Cliff Forshaw left school at sixteen and worked in an abattoir before studying painting at art college and developing an interest in languages and European literatures. After various jobs in Spain, Mexico, Italy, Germany and New York and freelance writing in London, he completed a doctorate on Elizabethan satire at Oxford. Since then he has lived in Snowdonia and Yorkshire and taught at Bangor, Sheffield and, since 2005, Hull University.
He has been a writer-in-residence in California, Transylvania and Tasmania, twice a Hawthornden Writing Fellow, and a winner of the Welsh Academi John Tripp Award. He continues to paint and his work has been exhibited in the United Kingdom and the United States. He has also made two short films to accompany poetry collaborations: Drift was shown at the Humber Mouth Literature Festival in 2008; Under Travelling Skies (Kingston Press, 2012) won the first Larkin 25 Words Award in 2012.
Cliff Forshaw also writes fiction.
“The term “Vandemonian” refers to Van Diemen’s Land, and Cliff Forshaw’s sixth collection focuses on its inhabitants, both human and animal, newcomer and Aborigine, to piece together a fragmentary history of Tasmania. The first section moves from the island’s mythic beginnings as Trowenna, through its discovery by Europeans and the subsequent destruction of native peoples and wildlife as it becomes a penal colony’s own penal colony. Here there are songs and ballads for Trucanini, the last full-blood Tasmanian Aborigine, and also sonnets for the Tasmanian Tiger, officially declared extinct, but living on through folklore and unconfirmed sightings.
The poems roam wider and eventually fetch up on the mainland. ‘A Ned Kelly Hymnal’ reflects on the legend of the famous outlaw, its use by artists such as Sidney Nolan, and its ambiguous ubiquity as a symbol of Australian identity.
The book concludes with ‘The Shoal Bay Death Spirit Dreaming’: an elegy for one whitefella victim of the Australian sun. The poem considers death and displacement through the disorientating effects of modern travel which foster oblique reflections on a famous aborigine artwork, the huge collaborative painting by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and his brother Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, The Napperby Death Spirit Dreaming.”
“An imagination like no other, transforming the world you thought you knew.”
– Jon Stallworthy
“The high energy of Cliff Forshaw’s poems makes me think particularly of Donne and the other Metaphysicals: argument, wit, erudition and force of feeling all working to convey an authentic vision of the world we live in.”
– Christopher Reid
“As always, Cliff Forshaw’s writing embodies a large intelligence. These are poems of voyage, exertion and discovery, enjoying the challenge of unpredictable and unusual locations, both geographical and psychological. At the same time, they demonstrate grounded, dependable craft. They never trick the reader, but, witty and exuberant, send us on our poetic journeys with new imaginative maps.”
– Carol Rumens
They shut your trap. The warder said nowt,
bundled you – poor bugger! – into dark.
This monkhood turns grasses Trappist:
dumb cells, down there no light, no noise, no talk.
Without the light, it’s all bad dreams, blind faith.
You touch the wall to feel the world’s still there.
For days you wheel over landless seas.
You pray for Sunday: clanks, chains, the key.
But now, felt slippers, the guards’ steps muffled,
you’re hooded with a beak, prodded, shuffled
(damp-smells, echoes) towards a sniff of sun,
air, black on the back of your neck and hands.
Sunday, each man in his privy wooden stall,
you take your only communion in the swell
of hymns. Each soul can shout himself out
from his little wedge of God-pointed dark.
You sing your name: it fills your throat, your mouth;
not sure what is echo, what is prayer;
once more you’re wheeling over what brought you here:
Roaring Forties, that ache of nothing to the south.
You work. Pick oakum in solitude.
In the yard you’re hidden by a mask
that twists each jail-bird’s face into beak.
Nothing to say or do, but Work is Prayer.
You do your bird. You do your time. Keep shtum.
Keep nose clean. Keeps hands to yourself. Keep mum.
One day in the yard, a man runs head-first, mad
against the wall. Falls, gets up, head-butts
his way, almost through brick: again and again,
you hear skin and bone on stone. That crack.
It echoes down the months. It fills your cell.
Your mind’s eye colonised by the twitch
of a wounded bird, the way it fell;
how blood frothed cobbles, sun smirked along its beak.
Suddenly One Sunday
Port Arthur, 28 April 1996
Suddenly one Sunday
a man goes into the Broad Arrow Café,
hands out the punishment to all and sundry.
Full of tourists. Bad timing, very tough luck –
to coincide with some long-simmered grudge
and a semi-automatic. Faster than Shit! Fuck!
The newly articulate rhetoric of an AR-15
making its incontrovertible points with thirty
rounds of well-considered disputation in each magazine,
pressing home the argument with a leg or shoulder.
Quiet lad, bit of a loner.
Back of neck, spine; exiting splinters of bone.
The chorus to that song keeps growing longer:
Columbine, Virginia Tech, San Ysidro, Aramoana,
Hungerford, Dunblane, Killeen, Fort Hood, Utøya.
A number you can’t get out of your head.
Eighteen wounded, thirty-five dead.
The thylacine or “Tasmanian tiger”, the world’s largest marsupial carnivore, originally native to continental Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea, was declared extinct in 1986. Though deliberately hunted to the brink of extinction throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was given the status of protected species two months before the last documented tiger died in 1936 in a Hobart zoo.
Attempts to clone the thylacine, using DNA from preserved specimens, have so far proved unsuccessful. The tiger has assumed a popular mythic status in Tasmania, with unconfirmed sightings continuing to this day.
62 seconds of the extinct thylacine on film
Within the box, it growls, it twists,
scowls through its repertoire of tricks,
ignores the camera – or gurns up close, turns
again, to flop, to gnaw that paw-trapped bone.
It paces out its trap of light; one hundred reps
while hindquarters zither bars of sun;
claws cage’s mesh, hangs stretched
as if to take the measure of itself.
You saw. You see. And what we’ve got is what was shot:
short clips, fragments caught and stitched
together in a loop of black and white.
Nine lives? Not quite. It’s down. It’s out.
It’s on its feet and born again. Like a repetition
compulsion, like … like reincarnated light.
Extinct, this creature’s everywhere
from CD sleeves to bottled beer.
With trademark stripes, it zebras out
between the gums’ abstracted light.
They’ve even tigered my hired Mazda’s plate.
Everything’s branded. Tasmania – your natural state.
Now you see them. Now they’re gone.
Did this tiger’s go-faster stripes
aid recognition in the loping pack?
Eucalypts, eucalypts at speed,
late sun flickers through those trees:
at the tarmac’s edge, off-cuts of fur, strange weeds.
Billboards, stores along the newly-metalled road:
ironic ads, that hide’s barcode.
The Bottom Line
Tarraleah, Wayatinah, Catagunya, Lake Repulse,
Zeehan, Strahan, Teepookana, Marakoopa, Crotty Dam,
Lileah, Nabageena, Savage River, Blackguard’s Hill.
Out of Queenstown, down the Franklin,
at Cradle Mountain, the Walls of Jerusalem,
one one the banks of Pieman River,
past the place they named Corinna;
unconfirmed sightings at Misery Plateau, Gates of Hell
On the road to Wayatinah,
hard to tell in scratchy rain
if what stripes dusk’s a mangy
dog, its ribs all chiaroscuro hunger,
or weather rubbing landscape out.
Or, the passing place, where headlights catch
what crosses track – that flash glimpsed in the paddock,
head down low, salaamed to dirt:
bowing or praying. What you see at first
is resolved, from something grumbling an argument
with the earth itself, to some long-snouted thing
with life between its teeth, its dragged-back iffy twitch.
For days, that nervous stuff all looks like prey:
a lope that’s dopplered through the boles of trees,
is there … there … there, is disappeared.
And all around, the bottom line goes:
Tarraleah, Wayatinah, Catagunya …
Past the place they named Corinna,
what you hear is ghosts, ghosts, ghosts …
from Vandemonian (Arc Publications, 2013).
Order Vandemonian here and here.
Visit Cliff’s website.
Khadija Heeger was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She was raised on the Cape Flats in the township of Hanover Park. She is a well-known and popular performance poet.
