Tag Archives: recommended reading

Tim Turnbull’s Caligula on Ice and Other Poems

Tim Turnbull

       
Tim Turnbull grew up in North Yorkshire, lived in London in his thirties and now resides in Perthshire. His latest collection Caligula on Ice and Other Poems is available from Donut Press.
       
       
Troll
Tim Turnbull

    
After that nasty goat business
he screwed his profile down,
plucked all his warts, sold off the bridge
and moved into a flat in town,
  
found himself a decent tailor,
an innovative cutter
who could disguise his lumps and humps,
then to stop the snarls and splutters
  
took some elocution lessons;
saw to his deportment;
found the private members’ clubs
where a better social sort went,
  
learnt the art of modish small talk,
how to flatter or to charm
with just a smidge of erudition
or great big bucket-loads of smarm;
  
who to ignore, who to trample,
when be early, when be late,
when reveal his brutish nature
in order to intimidate
  
and armed with these new social skills
he launched into the world
to make himself a better gnome
by getting status, cash and girls.
  
He took a job in publishing,
PR or some such-like
and shimmied up the slimy pole,
scaled to mildly giddying heights,
  
till with his air of seriousness
and his grave demeanour,
he won the reverence from his peers
you might give to a hyena.
  
But look into his gimlet eyes,
they’re wells of boiling rage.
He hardly can contain himself
inside that well groomed, urbane cage.
  
Which begs the question, doesn’t it,
how such a frightful beast
could make its way so smoothly
in the business world when it’s unleashed?
  
The answer’s pretty obvious,
and not a little grim –
the whole of London is awash
with semi-housetrained trolls like him.
   
  
Published in the StAnza anthology,
Skein of Geese (The Shed Press, 2008),
edited by Eleanor Livingstone.
  
Buy Caligula on Ice and Other Poems (Donut Press, 2009).
  
Visit Tim’s website.
 

Caligula on Ice and Other Poems

Cover design by Liam Relph, based on the artwork Repository (2009) by W. Hunt.
 

'The Raffish Look'

Laurie Byro’s The Bird Artists

Thanks to Pascale Petit, I’ve been introduced to Laurie Byro’s
The Bird Artists
   
   
Jane Eyre’s Daughter
Laurie Byro
  
I kept thinking I was Jane Eyre’s daughter.
I suspected my mother really wanted a son.
 
Fascinated with attics I foraged through chests
with breakable locks filled with baptism gowns,
 
sniffed among moth-balls for matchboxes
from exotic pool halls, hints of adoption papers.
 
I kept thinking I was Jane Eyre’s daughter, trying
to find myself in the travel section of the library
 
searching for a honeymoon in Katmandu.
St John bristled when I wanted our first dance
 
to be to the tune of Sexual Healing. Every one
broke off the engagement before the tickets’
 
non-refundable fee kicked in. I kept thinking
I was Jane Eyre’s daughter. Weddings
 
were unpleasant since I would rush in late,
panting “I object” for the sheer joy of seeing
 
horrified expressions, maids tearfully ringing
hands and not bells. Today as I left another
 
thwarted nuptial, four fine blackbirds watched me
from the wires which connected my rubber ball
 
heart to my deeply anticipated “his”. My mother,
Aunt Reed, dear crazy Bertha, and daddy
 
in his mourning coat: the grim four posed perfectly
still like chessmen while I crossed my bosom
 
which throbbed like the July sun and waited
with little patience for mother to play her next card.
 
 
from The Bird Artists.

Fiona Zerbst’s Oleander

   
Legacy – after Frida Kahlo
Fiona Zerbst
  
‘We must sleep with open eyes, we must dream with our hands’
Octavio Paz

  
I.
 
This column of air.
These nights of broken stone.
This flesh that speaks.
 
If Mexico is Frida,
It is also
Fig and prickly pear,
 
Water gods, dry ears
Of corn, torn as petticoats.
 
 
II.
 
Vanilla jar of dead water
Circled by a peacock.
 
This is what is left to those
Who linger in the courtyard.
 
Her legacy of nails in flesh,
Tears of pomegranate:
 
A broken column
Painted as herself.
 
 
III.
 
Frida dreams in turquoise;
Now vertical, her bed
A crushed infinity.
 
Reflected in her mirror,
This heart that frills the sand’s
Dry life with blood.
 
 
IV.
 
This column of air,
These nights of broken stone,
This flesh that speaks.
 
If Mexico is Frida,
Then it is also
Paintbrush and suffering,
 
Icon of desire,
spine of jewelled bone.
 
 
V.
 
As she paints,
She dreams with her hands.
 
As we watch,
A butterfly sticks
 
To coils of her hair.
That flat plate of brow
 
Is a golden canvas
To feast from.
 
 
From Oleander (Modjaji Books, 2009).
  
Read four poems from Oleander at Rustum Kozain’s blog, Groundwork.
  
