 
hidden mass graves that all reveal ma-fckn
 
-cabre human treasures displayed in grinning
 
rows and each and every other fckn act of
 
violence albeit somehow vague and indirect
 
was perpetrated for one reason only so
 
that rich men’s cocks would grow or stay erect.
 
 
So why only save the fckn rhino, Harry, why?
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Your Tour Guide Speaks
Harry Owen
 
 
6.00 p.m.
 
Hi, everyone!
We trust you’re enjoying your sundowners.
A few short years ago we couldn’t have
played you this record of the plains
in such blissful comfort, for then there was
no road. The Great Migration, they called it,
of wildebeest and zebra, but what use
was that when none of us could watch such stuff
as now we do in air-conditioned calm?
Those days are gone, thank God, the Great Migration
is no more, but life moves on and we adore
our Serengeti Roadshow.
 
We drive through early evening into night,
deep darkness of the range about us now,
for why should we need detail? These eyes
that surge and leap on us in acid whites
and bloody reds are really all we’ve travelled for.
Let’s tick them off our Big Five species lists –
elefords in the middle of the road,
buffamercs and those sleek white rolls-rhino,
our latest ivory, newest muti.
Mara will spawn the mitsubishi hippo,
more deadly in the dark of the moon than
this fat catillac, king of all the beasts.
We speed past the cheetatas (be quick with
those field guides!), placid audilope alert,
and the smarmy Black Market Wildebeest,
noting the occasional ponderous
VWDungbeetle, thought extinct
but making a slow and ponderous comeback.
 
But it’s getting late. Recline your seats
and rest: dream of wild Africa.
 
 
 
6.00 a.m.
 
Good morning!
Just ahead and to the left, ladies
and gentlemen, boys and girls, where our coach
slows for the flashing amber light, you’ll spot,
grazing at the roadside verge, a small herd
of white ute-bakkie, once extremely rare
on these vast plains but now plentiful
from Arusha to Lake Victoria.
Always at their most striking in the haze
of early morning when our Tanzanian
sun sears itself, so languid in the smoggy east,
they rev – so have your cameras ready.
And look, presiding over that scrapyard
to our right, a splendid pair of blue cranes!
 
Yet, though this is indeed the Road That
Never Ends, we’ve glimpsed our destination:
last chance to pause before the journey ends.
Here is the world famous Pick-up Pit Stop –
and what better breakfast than its cool
Kikwete Fast Chowmein (KFC for short:
you’ve seen their logo all along the road,
the friendly huge red grinning Colonel Croc),
the only one with chopsticks fashioned
from authentic acacia wood. Alas,
this morning all that’s left for us to poach
are the eggs of kites and vultures pulling
at the putrid flesh of roadkill corpses.
The rest is out of stock, so please don’t ask
to see the manager – he’ll likely be
in some important meeting.
Or at a conference.
 
So thanks for sharing your World Heritage
Safari Experience with us. Do
enjoy your omelette – and have a lovely day!
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
  
Stone by Stepping Stone
John Lindley
 
 
From ‘landfill’ to ‘lapwing’
requires more than a dip in the alphabet,
more than just a leap of faith
yet it begins
and it begins not letter by letter
but hedge by fattening hedge.
 
It begins as small as a bird table
and grows as wide as a field, as long as a ridge.
It begins amongst foxgloves and figwort,
in a morning of meadowsweet
and though no wild boar witness it
it is noted by hairstreak and peregrine,
by badger and owl.
 
It begins stone by stepping stone
and who would have thought such stones
could be engineered and sown?
Who would have thought
they could be dreamt, mapped and moulded
into more than fancy, more than symbol?
 
Still, it begins. From Frodsham to Bulkeley Hill.
From corridor to green corridor
a land found and refashioned
reclaims itself and swells until each corridor
is no longer measured by the wing span of a hawk
but by the circumference of its flight.
 
Born of a glacial shift –
a sandstone ridge,
red raw with promise,
skirts hill fort and castle.
A raven hunches like age
against the gathering mist.
 
Put an ear to the earth,
hear a seed splitting with new life.
Cast an eye to the hills,
see elms able again to stretch and touch fingers.
Woodland and heathland –
all are a heartland
and it is a heart that beats from Beacon Hill
to Bickerton and beyond.
 
It is a heart thought still,
jumpstarted by other hearts:
by landlord and farmer,
by owner and tenant,
by craftsman and labourer,
by the you and me we call a community.
 
It is a heart that drums
in the small frame of newt,
the slick casing of otter,
the sensual hide of deer
and grows louder,
like the echo of those lost skylarks
who went with the grassland
but now sing of recovery, sing of return.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Extremophile
Sheenagh Pugh
 
 
Two miles below the light, bacteria
live without sun, thrive on sulphur
in a cave of radioactive rock,
and, blind in the night of the ocean floor,
molluscs that feed only on wood
wait for wrecks. White tubeworms heap
in snowdrifts around hydrothermal vents,
at home in scalding heat. Lichens encroach
on Antarctic valleys where no rain
ever fell. There is nowhere
life cannot take hold, nowhere so salt,
so cold, so acid, but some chancer
will be there, flourishing on bare stone,
getting by, gleaning a sparse living
from marine snow, scavenging
light from translucent quartz, as if
lack and hardship could do nothing
but quicken it, this urge
to cling on in the cracks
of the world, or as if this world
itself, so various, so not to be spared
as it is, were the impetus
never to leave it.
 