In 2007 she was commissioned to write a multidisciplinary theatrical poetry piece in collaboration with indigenous soundscape artists, Khoikonnexion, for the Spier Poetry Festival in 2008. These performances were greeted with standing ovations. The piece, Stone Words, was later taken to the Grahamstown Festival in 2009 (funded by the National Arts Council of South Africa). Stone Words is the first part in a trilogy called Separation Anxiety. She is currently writing the second, Blood Words, following the crooked lines of DNA. Khadija has also performed in Amherst in the United States as part of an artist exchange programme.
“Heeger’s is a poetry of sincerity and acumen, searching for nuanced understanding and meaning among the welter of public clichés and private rationalisations by which most of us live. In a country where people are ‘vrek van pille roek met ‘n apartheid spoek’, these declarative, propulsive poems urge us to renew a process of reflection, self-examination and action.”
– Kelwyn Sole
“Khadija Heeger is a mould-breaker, a contemporary South African griot of the ancient tradition of griots described as poets and storytellers whose “wit can be devastating and knowledge of local history formidable”. In her poetry Heeger reconstructs and re-imagines vital histories. From the raw and personal to the locally relevant and globally political she unflinchingly names what has been intentionally erased, overshadowed or forgotten.”
– Malika Ndlovu
I have to draw maps.
I have to ride my feet like chariots.
I have to speak like stone and rock.
I have to see like water.
I have to love like mother tongue.
I have to wrestle with the bones of my dead.
I have to wade through the sands, leap through the dungeons
so I feel,
so I feel as I wonder through my life
not knowing me, not knowing now.
See my mirrors and my footprints dance,
me my back to the wind posing in the cracks of my winded smile.
See my questions barren, black shoving marks against these walls,
burning holes in charcoal dreams.
I am here but seldom seen.
I am here,
I have to draw maps.
I have to ride my feet like chariots.
I have to speak like stone and rock.
I have to see like water.
I have to love like mother tongue.
I have to wrestle with the bones of my dead.
I have to wade through the sands, leap through the dungeons
so I know,
so I know the dust-stamp footfall,
a murmuring earth call,
knowing where, knowing how
knowing me, knowing now.
I have to draw maps
to make the swindler mute
to sound the horn
to speak by using my own tongue and annihilate the mutant words.
I have to ride my feet like chariots
to win her back
to find her soles and grow my own
in the new places I call home.
I have to wrestle with the bones of my dead
so I may live here in their stead
carrying their wisdom on the lean road
learning the lessons by which I am led.
I have to wade through the sands,
leap through the dungeons
to find her footprint, to find her footprint
to make a footprint
to make a footprint of my own
so I will know
that I am
from Beyond the Delivery Room (Modjaji Books, 2013).
Order Beyond the Delivery Room from firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Merritt was born in Leicester in 1969, and lives in Whitwick. His debut chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, was published by Happenstance in 2005, and full collections have been Troy Town (Arrowhead, 2008) and hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica (Nine Arches Press, 2010). He reviews for Magma, New Walk, Under the Radar and Sphinx. He studied history at Newcastle University, and works as the editor for Bird Watching magazine. He is the editor of Poets on Fire, and blogs at http://polyolbion.blogspot.com.
“The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches Press, 2013), the third collection of poems from Matt Merritt, takes sheer delight in the full possibilities of language in this study of birds and natural history, travel, personal and universal memory, and even of the occasional elephant too. In the process, it captures the quiet wonder of the fleeting moments that amaze, puzzle and trouble us.
Eco-poetry and exploration are met perfectly with myths and epiphanies; the wide, wild world outside is precisely spoken for, just a moment before taking flight or merging into dusk. This is poetry unafraid of new territories; Matt Merritt pushes out the boundaries of each poem without ever once losing the humour, grace and gentle melancholy at their heart.”
“A poet’s talent follows no maps. Insight, rueful humour and a perfectly tuned ear make Matt Merritt’s The Elephant Tests an exceptional collection, whose poems absorb and startle. Here are elephants, benign or brooding, hares, ‘sharp against the last sun’, humans, who ‘lie and wait for the ceiling rose to bloom’, birds, imagined and real: ‘Rain bird (see also yarrow, yappingale, yaffle)’. Each poem reveals its own richness: ‘and the last thing you see / will be the last thing you ever expected’.”
– Alison Brackenbury
“I’ve become a pretty ardent Matt Merritt fan in recent years. A more observant and articulate poet is hard to imagine. The Elephant Tests is at least as strong as its two predecessors, whilst also being thematically and stylistically his most ambitious and varied book to date.”
– Rory Waterman
He’s gazed at the fanlight since the day
I took possession, god of the mantelpiece
and cold open grate. One fixed point
in an ever-changing pantheon
of ballots and bills, letters expecting no reply,
clusters of keepsakes long since shucked
of their carapace of context and meaning.
His trunk snakes left to take a proffered sweetmeat
(we’re united in disdain for the virtues of self-denial).
Unwitting recipient of every prayer for easy living,
I catch him, aloof and golden in the sunrise.
Later, by lamplight, he dances alone
in the shadows of possibility to the tune
of his thousand names, each one an increment
between vighnakartã and vignahartã,
creator and remover of every obstacle.
He greets each suspiciously-familiar tomorrow
with the same open hand,
ready to welcome good fortune
when it finds its way up the garden path
and swings the old door wide on slow hinges.
Long, close August. We sleep with the window open to the street, wait for promised storms to cut the bullying heat back down to size. Cars clatter over sleeping policemen. Ambulances draw up at the nursing home, unhurriedly. Sometimes, we catch the cries of foxes in the cemetery, the ghost-written call and response of owls. And now wake to sounds, distant and rhythmic, I take for a flock of Canada Geese, migrating; a thing unheard of this side of the Atlantic. Only after several minutes does it become apparent, they’re next door in our neighbour’s bedroom. We lie, and wait for the ceiling rose to bloom, a sound widening between us in the cold ocean of the sheets, wondering if maybe it’s the man we’ve seen painting her front door and carrying flat-packs in from the car, listening as a tailwind takes them faster and higher, out over the flow country, Cape Wrath, the firths, calling to maintain contact across the wide North Sea, descending now to Svalbard, the mountains bright with meltwater, the tundra with saxifrage, crowberry, bell-heather, in the 3a.m. sunlight of the Arctic summer.
Patsy Parisi’s Blues
It won’t be cinematic. No camera will linger
over meaningful glances cast in anticipation
of epiphanous plot developments. No tracking shot
will follow your elegantly curved trajectory
through a perfect simulacrum of the old neighbourhood.
The light will always be harsh enough to pick out
your every scar and blemish, or else so low
as to stubbornly refuse a clear view
of your most private face. Music will fail to rise
to the occasion, emotion will be left to sing
itself, low but incessant as the hum of power cables
strung across scrap-sown hinterlands.
Above all, the next lines will refuse to write themselves,
the unrehearsed words of snatched conversations will betray
all of your best intentions, and the last thing you see
will be the last thing you ever expected.
Note: The line “It won’t be cinematic” is spoken by the character Patsy Parisi in the TV series The Sopranos. A rather mild, scholarly-looking ‘foot-soldier’, he uses it while assuring another character, Gloria Trillo, of her fate should she fail to co-operate.
Red Centre Blues
There is no middle of nowhere
here. It’s everywhere, starting no more
than a couple of hundred yards
beyond the last house, mile on mile
of parched bush and an earth-tone
that’s all that allows the brain to take in
the panache of colour, the enormous light.
And you walked, one crackling dusk,
playing the past out behind you,
a frayed line strung with the lights
of the bottle store and car wash, cheap motels
and the last fuel for 300K. You walked
until the town was no more
than the embers of last month’s wildfire,
and the night multiplied to an unbroken smear
of hopelessly distant probabilities.
You’d dreamed of standing on the edge
of tomorrow, watching it appear over the hill
like an army come to lift a long siege
yet it seemed impossible it would ever find you
amid such relentless space, so you walked
yourself past weary and the last
scattered outliers of exhaustion, walked
yourself to dust, until the unblinking sun shone
straight through you and the insistent iamb
of your gait was all that reminded you
you were still here. You walked back
to a bare room, the possibility of sleep, and
woke up this morning.
Memory abhors a vacuum. It seeds a coarse grass
between every bloom, floods the misty fen
around each steepling moment, spools
and loops to fill the gaps corrupted by routine.
Walking high on the forest one frozen dusk
with friends from school, our dazed delight
at the dash of a hare sharp against the last sun, two snipe
exploding from the ground beneath our feet.