To purchase Oleander, contact Colleen Higgs at Modjaji Books:
cdhiggs@gmail.com
  
 
Launch
  
You are cordially invited to Oleander’s launch – Fiona will be reading – at the Cape Town Book Fair on 14 June 2009 from 17h30 to 18h30 at the DALRO Stage in the CTICC exhibition halls.
  
Visit Fiona’s blog.

Angela France’s Occupation

 
The Florist Explains Mimesis
Angela France
 

It begins with the cut. Not secateurs,
never scissors – only a blade can slice
a good angle through the stem.
See how my knife fits my hand:
its heel snugs into my palm, shows
me where to snip, where to cleave.
Its stubby sharpness has perfect balance,
guides my selection of leaf and bud,
knows which will be coaxed forward
or held back.
 
Picky brides and blind lovers
only care about shape and colour.
They don’t know what brings blooms
to such integrity nor do they see
how their choices measure depths
and futures. Mourners think
they can make flowers speak forcing
them into wire frames to spell names.
Deaf to the petals’ curve,
the eloquence of sweeping vine,
they never notice, nor ask why,
I leave a single thorn to nestle
under the calyx of the rose
they drop into the grave.
 
 
From Occupation (Ragged Raven Press, 2009).
  
Occupation is available for pre-publication order.
   
Angela’s collection will be launched at the Ledbury Poetry Festival on Friday, 10 July 2009, at 11h00. Take a look at the 2009 Festival Programme.

Isobel Dixon’s ‘She Comes Swimming’

  
 
She Comes Swimming
Isobel Dixon
 
She comes swimming to you, following
da Gama’s wake. The twisting Nile
won’t take her halfway far enough.
 
No, don’t imagine sirens – mermaid
beauty is too delicate and quick.
Nor does she have that radiance,
 
Botticelli’s Venus glow. No golden
goddess, she’s a southern
selkie-sister, dusky otter-girl
 
who breasts the cold Benguela, rides
the rough Atlantic swell, its chilly
tides, for leagues and leagues.
 
Her pelt is salty, soaked. Worn out,
she floats, a dark Ophelia, thinking
what it feels like just to sink
 
caressed by seaweed, nibbled by
a school of jewel-plated fish.
But with her chin tipped skyward
 
she can’t miss the Southern Cross
which now looks newly down on her,
a buttress for the roof of her familiar
 
hemisphere. She’s nearly there.
With wrinkled fingertips, she strokes
her rosary of ivory, bone and horn
 
and some black seed or stone
she can’t recall the name of,
only knows its rubbed-down feel.
 
And then she thanks her stars,
the ones she’s always known,
and flips herself, to find her rhythm
 
and her course again. On, southwards,
yes, much further south than this.
This time she’ll pay attention
 
to the names – not just the English,
Portuguese and Dutch, the splicings
and accretions of the years. She’ll search
 
for first names in that Urworld, find
her heart-land’s mother tongue.
Perhaps there’s no such language,
 
only touch – but that’s at least a dialect
still spoken there. She knows when she
arrives she’ll have to learn again,
 
so much forgotten, lost. And when
they put her to the test she fears
she’ll be found wanting, out of step.

But now what she must do is swim,
stay focused for each stroke,
until she feels the landshelf
 
far beneath her rise, a gentle slope
up to the rock, the Cape,
the Fairest Cape, Her Mother City
 
and its mountain, waiting, wrapped
in veils of cloud and smoke.
Then she must concentrate, dodge
 
nets and wrack, a plastic bag afloat –
a flaccid, shrunk albino ray –
until she’s close enough to touch
 
down on the seabed, stumble
to the beach – the glistening sand
as great a treasure as her Milky Way –
 
fall on her knees and plant a kiss
and her old string of beads,
her own explorer’s cross
 
into the cruel, fruitful earth at last.
She’s at your feet. Her heart
is beating fast. Her limbs are weak.
 
Make her look up. Tell her she’s home.
Don’t send her on her way again.

Isobel Dixon’s ‘Positano’

 
 
Positano
Isobel Dixon
 
The villa’s whitewash clotted
scarlet with geraniums,
the bougainvillea’s purple
bruise smeared inbetween –
I sit here, mottled,
in the shadow of the vine.
The sea is welded
to the sky, a beaten
shield, enamelled, glittering
and everything is molten,
rich, beneath this sun,
such grandiose munificence,
the alchemy transforming
even me – slowly, in thrall,
from milk to gold. After
a day among the ruins
of Pompeii, dust still clings,
a pale reminder, to my shoes,
but now I watch the yachts
below and ring the ice against
the bottom of my glass,
an answer to the winking sea,
the tinkling of the masts.
Remember Ripley, wish
I didn’t wish for all of this
and more. This lustrous,
postcard life. Hear
how my darkened hallway’s
silence shudders at the falling
to the mat, implacable,
of crisp, clear-windowed
envelopes, that smother
my bright rectangle,
its foreign stamp,
the lines I sent back
to my dull domestic self:
Wish you were dead,
and I was always whole
and golden, always here.
 
 
 
From A Fold in the Map (Salt Publishing, 2007).