 
 
 
 
from For Rhino in a Shrinking World
(The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013).
  
Order For Rhino in a Shrinking World.  
 
Visit For Rhino in a Shrinking World’s website
 
Visit the Chipembere Rhino Foundation.

Skate, a Pighog Press anthology

Skate 
 
 
 
Skate: the wonderful world of ice skating in prose,
poetry and
pictures
Edited by Meredith Collins
Pighog Press, 2012
ISBN 9781906309794
 
 
A fascinating collection of poetry, history and images dedicated to the art of ice skating, with an introduction by Jayne Torvill from Britain’s most famous skating duo, Torvill and Dean. It’s an ideal gift not just for novice skaters and more experienced dancers on ice but for anyone who loves elegant design and intriguing information.
 
 
Skate
contains articles written by curators at the Museum of London with iconic paintings and charming photographs depicting the history of this joyous pastime. From medieval ice skates made of bone to the Frost Fairs on the Thames in London, this enchanting miscellany explores the art and history of skating. It also highlights the remarkable contribution British skaters have made over the years and the impact they’ve had on the style of figure skating we recognize today as a graceful Olympic sport.
 
 
‘Poetry on ice’ by historically renowned poets such as Addison, Blunden, Goethe and Wordsworth features alongside work by contemporary poets, to create a fascinating reading experience. Whether you’ve never gone near the treacherous surface of the rink or you can do a Mohawk turn with the best of them, you will treasure this stylish and beautifully presented anthology.
 
 
£1 from each sale of Skate goes to the charity Shelter to support their work with the homeless.
 
 
Articles by Meredith Collins, Hazel Forsyth and Jackie Keily.
 
 
Poetry by Tracy Davidson, Eugene Lee-Hamilton, William Wordsworth, Joseph Addison, Pauline Suett Barbieri, Edmund Blunden, Robert Snow, C Dibdin, Anna Kisby, Edgar Wood Syers, Curtis Tappenden, Brendan Cleary, John Liddy, John McCullough, Susan Richardson and James Thomson.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Extract from The Coldest Winter on Record
17th Century Frost Fairs
by Hazel Forsyth, Museum of London Curator
 
 
The great ‘singularity of the City of London’ is the Thames, wrote James Dalton in his celebratory account of the capital in 1580, for it,
 

“Reacheth furthest in the bellie of the land [and] … the breadth and stilnesses of the water is naviagable up and down the streame.’ London is perfectly situated ‘for if it were removed more to the west, it should lose the benefit of the ebbing and flowing; and if it were seated more towardes the East, it should be nearer to daunger of the enemie and further from the good ayre and from doing good to the inner parts of the Realme.”
 
 
The importance of the river to the communication, economy and culture of the capital is a recurring theme in sixteenth and seventeenth-century literature. Foreigners were particularly struck by the vast number of merchant vessels thronging the quays and wharves and the smaller craft ‘used by groups of people to cross the river, or to enjoy themselves in the evenings’. According to the Venetian, Alesandro Magno in 1562, the boats were ‘charmingly upholstered and embroidered cushions are laid across the seats, which are very comfortable to sit on or lean against’. By the late 16th century there were three-thousand watermen operating a water-taxi service on the Thames, but sometimes there were no boats to be had and one tourist complained that he had waited so long ‘that we could in the space of time have made the entire journey on foot and performed some errands along the way’. When the boat finally arrived it appeared to be reduced by ‘worms and time to such a condition that it could have been used as a cork’ and the two watermen seemed broken: ‘they stretched their bodies to their entire lengths while rowing, [they] succeeded only in making very slow progress’.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Other Side of Winter
John McCullough
 
 
Overnight the Thames begins to move again.
The ice beneath the frost fair cracks. Tents,
merry-go-rounds and bookstalls glide about

on islands given up for lost. They race,
switch places, touch – the printing press nuzzling
the swings – then part, slip quietly under.

Still, there is no end of crystal weather.
I hoard coal, stare mostly at the chimney’s back,
fingering the pipe he gave me on the quay.

Even now it carries his greatcoat’s whiff:
ale, oranges, resolve. I remember his prison-ship
lurking out from shore, huge as Australia.

I’ll write, my dear sweet man, he said
then squeezed my thigh and turned, a sergeant
again, bellowing at a flock of convicts.

I do not have the nerve to light it.
The mouthpiece is covered with teeth marks, sweat.
I look out at my museum-garden,

the shrubs locked in glass cases,
the latticework a galaxy of frozen dew.
There is no snow in New South Wales.

I cannot put the pipe down. It makes things happen.
Last week I heard a crash and ran outside to find
a jackdaw flat on the lawn. It must have fallen

from the sky, its wings fused together
by hardened sleet, its neck twisted as though broken
from straining to see the incredible.
 
 
 
from The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011).
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
from Skate (Pighog Press, 2012).

Order Skate.

Order Skate’s companion publication Ice.

Visit the Museum of London’s website.
 
 
 
*

Ice, a Pighog Press anthology

Ice

 
 
 
Ice: Contemporary and traditional poems
for the festive season
Edited by Meredith Collins
Pighog Press, 2012

ISBN 9781906309718
 
 
Ice is a beautifully designed anthology that includes works by poets of the past and present about winter, snow, ice and everything frosty. Classics by William Blake, Emily Dickinson, John Keats and Charlotte Brontë snuggle up with works by contemporary poets like David Crystal, John McCullough, John Davies and Jeremy Page. Whether nursing a glass of mulled wine or roasting chestnuts on the fire readers will love to immerse themselves in these memorable poems full of evocative imagery and cadence.
 