And every occasional – no, worse, each single shining
instance like this – clones to a fond, false permanence
even as it disappears beyond us. One friend is dead now,
the other long since drifted from this close orbit,
hare and snipe are entries in a book, but still we’d say
it was always this way. The mind can’t carry
all that’s offered down from the summit, or if it can,
can’t believe it. Maybe this happened again and again,
maybe just that once. We can live by such uncertainty.
Seeing The Elephant
Each night the world ends, weathered and threadbare,
but by morning is replaced by a perfect facsimile.
Far from creeping intimations of mortality, each of us
wakes to undeniable evidence of our own continued existence.
From this heady vantage, the mountains are like the stars:
close enough to reach out and touch, or else
uncountable miles away. A few claim glimpses,
and all suppose him somewhere in the vicinity,
though not a one can supply a convincing likeness,
explain exactly what we’re looking for.
And since forgetting is so much of what we are,
sometimes we can live the way we did before
we wandered into his territory, but remembering
is his second nature. Do not imagine kindness
in those lazy lashed eyes, or see them as too small
to notice your every move. Beneath that dome
of weathered granite is a record of every bullet
you ever left under your own thin hide
and an estimate of how long it will take
to work its way to your heart.
You still don’t know what the elephant looks like,
but today looks a lot like the elephant.
Note: The phrase “seeing the elephant” was used in the USA in the 19th century, particularly by pioneers making the wagon-train journey across the Great Plains (although Civil War soldiers also used it about their first taste of combat). It carries more than a hint of ambiguity – the people concerned wanted to see the elephant, and were convinced that it was a potentially life-changing experience, but generally ended up at least a little disappointed and disillusioned.
from The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches Press, 2013).
Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim
Translators: Ian Haight and T’ae-yŏng Hŏ
White Pine Press, 2012
Korean Voices Series
Co-translator Ian Haight introduces Magnolia and Lotus
Chin’gak Kuksa Hyesim (1178 – 1234) was the second Patriarch of the Korean Buddhist Chogye Order and the first Zen Master dedicated to poetry in Korea. The book’s title, Magnolia and Lotus, is taken from a poem within the book:
Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees
Observing leaves: at first, I doubt they are persimmon—
looking at the blossoms, I doubt they are lotus.
How fortunate there are no fixed forms—
this tree has no comparison.
I like this poem for a number of reasons and, at the translator’s ever-present risk of presumption, believe it captures the voice of Hyesim. There resides so much Buddhism in these four simple lines: the non-judgmental doubting of what is observed, and how shifting perspective reveals different possibilities in assumptions; the idea of the blossoms themselves – both lotus flowers and magnolias as representations of wisdom, beauty, truth, and enlightenment; the appreciative acceptance of not knowing what a flower is because its fixed form cannot be determined, and how this understanding could be applied to everything comprehended by the mind; finally, a penetrating recognition: that there is nothing to compare with the singularity of what is observed – everything under the sun has uniqueness. A train of thought that is simultaneously paradoxical and circular couched in deceptive simplicity – yes, this poem feels very Buddhist. The poems in this collection present a world observed with reverence and admiration by a monk who lived more than 700 years ago. It feels natural to identify the collection as a unified voice of Hyesim.
Why title the book Magnolia and Lotus? The answer lies in the poem ‘Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees’. Consider a poem as an image of perspective; or the idea that language, a poem, a translation is a shifting continuum, both having and lacking permanence. And yet, somewhere among these possibilities is a node that remains distinctive, if even for a moment – something we can give a title to, calling it a poem or perhaps even a book. Under this Buddhist way of thinking, naming the book after the poem feels appropriate.
The poems in this book are built around an imagined life of Hyesim and his purpose for writing poems. What did Hyesim experience in meditation? How did his wisdom grow with progressive enlightenment? What did he place importance on in life; as a monk; as an early founder of Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, the Chogye Order? If he eventually relinquished this position, what did he then do? What were his thoughts in his final years? Each of the translated poems, attentive to the nuances of Hyesim’s Buddhist and Confucian background as well as the landscape of Korea, posits the point of view of Hyesim, his voice, and his time. My hope is that this collection – utilising metaphor, rhythmic language and imagery – invites a reader into relaxed companionship with Hyesim and his life.
Ian Haight was a co-organizer and translator for the UN’s global poetry readings held annually in Pusan, Korea, from 2002 – 4. He has been awarded five translation grants from the Daesan Foundation, Korea Literature Translation Institute and Baroboin Buddhist Foundation for the translation, editing, promotion, and publication of Korean literature. Ian is the editor of Garden Chysanthemums and First Mountain Snow: Zen Questions and Answers from Korea (2010), and along with T’ae-yŏng Hŏ, the translator of Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Kyun Hŏ (2009) both from White Pine Press. Ian’s translations, essays, poems, and interviews have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Writer’s Chronicle, Quarterly West and Hyundae Buddhist News, among many other publications. For more information, please visit Ian’s website.
T’ae-yŏng Hŏ has been awarded translation grants from the Daesan Foundation and Korea Literature Translation Institute. With Ian Haight, he is the co-translator of Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Hŏ Kyun and Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim. Working from the original classical Chinese, T’ae-yŏng’s translations of Korean poetry have appeared in Runes, New Orleans Review and the Atlanta Review.
“Korea’s first Zen Master-poet wrote simple yet elegant poetry of the world he inhabited, both physically and spiritually, and of daily insights—a pause along the way for a deep clear breath, a moon-viewing moment, a seasonal note or a farewell poem to a departing monk. His poems speak softly and clearly, like hearing a temple bell that was struck a thousand years ago.”
– Sam Hamill
“Hyesim’s poems: transformative as walking high granite mountains by moonlight, with fragrant herbs underfoot and a thermos of clear tea in the backpack. Their bedrock is thusness, their images’ beauty is pellucid and new, their view without limit. The shelf of essential Zen poets for American readers grows larger with this immediately indispensable collection.”
– Jane Hirshfield
“Reading poems from another language, culture, and century, I often feel like a foreigner excluded from the original’s subtleties. Not so in Hyesim’s miraculous time-traveling poems, which might have been written yesterday or tomorrow, and anywhere. There’s not a single opaque word in the book. The poems are Buddhist, yes, and Zen (Sŏn) in particular, but they’re written for anyone interested in human consciousness: what it is, how it perceives the world, how it can be transformed, and what pure perceptual clarity and joy result from the realization of its ultimate transparency. Through eight hundred years Hyesim’s voice delivers the gift of his wisdom, modesty, humor, and profound understanding of the human mind. These are important poems.”
– Chase Twichell
Leaving Home to Enter the Priesthood
I have longed for the School of the Void,
to learn with my mind of ashes to sit in Sŏn.
Fame is fragile as a clay rice-cake steamer—
even after success, the effort for fame has been in vain.
Riches and honors, sought uselessly—
the poor also have this affliction.
I have left my village home
and sleep calmly under pines.
A plantain is an unlit
green candle of beeswax
the spread leaves, a vernal coat’s sleeves
desiring to dance.
I see this image in my intoxicated eyes
though the plantain itself
than my comparisons.
Curves of Incense
Threads of incense drift upwards
unending in my silent room—
a smoky portent, like cracks on a tortoise shell—
nine perfumed plumes twist.
An old mirror hides light with darkness—
embers flare within sullen ash.
The many folds of my silk curtain part—
what is most precious faces the wind.
Saying Goodbye to a Monk
One who leaves home to be a monk must be completely free—
how many times have you entered the gates of enlightenment?
Walking alone, wandering outside the world of humans—
a refined heart looks from afar upon the world.
The body, lively, like a single cloud—
the mind, quiet: a mistless moon.
With the simplicity of a bowl and set of old clothes—
a bird ascending 10,000 mountains.
Replying to Mr Kal’s Poem
Spring silkworms spin threads, strangely tying themselves—
flies content themselves with their vinegar-pot world.
If you want to escape your bonds and reside outside common
turn your head as soon as possible. Practice Sŏn.
Together, with you, I am bound—
once freed, why should a crane linger to fly?
The lustrous moon reminds me of your promise—
on which day in the mountains will we practice Sŏn.
Again, a Poem Given at Departure
The somber sky portends rain—
the miserable mountain bears a weary face.
Fortunately, friends of the same practice release clasped hands
but with such heartfelt friendships, it is difficult not to shed tears.
October 1231, I Pass by Growth of Humanity Temple
Borrowing a Poem Written on a Wall
A stand of bamboo unifies a garden—
a salutary breeze drifts below a fence.
In the season of golden leaves, I regret the day’s brevity—
this night of silence—I want it to last.
Sun showers surround the Abbot’s quarters—
humid air entices the land.
Five days I’ve stayed, resting my staff and shoes—
such a delight when the world’s grace endures.
A breeze of winter—
the months of this year draw to an end.
Every leaf in a forest eventually falls, yellowing a mountain—
only pine and bamboo retain an inborn breath of emerald.
How many years will a human live?
Time is fleet as lightning.
Details of self ought to be examined—
then the empty dream will not endure.
from Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim
(White Pine Press, 2012).
Order Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim.
Visit the White Pine Press website.
Visit Ian Haight’s website.
Valerie Morton returned to poetry after a long break and in the last ten years her poetry has been published in various magazines. She was runner up in the 2011 Essex Poetry Festival. In 2012 she won first prize in the Ver Poets Ten Liner competition. She has appeared online in Ink, Sweat and Tears and The Poetry Shed. In 2011 she completed an OU degree which included Creative Writing, and since then has run a Creative Writing Group with a local mental health charity. She is a member of Ver Poets and her poems have also appeared in three anthologies to raise funds for charity. Mango Tree (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2013) is her first collection.
“The inspiration for this short collection is one man and one country. Written through the eyes of a young Englishwoman travelling to India for the first time in 1967, these are unashamedly intimate memories, helped by diaries and letters, of the vibrancy, mystery and cruelty of a country where waking up each morning is an epiphany.”
“These poems are at once subtle and evocative, delicately poised between personal and universal in a way that only good poetry can be.”
– Joel Stickley
“We walk with Valerie into an unknown, wondrous place, where we are invited to stroke the skin of India, read it with our fingertips, hold it in the palm of our hands.”
– Abegail Morley
“Enigmatic and intoxicating, Valerie Morton’s India is steeped in contrasts, ‘a palette that turns cities pink, temples gold/ and throws shadows longer than the night’. In poems of displacement, discovery, apprehension and enchantment, she weaves memories of enduring love. Mango Tree is a poignant tribute and a sensory delight.”
– Michelle McGrane
You gave me India
spread it out before me
in the clashing colours of sarees
drying on the banks of the Ganges –
a chaotic palette of lights
and darks – a palette
that renews itself each morning
out of noise and disarray,
blistering heat and boisterous rain –
a palette that turns cities pink, temples gold,
and throws shadows longer than the night.
The waking city bursts into a circus
daring acrobats on a river of bicycles.
A single scooter holds a whole family, clinging
like coral plants, chunnis waving in colours
too bright to imagine. We brush past bullock carts
that trundle as if history has forgotten them.
Close your eyes – your voice is gentle,
but limbless beggars are already remembered.
We slow only for cows chewing on garbage
as if the middle of the road was a lush meadow
half a world away. You speak names:
The Red Fort, India Gate, Connaught Place
but in the taxi I sit trim as an English lawn
while horns give way to a tree-lined road.
There are dhobis ironing in the shade and a man
leading a bear with a ring through its nose.
I try to tell you, but you are talking to the driver
in a language I can’t understand.
She lies in the gutter among rubbish, pushed
that way by hurrying feet. One small hand pokes
from under filth – a perfect hand with finger nails,
a hand I want to take in mine, but you pull me away –
away from flies that feed on her.
I can’t go back to cover her, to protect her
nakedness from casual glances.
You say there’s no room for sentiment
and I don’t know you – a Pied Piper
who leads me through a gaudy market,
where gold flashes like a jester’s teeth.
I wander through a day of strange sounds –
locked out by my own voice.
Relatives come, curious about the woman
who’s crashed into their lives.
Hindi voices rise, then lower as I pass.
I stray outside to the letter box,
hoping to find that familiar aerogramme.
I trace my fingers over English names
in the telephone directory
for any flimsy connection.
After a steamy, sleepless night
I watch him from the balcony,
an old man bent
under a heavy shawl.
Until now he’s been the tap tap
of his stick, the puff
of his whistle;
the unexpected comfort
of knowing he’s there.
He doesn’t look up,
but fades into the morning
Subha kucha thikka hai
“All is well”.
Little boys squat to clean my shoes;
little girls touch my tights, giggle
then run away. No-one comes behind
but still I stand and wait
while the smiles grow longer and wider
and I feel my feet take root
in the dry soil.
Goodbye is strange – no words –
just my eyes glued to yours
over a sea of well-wishers.
I’ve only stroked the skin of India
but she has opened her folded hands
to me and I’m not ready
to leave the rains that quench the dust
or the peacocks that strut
their ritual dance in fast-falling dusk.
Instead I take with me the scent
of dung fires, sandalwood
and rose-red cities in a suitcase
heavy with departure. I put on
my homebound face and shrink
into the bustle of Palam Airport
clutching a ticket that says Return.
I know it will be raining in London.
from Mango Tree (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2013).
Order Mango Tree.
Read Abegail Morley’s interview with Valerie.
Rob A. Mackenzie was born in Glasgow and lives in Leith, Scotland. He has published two pamphlets, The Clown of Natural Sorrow (HappenStance, 2005) and Fleck and the Bank (Salt Publishing, 2012), and two full collections, The Opposite of Cabbage (Salt Publishing, 2009) and The Good News (Salt Publishing, 2013). His poems, reviews and articles have appeared in The Financial Times, The Guardian, Magma, New Writing (Granta/British Council), Poetry Review and Sphinx.
“Today you turn up
five habits to quit for happiness:
criticism, control, complaint, excuses, expectations,
without which you’d be happy, bland
Is the attempt to secure happiness worth making? Or is it simply a fast track to inevitable disenchantment? Rob A. Mackenzie confronts such questions in The Good News, his second full collection, but it’s no self-help manual. Fate, faith, travel, love, politics and death are woven into taut, affecting poems, which reveal new layers with every reading: a professional sceptic tries in vain not to become too certain of his own doubt, angels weep in Spanish into their designer coffees, and a hundred Scottish poets are enlisted to articulate the trials and tribulations of their nation at a key point in its history. The book’s central section is a sequence concerning autism’s effect on family life. Poets have written about autism before, but no one has written anything quite like this.
Mackenzie offers a typically versatile collection in style and form, combining an inimitable sensibility and imagination with a secure command of tone. These poems confirm his growing reputation as one of our most intriguing and alluring voices.”
“Rob Mackenzie’s The Good News truly is good news for readers of contemporary poetry. He has a wonderful ear, a wide knowledge of literature in several languages (beyond the Italian he translates from here) and a voracious appetite for the world’s frustrations and rewards. He writes with great intelligence and music, can be politically astute then immediately playful; his work is inventive, humane and welcoming. This book will surely confirm his reputation as one of the best Scottish poets of his generation.”
– Ian Duhig
The following poems are from the collection’s central section,
Torino in Furs
We persevered with mismatched floor tiles and Rai Due
in our claustrophobic flat;
through the walls the unmistakable sound of Italian
Teletubbies and Sesame Street,
and across the courtyard the young engineer’s CD:
from 1950s BBC Newscasters, phrases like ‘I’m sorry,
this is not your shower,
it is my shower,’ decadence we brushed against otherwise
only in the gelateria
of imagination. From antiseptic pillars and ladies furred
for autumn strolls,
the city thrived on appearance and threat: nearly everyone
drove a Fiat,
not usually from choice. We prammed you to the Cafe Zelli
and on your tongue
ritually dabbed espresso, as if this could consecrate you
bilingual more readily
than daytrips to the swing park, where you unflaggingly
cold-shouldered any child
who approached with a ‘Ciao!’ Not that it happened often;
even the Torinese
tots seemed to know that alien kids were best observed
with suitable tact,
that playing among and playing with could appear the same
to untrained eyes:
a whole city with Asperger Syndrome, which is perhaps why
it began to feel like home.
Rai Due is an Italian TV channel.
But Not Hyperlexic
We read, you watched, and when the time felt right
you made your mark
on nursery, reading a book to an astonished teacher
from start to finish,
aged three. How long you feigned an inability
and how you learned
the intricate decoding from sign to sound,
we never learned,
although we learned the word, hyperlexic, and why
it didn’t apply to you,
and more likely words coding intractable conditions
in root positive.