 
£1 from each sale of Ice goes to the charity Shelter to support their work with the homeless.
 
 
Poetry by William Shakespeare, John McCullough, Emily Dickinson, Alex Mosner, William Blake, Chris Hope, David Crystal, Elizabeth Tollett, Thomas Campion, Nancy Campbell, Anne Hunter, Robert Burns, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Paul Deaton, John Keats, Charlotte Brontë, Alwyn Marriage, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jeremy Page, George Meredith, Eileen Casey, John Donne, Meredith Collins, Robert Bridges, Laura Kayne, James Thomson, John Davies and Christina Rossetti.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Cold Fusion
John McCullough
 
 
March thaws the ocean
and I resume spinning pebbles into the shoal.
Speedboats reclaim the lavender distance,
their backwash diminished
by rollers that hiss at my feet.

On jetties, men clank huge buckets of mussels,
their rubber soles squelching
past crate stacks, flung rope.
The air stinks of spilt fish guts and tainted jokes.
Husband comes home to find his wife …

Last month, they hoisted a dead man
from the glass-covered Atlantic,
a small crowd of us watching.
Matted blond hair, his face purple and mustard.
He seemed to be pondering inscrutable algebra.

A passing nurse crossed herself,
two boys dashed for a bus and I carried on home,
trying to remember your smell.
It’s my turn to phone your mother
though I’ll write a letter instead:

calm words that say everything’s fine.
In my recurring dream, I swim
instinctively back to Christmas
to sweep again all the icicles
from under your bedroom window.
 
 
 
from The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011).
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Winter’s Naked Answer
Alex Mosner
 
 
To melt the butterscotch cathedral
of your ribs, to wear the silk chant of shivers
woven through your skin
would be to understand
the slur of music in your eyes;
the way you look at a thing of beauty
with a quiet understanding.

We walked together through December
and you noticed the moon’s raw crown of light.
You broke off a sharp gasp of sky and swallowed it,
held it inside you where it learned your silhouette,
and then you let it out. We stood there, shared breath,
stared up at the vague enormity.
It was as if you were listening carefully to its story,
keeping a secret on behalf of everything else.

I went home and drank a glass of water
just to give myself weight,
tried to solve winter’s naked answer
with nothing more than a broken key of questions,

to find that you are the unspoken agreement between
the rest of the night and the way we touch;
gorgeous as a beggar’s soul.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Snow Fox (on the cancellation of our reading
at the Whitechapel Gallery, December 2010)
David Crystal
 
for John, Matt and Zena
  
 
I watch the fox
that slept on our shed-roof in summer
walk up Queensthorpe
in a blizzard of snow.
He of the right leg limp
he of the cat thin tail
head down, ribs lean
in the last winter of his life.

(Snow fox on fox-hill
on his red bread tray sledge,
Spider, popping snow white pills.)

I read out loud to no-one
Gangsta Keats,
look at my set list, my last poem
Three Strawberries,
for Arthur, my grandad,
who would have rattled past the Whitechapel
flat out in his ambulance,
the blitz years he never really talked about.
Happy nights though
ballroom dancing in Bethnal Green
chain smoking Black Cat cigarettes.
Somewhere on Lemon street
a severed freckled arm in rubble
hand lock tight around a worn out old iron
Shirt, skirt, silk tie,
only the washing line left of the house.
Arthur dancing the American Smooth
before another black-out, more bombs.
 
 
  
*
 
 
 
Winter
John Davies
 
 
Wait. Watch a scimitar of heath
chicane above the fencepost silhouettes,
careen along the hillside’s windward crease,
as drab as the branches where it settles.
Wait. See the ground start up and fly
and leave its long-legged shadows in the snow.
Observe a wing of primrose in the sky,
how long it takes for anything to grow.
Wait. Count dull barbs on silver wire,
sodium stars that pierce the closing dusk,
wheat stalks scorched in the harvest fire,
the total sum of humanity’s flux.
Will waiting help us understand how much
of us is there, how much of there is us?
 
 
 
‘Winter’ was written as part of a commission from North Middlesex University Hospital and Bouygues UK.
 
 
 
 
from Ice (Pighog Press, 2012).
 
Order Ice.
 
Order Ice’s companion publication Skate.
 
 
 
*

Estuary: A Confluence of Art & Poetry

Estuary
 
 
 
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.
 
 
 
 
DustedBeansBrokenBeams 
 
‘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.
 
 
 
 
LostPlayground 
 
‘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.
 
 
 
 
Hellcat 
 
‘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.
 
 
 
 
PatchPondersParadise 
 
‘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.
 
 
 
 
JourneyInsideWhale 
 
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).
 
 
 
*

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)
Eaindra
 
 
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
Gratitude
Apologies
Regrets

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

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
Pandora
 
 
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
vivified
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
 
 
     1.

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.
 
 
     2.

I have often taken
a stroll
On your burgundy lips
The humid breeze
Between
Your tongue
Your teeth
How can I forget
The scent of grapes it carried.
 
 
     3.

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.
 
 
     4.