Half in hope and half with the desperate aspirations
in parents of young tennis prospects, we imagined
you a savant
decades on: the recitation of Juvenal’s complete works
backwards in Latin
to a packed Royal Albert Hall and no one thinking
a waste of time. But your intelligence was reserved for
a different world;
this one demanded contact on first name terms,
eye to eye,
to read its script. You feigned interest in learning
the pointless dialogue.
Your hot waterbottle is liturgical, the latest ritual
we need to follow
before you fall asleep; waterbottle by your pillow,
waterglass on the wardrobe,
a drawn-out watershed, which elongates in silence
or hours of to and fro –
any excuse to stay awake and see the constellations
demythologise the dark
psalm of the sky. You aim to arrange stray mysteries
the more unruly
the rules become, the more illegible and cracked
a face appears
if reading it is required. But you are more difficult
for us to read
that Proust translated into sixty-seven languages
or gossip mags packed
with undistinguished stars, who span the earth
like water, logged
but hard to account for, with depths and limitations
You prefer the murk of details to the vision complete,
incident to plot,
incidental to mainstream. You like books for hilarity
halfway down page 17,
oblivious to consequence. You don’t care who lived
happily ever after
or how a mystery is solved, and closure is important
only for the satisfaction
of completion. All this is why, on the number 12
heading for your ninth
birthday party, I eavesdrop on the conversation
behind us –
how a conceptual artist assembled a giant egg
from ten thousand
eggshell pieces – and imagine you building an egg
each selected according to your personal aesthetic,
fascinated by the fit
they make, the gaps and incongruities, building
patiently for weeks
until an egg the size of a bus wobbles on a tiny cup.
How does it end?
An ending would be a betrayal. Already you have
begun the next egg.
from The Good News (Salt Publishing, 2013).
Order The Good News.
Visit Rob’s blog, Surroundings.
Read Rob’s pantoum ‘The Point’ in The Guardian.
Read ‘Locus-a-Non’ in The Scotsman.
Read ‘Bladerunner’ online at the Scottish Poetry Library’s website.
‘Music, Memory and Subversion: Two Scottish Poets’ Second Books’, Robert Peake interviews Rob and Andrew Philip.
Visit the website of the National Autistic Society.
Contact the Autism Helpline in the United Kingdom.
Visit Autism South Africa.
Contact Autism South Africa.
Look up Autism organisations around the world.
Caroline Davies’ collection Convoy is published by Cinnamon Press. She was born in Norfolk to Welsh parents and spent much of her childhood by the sea. She studied East European History at the University of London and Creative Writing with the Open University. Convoy was inspired by the experiences of her grandfather, James ‘Jim’ Honeybill, who served on the Blue Funnel Line ship M.V. Ajax during the Malta convoys and also by her mother’s stories of growing up in North Wales during the war. Her poem ‘At Sea’ won an Honorary Mention in the 2011 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition.
She blogs occasionally at http://advancingpoetry.blogspot.com.
“A compelling narrative sequence documenting the dramatic events of the Royal Navy’s Malta convoys to supply the besieged island in the Mediterranean Theatre in the Second World War.
Malta’s significance was its position as a strategic base from which British sea and air forces could interrupt the flow of men and resources to the German armies in north Africa, which in turn threatened Egypt, the Suez Canal and British controlled oilfields. Severe naval losses were sustained and as German bombers and submarines tightened the sea blockade, Malta’s situation grew more desperate. By mid 1942 the island urgently needed supplies, including fuel and food, and had temporarily ceased to be an effective offensive base. Against terrible odds convoys attempted to get through, including the M.V. Ajax, on which Caroline Davies’s Welsh grandfather served. Charting a narrative from the point of view of her mother as a child who has come to see her naval father as a stranger to the voices of the men who often gave everything to see the convoy through, Convoy is not only distinctive and meticulously researched, but powerful and moving. Skillfully incorporating a wealth of found material, recordings and interviews, this narrative poetry sequence captures a slice of history with visceral clarity, engaging audiences who might otherwise never engage with poetry as well as poetry lovers.”
“Convoy is a fantastically ambitious book and a great concept for a poetry collection. Terse end-stopped lines, brilliant images and minute descriptions of war from right in the middle of it, as well as a semi-experimental feel using technical language, combine so that the reader gets a sense of the people.”
– Katy Evans-Bush
“This is a fascinating and unusual collection of poetry. It is, indeed, a modern epic poem about a theatre of war about which relatively little is now remembered: the vital role of the Merchant Navy in convoy duties. It is authentic, told from the point of view of the men who were there, from records and verbal testimony of their experiences. As such it has much in common with Nordic sagas, which record for posterity deeds from long ago. Both factually accurate and emotionally charged, Convoy is an historical document as well as being a first class collection of poetry.”
– Judi Moore
“With a deep regard for precision of language and lucidity of voice, these powerful poems honour the memory of the Malta convoys in WWII – the ships and the men who served on them. Davies writes with great compassion and empathy, but not an ounce of sentimentality. Carefully researched, beautifully written, she has crafted a compelling and moving collection. ”
– Vanessa Gebbie
“I read Convoy in a single sitting. In a series of vivid poems Caroline Davies lets us hear the voices of those involved in the Malta convoys. We feel the swell of the sea, watch as ‘the sky trembles’ under the onslaught of bombers scouring the ships of the Merchant Navy scattered over ‘deep unprotected water’. A wealth of research gives these poems strength and authenticity. Moving and honest, these poems are never mawkish or sentimental. They form a fitting tribute to these courageous men – and those left at home.”
– Caroline Gilfillan
Written on Board the Ajax
Three hundred and ninety-nine steps.
Wind spits soft rain.
The Blue Funnel Line,
two days out from Liverpool.
Four hours on. Four hours off.
Pineapples and water melons. Sent home
postcard of Table Mountain.
Coconuts and curry. Half the crew
down with dysentery.
Four on. Four off.
Coming back via Suez.
Malta. Sky dark with thunder.
Oil on the water.
Gibraltar: turning for home.
The Irish Sea – rain – a wet slap.
No light from South Stack.
Coastline for miles, dark.
Liverpool: Seventy two hours in port.
No time to go home.
Monday, 10 June, 1940: Declaration of war by Italy
350 bombers: Cants, Savoias, BR20s.
200 fighters: CR42s, Reggiane 2001s, Macchis.
First-class airfields sixty miles from Malta,
skilled pilots trained in Spain and Abyssinia.
Assessment of Maltese air defences.
Three airfields: Hal Far, Takali and Luqa,
none fully functioning.
Seaplane base at Kalafranc. No aircraft.
Chief Admin Officer’s report:
Have located packing cases on slipway at Kalafranc
Marked H.M.S Glorious, Norway.
These contain component parts for naval Sea Gladiators.
Air Commodore Maynard
to Admiral Cunningham at Alexandria:
Request permission to unpack crates
and make use of your planes to defend island.
Granted with the most cordial approval.
Don’t expect to get them back intact.
What odds – what fun.
Our few against five hundred and fifty.
Ours sturdy biplanes.
Theirs modern fighters.
We form a fighter flight of seven:
Squadron Leader Martin.
Flight Lieutenant Keeble (Pete).
Flying officers Hartley (Peter),
Waters (John), Woods (Timber).
Pilot officer Alexander (Peter),
and Flight Lieutenant Burgess
(George) – that’s me.
Our planes can turn on a sixpence
can climb like a bat out of hell
They have no vices at all.
More of the enemy than I can count
but we’ll give them a good fight.
Formations of Savoias
at fifteen thousand feet.
We climb and climb
till we are above them.
Get in a good burst at 200 yards.
Fire returned. I break away.
Machine guns behind me.
Go into a steep left-hand turn.
The Macchi dives and fires.
We circle tightly
til I get him in my sights.
Full deflection: he goes down,
black smoke pours from his tail.
Straight into the sea at Grand Harbour.
Malta is no longer defenceless but
The Italian bombers are faster. So our only chance
is to scramble and climb quick as we can.
Hope to get four or five thousand feet
above them by the time they reach the island.
Then dive on them from the beam.
Bastards are throwing everything at us.
Massed formations, decoy planes
shadowed by packs of fighters.
Stragglers falling out of formation
to tempt us into a fight we can’t win.