We didn’t love Hitler.
We loved Shakespeare.
We didn’t love Mussolini.
We loved Modigliani.
We didn’t love Stalin.
We loved Yushchenko.
 
 
     5.

Columbus!
Mr. Columbus!
I couldn’t have predicted her plight
How my Rose walked the American plank.
 
 
     6.

My fragrance of Shinmadaung thanaka,
Has just hurried
From Pazuntaung Yekyaw
To North America.
 
 
     7.

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?
 
 
     8.

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

 
 
 
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.”
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
“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
 
 
Tears
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.
 
 
 
 
*

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot — Part Three: Six Poems

 
 
 
 
Commentators Chewing Meat
Kirsten Irving
 
 
The excitement here is one fat comet – do the crowd
want to praise him or eat him alive? I’m joking of
course; we all adore him like the sort of uncle who
cuffs you for low grades but still brings you sweets –
say, would you carve me another sliver? This chorizo
is heaven’s lace – and at last here he comes, in his
golden mortar, punting along with a sapphired pestle –
is that mink or ermine lying dead on his shoulders?
Are those real dragon’s teeth around his neck? –and
the roars are so loud now you’d think – you’d think
he’d steered his gondola into Moscow Zoo at feeding
time – speaking of which, one more tongue’s worth
couldn’t hurt – and has he gotten more muscular? His
upper body seems bolstered with clay beneath that
cloak; he’s practically a hunchback. But let’s not forget
what we’re here for: this isn’t Milan, Paris, London.
History! A two-thirds majority and a few royal nods
have cleared the weeds from a long-dead job role –
now guys, while I’m forking up another doily of pig, I
want you to think on this: can men become gods these
days? Did the window close with the last Roman
emperor? Who gets to decide, if not other gods, who
drift uselessly by like silent ships, fading into the fog?
And if a god can die, what use is he anyway? Oh look!
A scuffle! I do love scuffles!
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Eye of the Needle
Aoife Mannix
 
 
I bet when Jesus went into the temple
and started knocking over stalls,
there were those who said this is just
some punk from Bethlehem pulling a PR stunt,
and it’s disrespectful and it’s disgusting
and he needs to get what he deserves
so we’ll pin him to a cross and won’t consider
that two thousand years later his words will rise up
in a prayer that says Putin with your 22m roubles
worth of white gold watches, and your flotilla of yachts,
and your 20 palaces and your flying toilet
that cost 75,000 dollars, you with your Mercedes,
helicopters, villas, aeroplanes, swimming pools,
you are just an echo of that other Pilate dictator
who also thought he could cling to power
by torturing those that seemed weak
but knew the strength of turning the other cheek.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Free Pussy
Sophie Robinson
 
 
I’ve got the vagina your mother told you about
& it’s coming for you so watch out –

couplet vagina, hairy scruff, parkland
butchery waiting for your tender hand

descending. Happy vaginas on TV
open and close like poetry.

Sad vaginas on the streets stripped
of their rights, tight-lipped

& talkless in alleys always.
Awake & waiting, outer hallways

of a world full of those who know
it could be better & isn’t. Sad disco

where we can dance off our hurts
free pussy / lock hips / solidarity / stay alert.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Thirst
John Siddique
 
 
Imagine thirst without knowing water.
And you ask me what freedom means.
Imagine love without love.

Some things are unthinkable,
until one day the unthinkable is here.
Imagine thirst without knowing water.

Some things we assume just are as they are,
no action is taken to make or sustain them.
Imagine love without love.

It is fear that eats the heart: fear and
endless talk, and not risking a step.
Imagine thirst without knowing water.

Fold away your beautiful thoughts.
Talk away curiosity, chatter away truth.
Imagine love without love.

Imagine believing in the whispers,
the screams and the gossip. Dancing to a tune
with no song to sing inside you.
Imagine love without love.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Abridged and Complete Biography of Olympe de Gouges
Claire Trévien
 
 
You were born on a tongue of land
resting on a tit,
from which sprung willows that
made the slightest wind look like snow
no wonder you left
for the singeing gash of Paris where

they called you a he-woman at the slice
for daring to spunk for women’s rights. If

a woman can be brought to the scaffold,
you said, she should be allowed to fucking
shout! Thank fuck

you roar in the archives, slobbering over
the filing system! You’re an army of sixty kings
and no subject, you’re a butcher and his widow,
you’re every Mary I’ve watched
eat a tax collector for lunch
and still have room for a groom. Your plays
haven’t washed in two hundred years
and grow brown at the armpits. So what
if they stink and whistle at men in the street?
At least they don’t give a shit about our precious
feelings,

you’re a willow soaked in blood and set on fire
and when the wind gusts
you shit on it.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Our Glorious Leader Putin
Jack Underwood
 
 
Look! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has just shot a rare Siberian Tiger with a dart gun! Surely he is at one with/ connected to/ master of nature at its most fierce.

And look look! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has just spoken fluent goose to some rare migrating geese as he flies adjacently to them in a light aircraft, wearing a beak, leading them to safety, just as he metaphorically leads our nation with a cool, authoritative dignity.

Look now! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has just woken up and thumped out two hundred loaves of dough in a masculine and serious way, to be baked for the starving old people.

And look look! A crowd of beautiful women sing how they wish their boyfriends were as conscientious and as traditionally masculine as OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN as they shake their feminine behinds respectfully at his motorcade silly girls.