Over a hundred raids and we’re still airborne
but not unscathed. Land with tail unit
dangling by a single strut.
My Glad’s a colander with bullet holes.
Landing wheels shot off.
We struggle on.
I’ve enough St Christopher’s
to keep me on the ground,
and the prayers of the Maltese.
Operation White, November 1940
The range of a Hurricane MK II (tropicalized) in still air,
at 130 knots, at 10,000 feet is 521 miles.
– Pilot’s Handling Notes
We need more planes.
We’re defending the island with only
one Gladiator, four Hurricanes.
REPEAT. WE NEED MORE PLANES.
‘Operation White to proceed. Admiral Somerville to escort Argus and her Hurricanes to within flying distance of Malta; aircraft to take off in two sub flights of six, each led by a Fleet Air Arm Skua (with observer to plot best course for the island). Air Officer Commanding Malta to have two Sunderlands waiting over the island to escort the Hurricanes for the final stage.’
Subflight 1: Flying Officer J.A.F. Maclachlan, DFC
Speed 150 mph, height 2,000 feet
Am dropping smoke floats.
The wind has changed. Dead ahead –
will be hard pressed to reach Malta
before we run out of fuel.
Sea mist thick,
a patchwork of fog and cloud.
I’m flying blind.
Forty-five miles short of Malta
I hear the engine of another Hurricane
cut. Stone silent.
She spirals into the sea.
I break formation and follow.
The pilot floats, a dark blob
amongst the waves.
I call up the Sunderland and fly
low over the pilot, rocking my wings,
until the Sunderland on the sea
hauls him aboard.
Four Hurricanes ahead
following the single Skua.
A veil of cloud: only
three come out.
Two minutes later,
Luqa’s dusty runway.
We plummet, manage to land.
There’s not enough fuel left in my tank
to cover an upended sixpence.
‘A tragic loss of vitally needed planes’
No sign of the island.
No welcoming Sunderland.
SHEPHERD 2. SHEPHERD 2.
Where are you?
I pretend they’ve got a sudden posting
overseas. We’re abroad already
but they’ve gone on ahead.
To Egypt probably, harrying Rommel’s army.
The fact they took off with us but didn’t land
can be ignored.
They’re in another officers’ mess
somewhere. Still cracking jokes.
Phelps with his pipe.
His wife back in Blighty
with a baby on the way. I tell myself
he’s there with her,
getting ready to lean over the cradle.
The baby will have his blue eyes
and lopsided way of smiling.
So I never write the letter to tell her
I’m sorry he’s bought it.
Sign of the Cross
Based on the account of Squadron Leader P B ‘Laddie’ Lucas,
This island’s all limestone
rough, arid, rock-strewn.
Nowhere to force land.
Smoke from the engine thickens the cockpit –
I should step out into a limitless sky.
Fear clenches its fist at the back of my neck.
At a thousand feet a green glimpse
– a small field
beyond miles of limestone.
Wheels up, flaps down,
I slow almost to a stall,
hold her into the wind.
My Spit settles into soft earth, engine smoking,
a few yards short of a blunt stone wall.
I scramble clear.
Three Maltese women in long black dresses
stumble over rough ground.
Each clutches a hessian sack filled with soil
for the burning engine.
I signal them away
with my hands like an explosion.
They step back, shake their heads.
The oldest, to judge from the lines on her face,
walks slowly to the Spitfire.
She pats its wing and comes back towards me.
Gentle, she touches my forearm,
makes the sign of the cross,
Glimmer of Light
10th August 1942 126 Squadron
Pilot officer Jerrold Smith flying with a sergeant pilot
standing in as wingman for his brother, Roderick.
Jerry who was always top of his class
who was only a year older
who always carried an electric torch.
There are reports of a parachute descending
east of Grand Harbour.
It’s dusk but Rod asks his flight commander
for permission to search the eastern approaches.
Going over and over the darkening sea
in the hunt for a glimmer of light.
from Convoy (Cinnamon Press, 2013).
Visit Caroline’s blog, Advancing Poetry.
Ruth Downie interviews Caroline.
Judi Moore writes about Convoy’s launch.
Vanessa Gebbie interviews Caroline.
Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn interviews Caroline.
Rebecca Gethin features Convoy.
Caroline provides biographical sketches of a few people
James Honeybill, Merchant Seaman – 8th March 1903 – 12th March 1993
Percy Belgrave “Laddie” Lucas, RAF Pilot, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC, (2 September 1915 – 20 March 1998)
Captain Thomas Sydney Horn, Merchant Seaman, OBE, 5 May 1899 – June 1971
Thomas Francis Neil, DFC*, AFC, AE
Emily Berry is a poet, freelance writer and editor. She grew up in London and studied English Literature at Leeds University and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College. An Eric Gregory Award winner in 2008, she co-edits the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives and is a contributor to The Breakfast Bible, a compendium of breakfasts published by Bloomsbury. Her debut poetry collection is Dear Boy, published by Faber & Faber.
“Dear Boy (Faber & Faber, 2013) is the dramatic and inventive debut by Emily Berry. These characterful, intelligent and darkly witty poems explore lives lived strangely in unusual worlds, through a series of deft and seductive soliloquies.
In a collection with a taste for ventriloquy and wickedness, and a flair for vocal cross-dressing, the balance of power is always shifting in an unexpected direction – an ingénue masquerades as a femme fatale, a doctor appears more disturbed than his patient, and parents seem more unruly than their children. Eccentric, intimate, arch, anxious, decadent and sometimes mournful, the book’s confiding, conversational voices tell stories recognisable and refracted, carried along by the undercurrent on which the collection ebbs and rides: the anguish and energy brought about by a long-distance love affair, which propels and terrorises and ultimately unites the work.”
“Dramatic, honest, unstable and beautiful, what unites these poems is Berry’s understanding that absence is to love as wind is to fire: it may extinguish the small, but it kindles the great.”
– Ben Wilkinson, Guardian
“Disarming as often as it is charming, Dear Boy is an epistle to make one feel at once urgently wanted and spun right around upside down. It is, as Berry herself puts it, where “the language showed its seams” – and we are the dazed and fascinated visitors stumbling across its accidence.”
– Lytton Smith, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Reading this collection, which ranges widely in voice, is like meeting an unusual person whom you’d like to befriend. You can’t anticipate everything she will do or say – and some of it seems a bit much from time to time – but you want to know her more and better. You begin somehow to crave her company.”
– Jared Bland, Globe & Mail
A Sculpture about a Phone Call
Some people seem to have the language for speaking about their own work very fluently – I am still not sure I have learnt the language for talking about mine. It’s like trying to explain one mode of communication via another very different kind, like telling someone about a phone call through the medium of sculpture. Still, a sculpture about a phone call could be something interesting.
The way many poets talk about their collections makes it seem as though there must have been a point for them at which ‘writing poems’ became ‘writing a collection of poems’. This was not really the case for me with Dear Boy, which only really became itself – that is, a collection of poems, rather than forty individual poems in a row – when it was named.
The naming of books is a difficult matter. My friend and important poet-advisor (code name ‘Dewdrop’) suggested I call it The *TOP SECRET* And As Yet Draft Manuscript Of Emily Berry, which is what I had written on the front. So that was one option. Dear Boy was pretty much the only other. As I recall ‘Dewdrop’ picked it out from a very short and unconvincing list of possibilities I had effectively dismissed, and it was suddenly clear that this was the title. It brought together the themes in the book before I had noticed what they were. I now see it as suggesting various different moods – lovesick, sentimental, stern, camp and arch, as well as drawing out one of the key strands in the book: love letters written to a boy. What I like about the title is I feel it could easily be the name of a Young Adult romance novel – maybe this is why one reviewer said the book read like ‘an unusually discerning teenage girl’s diary’. I was happy with that assessment. I think teenage girls’ diaries should get more airtime generally.
The oldest poem in Dear Boy is ‘Two Budgies’, which was written in 2005 or 2006. The oldest phrase, though, is the title of the first poem, ‘Our Love Could Spoil Dinner’, which I wrote in poetry fridge-magnets on my best friend’s mother’s fridge when I was eighteen, circa 1999. I always liked the phrase so I kept hold of it, hoping it would come in useful one day. So there is a bit of genuine teenage girl in the book. Maybe the title and the poem finally came together because the poem in fact features a precocious young-girl character, who could arguably be described as ‘unusually discerning’. A similar character appears in the linked poems ‘The Incredible History of Patient M.’, David’ and ‘Manners’, though I wouldn’t want to state definitively whether or not they are the same person. The inspiration behind this/these character/s probably came from the children’s book Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight, about a mischievous six-year-old who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York with her nanny. It was given to me by an American family friend when I was nine or so and I rediscovered it a few years ago – I had written ‘Please do not tear’ sternly in the front. (I must have had a bad experience with ‘tearing’, because this strange injunction appears in the front of many of my childhood books.) Eloise is illustrated in pink and black and the text (all in Eloise’s voice) is laid out almost verse-style alongside the illustrations. She says things like:
Nanny is my nurse
She wears tissue paper in her dress
and you can hear it
She is English and has 8 hairpins
made out of bones
She says that’s all she needs in
this life for Lord’s sake
I like how Nanny’s turn of phrase becomes something extra special the way Eloise reports it, and I adopted this style in ‘David’, a poem not uncoincidentally about a girl in the care of her (in this case) rather volatile nurse.
For me a poem is always a voice, and I am often struck by any kind of compelling voice. Nutty evangelical preachers are a favourite, and things said by unhinged people in general. I guess any kind of dogmatic statement is essentially a bit unhinged. I have a fascination with American Gothic, particularly Southern Gothic, which has its fair share of evangelical preachers. I see the Arlene poems, ‘’Sweet Arlene’ and ‘Arlene’s House’ as having an American Gothic theme (though they don’t have to be read that way). They’re poems about a domestic kind of terror. America does the Unheimliche – Freud’s idea about the eeriness of the unfamiliar familiar – really well, at least for a British person. American domestic scenes are so familiar to British people of my generation because of film and TV, and just embedded in the imagination is some intractable way, but at the same time it’s not really our culture, so it remains somehow other. Sorry to quote Wikipedia, but it says “Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or disorienting characters, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events”, which makes me think I like Southern Gothic even more. Arlene is certainly a character like that, yet she holds some indefinable power over the narrator of the poem, which is where the fear comes from. The poems are about being beholden to some deeply unstable yet compelling authority, which is something that worries and interests me a lot.
‘Sweet Arlene’ begins with the line “In Arlene’s house we live above the mutilated floor”. Many of my poems begin with some sort of statement (maybe the unhinged kind mentioned above). “No one told me Times Square was a triangle”, “The mango’s bone is like a cuttlefish”, “I bit on the absolute nerve”. The poems that begin this way usually did literally begin with the first line. Sometimes one of these phrases occurs to me and I have it for a few years before it develops into anything. This was the case with the Times Square line. I visited New York twice about two years apart and after I’d been the second time I was able to add the rest of the poem to the first line. On that trip I was nearly hit on the head by a copy of Dylan Thomas’s poems while walking through Manhattan – it seemed to fall out of the sky, but must have been thrown out of the window of a nearby bookshop (but why?! Someone took such exception to Mr Thomas’s verse that they had to defenestrate it immediately?). It would have been ridiculous not to put that in a poem.
Because of these statementy openings, now that the poems are all together in a collection I wonder if the effect is a bit overwhelming – like being at Speakers’ Corner, or in a room full of actors. I’m not sure any of my poems are very good at teamwork. This is maybe one of the difficulties of putting a collection together – that suddenly a whole bunch of poems, which you have worked so hard to make robustly independent, have to learn how to live alongside others of their kind. There’s a poem by Joe Dunthorne called ‘All my friends regardless’ which begins “All my friends regardless / come to my garden and pretend to get along” – it plays on the awkwardness of bringing together all the different types of people one knows at an event. Deciding on the order of poems in the collection seemed to me a bit like that. Who should sit next to who? This is one of the reasons I never have parties! Sometimes I open the book and look at them all in there, and I wonder how they’re getting along. But mostly I just leave them to it.
Order Dear Boy (Faber & Faber, 2013) here and here.
Visit Emily’s website.
Sam Riviere interviews Emily for The Quietus.
Read Ben Wilkinson’s Guardian review.
Read Kate Kellaway’s Observer review.
Read Lytton Smith’s Los Angeles Review of Books review.
Read Jared Bland’s Globe & Mail review.
Read Christopher Crawford’s B O D Y review.
Read Rebecca Tamás’ Literateur review.
Read Zeljka Marosevic’s Review 31 review.
Kobus Moolman was born in 1964 in Pietermaritzburg. He has published five previous collections of poetry, as well as several plays. He has also edited an anthology by South African writers living with disabilities. He has been awarded several literary awards, including the Ingrid Jonker Prize. He teaches creative writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. Left Over is published by Dye Hard Press, Johannesburg.
“There is a relentless asking in Moolman’s poems … Left Over feels like a follow-on to Light and After, a continuation of the growing power of Moolman’s voice as a poet. It’s a voice that opens up as it breaks (breaks up?), resists false closure.”
– Alan Finlay
“Kobus Moolman’s elliptical, foreshortened poetry opens up a world of exploration and heightened experience from which the reader eventually emerges, chastened but delighted. These are poems of acumen, depth and extraordinary pressure.”
– Kelwyn Sole
Back to School
It is the middle of January. And it is hot. The air is still. The air is filled with the electricity of cicadas. He called them Christmas beetles when he was young. Hot. The middle of January. He hears the two young boys playing next door in their swimming pool. The last day of the school holidays. He hears the two young boys screaming and splashing. Hears them calling out to each other: Watch me! Watch me! Watch me! The day before the boys go back to school. Back to School adverts on television. Back to School specials at the supermarkets and discount stores. Specials on stationery and grey socks and boys’ shorts and black shoes, girls’ grey skirts and short-sleeved white shirts, exercise books and coloured koki pens and crayons with all the colours including gold and silver and flesh. He remembers being the same age as the boys splashing next door in their pool. He remembers that his parents could only afford to buy the pack of six crayons – that did not have silver or gold or flesh. He remembers what the last day of the Christmas holidays felt like. His family did not have a pool. They stayed at home for the holidays. They celebrated Christmas with his father’s side of the family. At Cedara. Or at Lion’s River. Dargle. His father’s side of the family did not have swimming pools either. They were Afrikaans. They had pellet guns and katties and gravel roads leading up to their houses and front stoeps and back stoeps and stoeps that went around three sides of their houses and gum trees and long grass and chickens that cackled in a hok at the back and crazy dogs that had to be locked up when anyone came to visit. He remembers that if he and his younger brother wanted to swim when they were at home then they had to go across the road to the Dewar’s. The Dewars had a round plastic pool that stood behind their house. The pool was not sunk into the ground, so he and his brother had to climb up a metal ladder in order to get into it. The Dewars had no dogs and they had no young children, but he never felt welcome going to swim there. It always felt to him as if he and his brother made too much noise or splashed too much water over the side of the plastic pool. And there was little fun to be had in paddling slowly around with his mouth closed. Now he hears the two young boys screaming and splashing next door. It is the last day of the boys’ school holidays. Tomorrow they will wake up early. Tomorrow their mother will drive them off to school and drop them outside the school gate. He remembers that he and his brother got a lift to school with the girl who was the most unpopular girl in his class. She wore glasses. And her ankles were fat. Her parents owned a fish and chip shop. And they were always late in picking him up. He was always late for school. Even on the first day of the new school year.
The man was actually happy
The man was actually happy. In fact, he was so happy that he decided to make himself unhappy. To punish himself. For his happiness. So that he could not be taken by surprise one day by unhappiness. Therefore the man separated from the beautiful woman with whom he was happy. And he took up with a different woman every night. And every night he was unhappy. Because every night he managed to find a woman more beautiful than the previous. And every night it was brought home to him – after he had taken off their clothes, after he had seen and touched their beautiful bodies – every night it was brought home to him that there would not be enough women in the world for him to find the right one whose beauty would make him happy. Incomparably happy. And so every night he was unhappy. Every night he was unhappy because he knew that he had started out upon a road that had no end. And no return either.
They come again
They come again, the dark birds of clamour.
Their heavy wings beat like blows upon an anvil, like blows
upon a metal bar.
They choke and grind the coarse gears of their voices.
In the distance the setting sun is a dry furnace – a back-draft
that sucks all the air
and light out of the world.
Only the small chime of silver bells can hold off the clamour.
Only the thin scent of a blue flower can push back the dark.