Ah wow look! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has been diving in the sea with his shirt off showcasing his masculine figure to his country and the World as he finds some ancient artefacts on the seabed again.

And bravo! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN throws a lesser man in Judo!

Whoof! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN rides a horse masterfully with his shirt off!

Listen! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN is laughing at a joke, displaying to our country and the World that despite possessing a overall masculinity of impregnable steel, he is able to laugh at an authorised joke somebody has made in line with the concerns and beliefs of OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN.

And see OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has just masturbated in the shower, in line with the recommendations of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Russian Federation. After all, he is nearly only a man, for which this is ordinary behaviour.

Observe now how OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN cleans his penis with a q-tip, so tidily and neatly, as if he were erasing a small secret from his past as a KGB hero/agent.

And now OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN is drinking a glass of his own delicious and superior vodka brand PUTINKA. Surely there is no other vodka brand currently available on the market that typifies the drinking requirements of an actual Russian man.

And imagine that as OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN swallows the cold-hot transparency of it, he opens his ears to himself and hears not one dissenting voice from within; thusly closing the wound of each of his thoughts with the same brute salve of his sure and right reflection.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
All profits from both the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book and print on demand copies will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme.

Order Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. Download the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book.

Visit English PEN’s website.

Visit English PEN’s Poems for Pussy Riot project page.

Read some of the Pussy Riot poems on English PEN’s website.

Visit EngPussyRiot’s live journal.
 
 
 
*

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot — Part Two: Six Poems

 
  
 
 
A Mother Prays to Cipaltonal
Sirama Bajo
 
 
do not go out, daughter
they do not like your flesh, here

they seek to harm it, here
cover yourself, for you will be seen

do not go out, daughter, be still
you will not be sacrificed today

not in the darkness, never in the dark
for how will they see it?

daughter, your flesh has grown
how, so much of it, will we hide?

darkness’ shawl is not enough
daughter, your flesh is glowing in the dark

I will sing a very old song
thick like war, like grief

from our dead, this gift
a song to cover up the sun

birds will think it is always night
we will have the stars in cactus blooms

always safe your female flesh
which used to darkness, has begun to glow
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
‘Here, my love, listen.’
Karen Connelly
 
 
1.
 
Here, my love, listen.
The sculpted dish of the human ear
still fills with cries
from a road where the blood
stayed for many days.
The people come slowly out
of their hiding places to collect
the scarves, the purses,
the hand-painted signs,
so many voices broken away
from frozen-open mouths.
 
 
2.
 
Here where all the doors are closed
the woman turns herself
sideways to slide through the slit
of hope, the woman strips off
her shadow and stands perfectly
naked
before the crowd.
Then she begins to sing.
 
 
3.
 
Here where the spirit
becomes flesh and a million
dead sweat beside you,
the borders dissolve
with the bruised skin.
Here there is no separation.
Entering the new age
of murder,
you forsake
every weapon but the hand
thrashing a guitar.
And the voice, the unruly voice,
raising its riot
of song.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Perpetual
Sasha Dugdale
 
 
When all the passions are at last spent
They lead out the mother martyrs
Who honestly have the most to lose
Having regurgitated soul, heart and brains
At some earlier stage, having sent a pigeon-chested
Yellow parcel of skin forth into the dung.
They are more parts water than anyone else:
Tears rush to blur their eyes at the smells of
Jasmine, milk, meadowsweet, bread.
Every night they fight a constricting doubt
Winding itself about their neck, chewing, pawing
Severing important arteries and nervous structures:
Every night in their sleep they are closer to dying
Than the rest, because with one act they have become two
And they perceive their own death always from outside
As a halving, a terrible halving, with a sharpened sword.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Cage
Katy Evans-Bush
 
 
Inside it are the most beautiful animals of all.
The most dangerous animals.
The most vulnerable animals.
The ones with the most coloured plumage.
The ones with stripes.
The ones with the loudest songs.

Outside it are the ones who might be hurt.
Our eyes are burned by colour.
Our flesh is torn by claws.
Our ears are troubled by the untrammelled
cacophony of nature.
Our cameras –

In the dust of the enclosure, in the pen,
the caged cat paces, darkly miraculous
inside her suit of cat skin.
The squid-woman swims oblivious in light and water.
Behind the wall, the rhino nurses her infant,
innocent even of her horn.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Avoid Using the Word ‘Pussy’
Charlotte Geater
 
 
feminists it’s time to become angry
again! gingerbread women break your
fists when they say

the punk rock girl band / stop bitching
whose name we can’t say / i call them bitches
on morning television / because they are bitches

three strumpets who will / holy mary mother of god
be pardoned soon

the girls are sinners, they’ve made their
choice against christ & real madonna
what pussies, when riots?

but which of you weren’t always angry –
who listened / stop bitching
little heart elbow patches

are used only because
they’re hard to take seriously.
everyone can be pussy riot?

but why presume / stop bitching

but the struggle as its own apart
but the struggles together.

the trampled tents laughing
i hate i despise / the empty church
& do not respect

your festivals / what if we had two
hundred thousand years more of this

& if you are not angry from before
these times / what riots

will you have had enough / stop
will you stop? pussy like most slang terms
(see also: cunt) an endearing name

for a girl / do not endear
when riots are / which anger is this
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Pomegranates
Kiran Millwood Hargrave

 
for Lady Macbeth
 
 
I wish that children came
easy as a lie.