The man bends
The man bends and grasps the hard metal of the weight. He strains to lift it off the girl’s heart. She does not say a word. This dark-haired girl. This girl who lives beneath the metal weight with open eyes and a small mouth. And the man stretches the muscles in his arms and strains his back. Because he wants so much to help the dark-haired girl. He wants so much to free her heart. To see her breathe again. After a lifetime of holding her breath.
Even so late in the day
Even so late in the day
so far from where he started
so far along the road
with so much distance behind him
so many rooms swept clean
so many boxes sealed and labelled
something still is eating its way through his brain
something still is gnawing away
at the thoughts behind his eyes
something that will not let go of him
something that is hell-bent on ruining him
from the inside out.
He is sitting on an old log. He hears children’s voices in the distance behind him. The sun is out. There are green hills in the distance. Some of the hills are forested and some are bare, with white bales dotted across them. And others are brown and ploughed. He is here because he has not gone. He is here because he has decided to remain instead. To sit and hear the birds and the traffic on the road behind him and the donkeys braying in the paddock and the sheep. It is all now, this moment when the doves call in the trees around him, and the cicadas and the crickets. It is all here. Everything that makes up what he is now is all around him. It is slightly cold across his skin – as usual he is bare-chested – and his book is upon his lap and his hat lies beside him on the log. Slowly, softly, the branches of the willow tree stir in the wind. The round leaves of the eucalyptus tree are transparent when they fall across the sun behind them. The sun is out, although there are a few white clouds in the sky. He hears children’s voices again. And two starlings flash in front of him across the garden. And a single swallow rises into the sky, so high that it disappears. There are patches of green moss on the old log where he is sitting. He writes as fast as he can because he is trying to match the words that he knows with all the things that are around him. There are many things around him that he cannot find words for. Because they happen so quickly. Because they happen all at once, and it is difficult for him to separate them. A laughing dove starts up its low watery call. It reminds him of the music lessons in junior school. He thinks of the small silver instrument that was like a little bowl or a jug. It had a thin sharply-pointed spout, and if the teacher filled the bowl with water from the concrete sink in the corner of the room (the children were not allowed to do it because they invariably messed), and if you blew down the spout then the water inside bubbled and made a cheerful and rolling sound. It also reminds him of visiting his father’s family at Lion’s River, where his father’s second cousin was the station master. When he was much younger, when he was still a boy, in his little safari suit. And there was a sky there. Just like now. And there was a steep hillside. And there was a rocky road leading up it that his father always complained about driving. And there was an outside toilet. And there were doves and pigeons that they used to shoot with a pellet gun. These memories cling to him like thick and slowly moving water. Like mud. And he moves slowly through these memories like a man in quick-sand. Like a man sinking into something that rises all around him.
from Left Over (Dye Hard Press, 2013).
Kobus Moolman’s Left Over is published by Dye Hard Press, Johannesburg, and will soon be available at Exclusive Books countrywide for an estimated price of R125. Alternatively, it is available directly from the publisher for R100, including postage. Email: email@example.com
Visit Dye Hard Press.
Andrew Philip was born in Aberdeen in 1975 and grew up near Falkirk. His first full collection of poetry, The Ambulance Box (Salt, 2009), was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry and in the Scottish Book Awards. His work has been published in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Ireland, translated into Italian and included in anthologies such as The Forward Book of Poetry 2010, The Best British Poetry 2011 and Adventures in Form. He is poetry editor at Freight Books, Scots language editor at Irish Pages and a popular online tutor for the Poetry School.
“How do isolation, belonging and the land shape us? What difference does this make to how we live? Andrew Philip’s second collection delves deep into these and other questions.
In the opening and closing portions of the book, Philip takes us further into the life of MacAdam — an enigmatic character from his multi-award nominated debut, The Ambulance Box. MacAdam, who seems to have built a version of the Large Hadron Collider in his garden shed, attempts to find “the fundamental particle of night”. We follow him into the chaos that results, as his experiments run out of control, culminating in a powerful encounter with a mysterious intruder.
The middle of the collection brings us poems of place, love and politics. A newsreader’s BBC English transmogrifies into Scots without her realising. Edinburgh’s worst piper is lambasted in a rollicking Burns pastiche that led novelist Rodge Glass to dub Philip his “new favourite poet”. And an intricate, tender sequence charts the highs and lows of a decade of marriage.
Rich in humour, imaginative reach and formal invention, The North End of the Possible displays a fresh strength in narrative writing for Philip and pushes his lyric gifts to new heights.”
“Andrew Philip has great formal skill, high ambition, and a lyric voice strong and supple enough to explore scientific and theological ideas, and to make tender and beautiful love poems. The promise he showed in The Ambulance Box is amply delivered in The North End of the Possible.”
– Michael Symmons Roberts
“This is a real gem of a collection – it’s witty, wide-ranging, deft, funny, adroit and moving, but most of all, wonderfully, wonderfully readable. A book that takes us straight to the heart of the matter, and the matter of the heart. Paul Farley described the great poem as a ‘page stopper’ and with Philip’s The North End of the Possible I constantly found myself going back to read through poems again for the sheer enjoyment of their craftsmanship and music.”
– John Glenday
“Craving to show anger turned into comedy, love wry and without vanity, and pain that shan’t lead to anger or bitterness, Philip describes this world; as if were a trial, at times in desperation for the next. A daily round, chancing (without control of the process), sometimes on the between spaces – of banter, longing for the departed, and hallucinatory language play.”
– Ira Lightman
A Child’s Garden of Physics (1)
Trauchled by the paraphernalia
of a life spent tinkering
— the long stands, the mundae hammers —
to cobbling light apart
into constituent darknesses:
pit mirk, pick mirk, part mirk, heart mirk.
Even so, there’s hardly
enough mirk in this world
to account for the breadth of black
he thinks must lie
at the core of everything.
And here it is, nestling
in the pleasant land of Counterfact,
spreading as the sun droops:
the fundamental particle of night.
It shades in/out of being
the way MacAdam does when not
observing himself at a distance,
his anchor ego flowing
through various queerlike states
akin to the nocton’s flavours:
still, thrang, change, dread,
silent and sudden. The quirks
the hour has flung at him
gather in the corner of his shed.
Now, armed with the tools
to measure the mirk aright,
he can take to the streets
to ascertain precisely what
the afterlight is made of — this
could be his service to us all.
MacAdam Takes to the Sea
Unhooked from its tenter, the sea drifts off
to arrive at a new understanding
with the earth
while MacAdam, wearied
and clean out of Red Bull,
walks to the edge
of the land he’s always called home.
Pure force of habit, that locution:
he has come
to feel more at home on the move these days —
on the move and in the dark.
Aye, but there’s dark
and dark the dawn has marvelled at.
It’s hidden from him yet, but MacAdam
must drive through such a gloom
to witness how
lightly the morning rises from its knees.
we leave him wading
waist deep into the loosened waves.
The Melody at Night, With You
Snow bound and determined to break
out of the silence enforced by chronic fatigue,
Jarrett is at his piano again — the first time
in let’s not contemplate how long for a man
as given to his art as this — stripping
the music back to all that ever mattered,
taking it to heart the way you’d want
her to take what you know most sparing:
your softest, most unguarded speech and touch —
no smoke, no mirrors, no sleight of hand,
no firecracker runs or full-voltage solo virtuosics:
just the tune; the tune and Christmas coming.
A moment to warm the fingers. Press RECORD.
Cheer Friend of Both
An abnominal for Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Thorn in the Reich, be the torch
for the terrified bride
of the torn Herrn. Interned,
confined, be free in the other
hidden Reich, the one eterne.
If the dirt of the Hof be
bitter herb, bete doch
“For thine be —.”
Ich hoffe not trite: no richer effort
to render the terror inert. Brief
the trot to Tod. Therefore, brother,
be fortified, cheered, enriched.
Deride the thin, horrid, inferior credo
ordered. Be interior hobo, freed
to intent. Tend the bidden boon.
If it be no Hilfe, do not ochone;
ochone for the Eiche, the Erde,
the bent Hirte. No introit intoned, be
the Brot bitten: be rid of, interred.
Thorn in the Reich, be reborn.
from The North End of the Possible (Salt Publishing, 2013).
Order The North End of the Possible.
Visit Andrew’s website.
Read the Scots glossary for The North End of the Possible.
Read Colin Begg’s review at The List.