That blood came, dropped like
so many seeds

thoughtlessly.

It’s as if someone has
sewn me up.

So I took the handle of a knife
and split a slit.

Finally blood, for all the
months I missed.

Imagined a pomegranate
spilling red-bruised-black.

Imagined a girl her flesh
was blue and sad

imagined a boy his hair
was black like mine

imagined myself stretched
scream-open and alive.

It took five hours to
stitch me up.

They left my hands red
so as not to forget.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
All profits from both the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book and print on demand copies will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme.

Order Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot.
 
Download the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book.
 
Visit English PEN’s website.

Visit English PEN’s Poems for Pussy Riot project page.

Read some of the Pussy Riot poems on English PEN’s website.

Visit EngPussyRiot’s live journal.
 
 
 
*

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot — Part One: Editors’ Foreword and Introduction by George Szirtes

 
 
 
 
Contributors
are Sascha Aurora Akhtar, Sandra Alland, David Ashford, Tim Atkins, Andrew Bailey, Sirama Bajo, Richard Barrett, Susan Birchenough, Mark Burnhope, Wayne Burrows, David Caddy, John Calvert, Jen Campbell, Theodoros Chiotis, Karen Connelly, Jennifer Cooke, Rebecca Cremin & Ryan Ormonde, Sarah Crewe, Sarah Crewe & Jo Langton, Alison Croggon, Tim Dooley, Betty Doyle, Sasha Dugdale, Laurence Ebersole, Amy Etkins, Chris Emslie, John Ennis, Amy Evans, Gareth Evans, Katy Evans-Bush, SJ Fowler, Kit Fryatt, Lucy Furlong, Charlotte Geater, The Gingerbread Tree, Jay Griffiths, Hel Gurney, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Steven Heighton, Sophie Herxheimer & Alison Winch, Sarah Hesketh, Jeff Hilson, Adam Horovitz, Ray Hsu, Peter Hughes, Philo Ikonya & Helmuth Niederle, Kirsten Irving, Genowefa Jakubowska-Fijalkowska, Maria Jastrzebska, Tom Jenks, Antony John, Phill Jupitus, Amy Key, John Kinsella, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Deborah Levy, Ira Lightman, Francesca Lisette, M Ly-Eliot, Alex MacDonald, Melissa Mack, Christodoulos Makris, Aoife Mannix, Barbara Marsh, Agnes Marton, Sophie Mayer, Sally McAlister, Michelle McGrane, Michael McKimm, Drew Milne, Helen Moore, AF Moritz, Barbara Norden, Redell Olsen, Sandeep Parmar, Anna Percy, Jody Porter, Frances Presley, Karen Press, Katy Price, Ana Pulteney, Chella Quint, Red of The Vaginellas, Selina Robertson, Sophie Robinson, Shelagh M Rowan-Legg, Fathieh Saudi, John Siddique, Adrian Slatcher, Daniel Sluman, Ali Smith, Barbara Smith, Tom Spencer, John Stone, Andrew Taylor, Philip Terry, Sarah Thomasin, Claire Trevien, George Ttoouli, Gareth Twose, Jack Underwood, Steve Waling, Tony Walsh, Michael Weller, Tim Wells, JT Welsch, Ginna Wilkerson, Alison Winch, Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Veronica Zundel.
 
 
 
Translators into Russian are Andrei Aliaksandru, Vladimir Andreev, Marina Brodskaya, Chicago Translation Workshop, Elena Edwards, Tatiana Filimonova, Sophie Gug, Mary Harrah, Masha Karp, Svitlana Kobets, Sergei Korenevskiy, Nokolai Kozin, Maria ozlovskaya, Dasha McLeish, Cat Paronjan, Tatiana Samsonova, Maria Shukurova, Dmitry Simanovsky, James Taylor, Jennifer Wilson and John Wright.
 
 
 
*
   
    
 
Editors’ Foreword
 
Red Letter Day: Poetry and Protest for Pussy Riot
 
  
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot is a communion of the visual and lyrical; rhymed, satirical and experimental poetry in tribute to political prisoners of conscience, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. It contains a cornucopia of approaches to freedom and to feminism, from opposing patriarchy to reclaiming pussy from a book of dirty words. It is an offertory for three women whose actions have woken up the need for change, in not just their own authoritarian state, but also in how we address gender politics and all forms of oppression in our own society. Featured poets include Alison Croggon, Amy Evans, Jeff Hilson, Tom Jenks, Amy Key, Agnes Marton, Michelle McGrane, Sophie Robinson, Andrew Taylor and 100 more.
 
 
Summing up the work of 110 poets in 110 words is never easy – especially when the poets in question have donated their work rapidly and generously. Our anthology, which includes nearly 100 poems written especially for the band, has come together in under three weeks. What started as a conversation among four friends on Facebook, sparked by a post from EngPussyRiot that provided instructions on how to send letters to the band, has become a transnational conversation of hundreds powered by social media but driven by the same community and generosity among writers that informed the foundation of English PEN, who have supported this project practically and imaginatively from the beginning.
 
 
Both the example set by Pussy Riot – fierce, feminist champions of freedom – and the example being made of them by the Russian judiciary has fired something in writers around the world. The band’s punk prayer uses language precisely and powerfully – and it’s inspired the poets who’ve contributed to do the same. They’ve taken risks in recognition of the real legal and physical dangers facing the Writers at Risk supported by PEN internationally.
 
 
We have been overwhelmed by the wit, passion, elegance and variety of the poetic protests we’ve received. Some are funny, like Phill Jupitus’ puntastic ‘Girl Banned’ and Sophie Herxeimer’s short and sharp ‘Trollops’ Cathedral’. Others are bold and angry, like Sophie Robinson’s vivid ‘Free Pussy’ and Tim Atkin’s extraordinary ‘I Love the Rich’, which adapts a poem by Maria Tsvetaeva. Many poets, including Sirama Bajo, Steve Waling, JT Welsch and Veronica Zundel, have responded to the band’s Punk Prayer with their own new invocations. Sasha Dugdale wrote from Russia, Sally McAlister from France, and John Kinsella from Australia. Philo Ikonya, International PEN member, has been reading his roll call of unriotous dictators at events in Norway.
 
 
The PEN blog, where around 45 of the poems have been posted, along with images of their poets in balaclavas, carried the message further than we could ever have imagined: offers of poems poured in, from poets such as seventeen year old activist Betty Doyle, and feminist performance poets Anna Percy, Ana Pulteney, Barbara Smith, and Sarah Thomasin – often with videos, such as Pulteney’s performance in her church in Totnes, Devon. Twenty-two poets who took part in SJ Fowler’s and Richard Barrett’s Poems for Pussy Riot in London and Manchester shared their poems.
 
 
The book, as you’ll see, even includes cut-out-and-wear poem-balaclava masks created by Mark Burnhope, and a stencil by Chella Quint so you can create your own Pussy Riot protest wherever you are. Please read, share, tweet, translate, remix, and keep our prayers for Pussy Riot’s freedom alive.
 
 
Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Introduction
by George Szirtes
 
 
An anthology of poems dedicated to a political purpose is not so much an anthology of poems as a political act in poetic form.
 
 
There is a long history of such anthologies including 100 Poems Against the War, edited by Todd Swift at the time of the Iraq War in 2003, and, about ten years before that, Klaonica: Poems for Bosnia, edited by Ken Smith and Judy Benson. The two were different in that 100 Poems was an act of protest about a war in which the UK and US were the initiators and actors, whereas the second was to raise money for victims of a war faced by others, the contributing poets being helpless observers. The poets in Klaonica were not taking the Serbian or Bosnian or, for that matter, the Croatian side, but donating work to relieve suffering, much as they might donate money.
 
 
There are many other causes in which poets might do the same – hospitals, libraries, celebrations, childhood and so forth – but from the political point of view 100 Poems and Klaonica represent the two main kinds.
 
 
Catechism
is of the second kind. It has been rapidly compiled by its editors to protest – from the outside, as it were – against the two-year sentence imposed on Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, three members of a much larger (twelve to fifteen members) punk band known  as Pussy Riot, for staging a brief masked performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. The performance, by five members of the band was quickly put up on YouTube and within eleven days, two of the band, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, were under arrest. Thirteen days later Samutsevich was also arrested. The two remaining members of the performing band have, it is presumed, gone abroad to avoid arrest. The song the band was singing at the time was a raucous prayer asking the Mother of God to chase away President Putin. The two-year sentence is due to be appealed on 1 October, 2012.
 
 
These are the bare facts but the cause of Pussy Riot is more complex than that.
 
 
In the first place the performance was about President Putin personally, and articulated a desire to see him leave the political stage.
 
 
Who is Putin? Russians in general have mixed feelings about him. The period straight after the fall of the Soviet Union in President Gorbachev’s time, was followed by a few chaotic years under President Yeltsin. Those years were wounding and humiliating for a people that had felt stable and, in many respects, proud of their role in the Second World War as well as on the international stage afterwards. The Soviet Union with its Warsaw Pact was an equal and opposite force to the United States and NATO.
 
 
A good part of those who remembered the pre-Gorbachev era, before the dismemberment of the Soviet empire, looked back to those times with a certain nostalgia, because, despite the gulags, despite the secret arrests, despite the censorship, despite the increasing corruption, they felt safe. Given Russia’s history, their feelings about authoritarianism were and remain very different from our feelings about individual freedoms in Europe and the West. The ‘strong hand’ – inevitably a patriarchal hand – was something many trusted. When Putin came along offering just that in a new form in a world of oil and oligarchs, he seemed to them welcome. Anything but the madness under Yeltsin!
 
 
But that opinion is clearly not universal in Russia. A good many people have strong fears of the establishing of a new, more corrupt, one-party state in which the state itself is the largest oligarch, a state in which notions of ‘tradition’ are imposed on those who, for very good reason, wish to free themselves from it.
 
 
Putin is an individual, the most powerful individual in the state, but Pussy Riot’s performance, as I read it, was not only about Putin – it was also a protest against the kind of power Putin symbolises.
 
 
This includes the Russian Orthodox church. The church has an important role in maintaining Putin’s power since it represents a very large conservative constituency in Russia, one that somehow survived the officially atheist Soviet period to prosper after it. The church is an alternative embodiment of the ‘strong hand’ Putin can employ to influence and control the Russian electorate, which is why the performance, including the reference to the Mother of God, took place in a major Moscow church closely associated with Putin. The church is, necessarily, patriarchal.
 
 
And the patriarchy – both formal and informal in terms of the family and society generally – is clearly important to a band calling itself Pussy Riot. The performance was, in those terms, a call for female solidarity and rebellion against a state of affairs where Putin’s masculinity is a highly constructed point of appeal. Jack Underwood has a poem in this anthology that comically highlights precisely this aspect of Putin’s power: Putin the macho man, Putin who offers or denies you the power because he not only knows best, but has the means to effect his will. Pussy Riot is a highly intelligent form of resistence to such will: it is a call to disobedience.
 
 
Since Putin seems assured of the power, it is rather surprising that the courts should have decided to act as severely as they did. Intended primarily for home consumption, as a warning, the charge and sentence, has been entirely counter-productive in international terms. The charge of ‘hooliganism’ is rather like the one of ‘parasitism’ that was directed at the Nobel Prize winning poet, Josef Brodsky in 1964. It is broadly seen as a charge of convenience. In that sense Pussy Riot has grown from a minor nuisance to a global cause. They are up there with Brodsky. A crushing and oppressive two-year sentence becomes very big news. The result is that Pussy Riot look, as they actually are, highly intelligent while Russia looks cruel and stupid.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
For people on this side of the equation the issue is not so much with Putin as with what Putin represents and what Pussy Riot represent. The meaning of Pussy Riot, for many, is as evidenced in the poems published here, less a political incident, more a cross-section of contemporary concerns and passions symbolised by the three young women. The meanings of Pussy Riot in this context begin with what the name suggests, that’s to say feminism in its various forms and moods, from assertion of rights, through core issues of identity, down to protest at an inimical, oppressive male world. This meaning – probably the most intense meaning – involves a conception of the world that is the polar opposite of Putin’s.
 
 
Then again, since Pussy Riot calls itself, and performs as, a punk band, the meaning of the group is derived from and invites a punk aesthetic that is partly tribal, partly anarchic, looking to be disruptive of conservative views and manners, in exactly the same way as Pussy Riot were disruptive in the church.
 
 
Beyond that, the band is young: there is also the invitation to youth. It is not precisely an old-versus-young battle but, in this case, it is the young, masked and loud, who are in the vanguard. For many they represent the potential for a new and different model of Russia.
 
 
Each of these models and antitheses is crude in itself – life, we know, is more subtle than that – but the antitheses remain. Most importantly, trumping all other concerns, is a conception of justice. It is simply wrong to jail people for that length of time for the minor office of disruption. Three unjustly accused individuals stand against a state led by a former operative of the KGB, a state that has seen the arrest and assassination of vocal opponents. In many ways it is like the old days: the repressive state against its dissidents. The corrupt system against those who protest its corruption.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The anthology contains a variety of poems, some, like Andrew Bailey’s, the second of Mark Burnhope’s, Rebecca Cremin and Ryan Ormonde’s, Tim Dooley’s, John Ennis’s, Charlotte Geater’s, Jay Griffith’s and others (the list is too long and I am going alphabetically) address the case directly or refer to it obliquely. More numerous are poems that are born out of a sympathetic feeling, identifying something in Pussy Riot that corresponds with the feeling of the poet in respect of feminism or authority or sheer voice quality. There may be earlier poems now grown particularly relevant. There are poems that appear on a larger map of concerns that happen to find themselves here.
 
 
There are poems of various styles including Alison Croggon’s ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, Sasha Dugdale’s ‘Perpetual’, SJ Fowler’s ‘They’, Kit Fryatt’s ‘Sounds Like Sense’, Sarah Hesketh’s sharp ‘Some Protest Stones’, Philo Ikonya and Helmuth A. Niederle’s ‘Pussy Riot For Ever: The Body’, Amy Key’s ‘Cat Power’, John Kinsella’s ‘Penillion for Pussy Riot’, Aoife Mannix’s ‘The Eye of the Needle’, and so on. I don’t pick these out because I think they are the best poems, only because they are broadly different. I could pick many others.
 
 
Like any contributor to such anthologies, I am fully aware that it is unlikely to affect the course of events in any measurable way, though it may perhaps add to the weight of protest that hopes, at some stage, on some level, to influence the Russian court and indeed that part of the Russian people who support the sentence. It might be a consolation to Pussy Riot, and to those for whom they speak, that there are many people – including poets – who listen to them and talk back in support. A book of poems in a foreign language published in a foreign place is rarely a factor in the decisions of a hostile administration, but this is downloadable. It may be a factor somewhere, somehow. Who can tell? One has hope or one has nothing.
 
 
Speaking personally it is quite odd for me as an almost sixty-four year old male poet to be writing this introduction. It was odd, but rather nice to be asked on the spur of the moment and to say: yes. Of course I wondered if I was out of place. I am not looking to be cool with those younger than me or of a different gender. I have been on a few demonstrations but never felt it to be my natural place.
 
 
I ask myself this: if the world were arrayed into forces represented by President Putin on the one side and Pussy Riot on the other I know which side I’d be on and it wouldn’t be Putin’s. That’s where we are, and that’s where this is. And that is why it is a privilege to write this introduction.
 
 
– George Szirtes
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
All profits from both the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book and print on demand copies will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme.
 

Order Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot.
 
Download the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book

Visit English PEN’s website.

Visit English PEN’s Poems for Pussy Riot project page.

Read some of the Pussy Riot poems on English PEN’s website.

Visit EngPussyRiot’s live journal.

Visit George Szirte’s website and blog.
 
 
 
*