Isobel Dixon’s ‘Gemini’


 
Gemini
Isobel Dixon
  
Below my heart hang two pale women,
ghostly, gelid, sea-horse girls.
Without my telling you would never
see them, tiny tapioca clumps suspended
in the silt between my bones.
  
So nearly motionless, they are both breathing,
dreaming their amoebic dreams,
and I swear when I wake before dawn, try
vainly to return to mine, I hear them, faintly,
murmuring. But my ribs make a shallow hull
  
and one of them must go. Duck, bail out,
flushed into the sewage and the wider sea.
I can’t endure them both, adrift
among my vital parts, sizing each other up
with tadpole eyes. I must decide
  
and feed the lucky one. Let the other shrink,
dissolve back to this body’s salty soup.
Look closely at them: soulmates, secret
sharers, not-quite-siamese. Who stays,
who goes, which one of them is history?
  
She kicks up an almighty storm, makes
waves, enormous, tidal; while her sister’s
calm, pacific, dull. Our oil-on-troubled-water-
pourer, keeper of the peace. You choose
mark one who should be squeezed out
  
of this narrow vessel; voided, spilled,
to lighten, buoy me, make some space.
Plain sailing then, I’ll forge ahead, forget
her spectral presence, and a lifetime’s
sly, subversive whispering. Learn
  
single-mindedness at last. But when it’s well
and truly done, how will I know? Will I feel
relief, release, how the balance shifts
and settles; then walk straight, unpuzzled,
sure  or limp and stumble, still
obscurely troubled, phantom-limbed?
   
 
 
 
from A Fold in the Map (Salt Publishing, 2007)
   
Read more about Isobel and A Fold in the Map here.
   
Visit Isobel’s website here.

Recital: A launch invitation and two poems

You are invited to the launch of
 
Recital – An Almanac
by John Siddique
  
2nd April 2009 – 7pm
The National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London
WC2H OHE
Special Guest – Xanthe Gresham
  
and/or
  
9th April – 6.30pm
Manchester Central Library
St Peter’s Square
Manchester
M2 5PD
Special Guest – Mark Illis
  
http://www.johnsiddique.co.uk
http://www.saltpublishing.com
 
 

*
  

 
Other people’s children
 
He is eight and good at football. His mind
flits blacker and whiter than a magpie
from playstation to plastic sword, chocolate,
internet, to nothing to do, to slamming the ball.
He has a will of iron. Can bend his mother’s
and my love for him like plasticine;
when he wears his stick-on tattoos
in the same place on his shoulders as I have mine,
when he calls me ‘old chappy,’ as we scream
through the air as human aeroplanes.
I want so much to show him the world
I know, make it right for him.
Their Dad shows up every now and then,
it blows this family sideways, the guy ropes
twang off their pegs, until morning comes
and the wind dies down, and he goes off again.
I begin planting and parenting. Applying constancy
at the thin end of myself. But here is the boy
on a Saturday morning, next to me in bed,
hugging his mother and I together,
blowing at my chest hair.
  
  
 
Inside # 2 “There is no more time”
  
9.47, the peak of the morning rush is
beginning to subside, though the tube is
closed so he’s taking the bus to work.
A woman at the front of the bus is
on her way to her course. There is
a girl on her way to the dentist, and
a cleaner on her way home. A bus full
of people like this and more.
  
Then there is no more time, just a flash.
No time for fear. Here then gone, or
unconscious, or at the edge, or screaming.
All fixed in their own heads a moment ago,
busy being late for things, tired, looking forward
to a cup of tea, or just getting there
to get out of this traffic.
  
9.47 lasts forever and ticks on for the rest of us.
Before and after the application of words. Divide
the hour, divide the minute, sub-divide the second,
keep on dividing and time ceases to exist.
  
  
Both poems published in Recital – An Almanac
(Salt Publishing, 2009)

Shaindel Beers: “On the hood of a Cutlass Supreme” Tour

Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.  She is currently a professor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and also serves as Poetry Editor of ContraryA Brief History of Time (Salt Publishing, 2009) is her first poetry collection.  She is working on her second collection, The Children’s War.
   
 
Shaindel, tell me something of your family origins and what you were like as a child.
  
I’m not sure what a “normal” upbringing is in America, given our melting pot reputation, but I always felt I had it a bit odd.  My father’s background is Russian-Jewish, and he’s from Brooklyn, and my mother’s heritage is from nearly all of the countries of the British Isles, and she’s from a farming family.  So, I grew up in a very rural, farm town of fewer than two thousand people with a father who wasn’t like any of the other fathers I knew (not a farmer or a factory worker), and my siblings and I (with the exception of my sister Adria) all had traditional Jewish names – Shaindel, Aaron, and Avram.
 
I’m pretty sure like a lot of writers, I was a “weird kid”.  I was always making up stories and either writing them down or acting them out.  I had an imaginary world I would go to in the backyard, and the way to get there was to swing in the chair swing on my swing set and sing a magical song.  I won’t give the lyrics away, but I will tell you that the plant-life was blue and the sky was magenta.  I was also addicted to reading because it was another easy way to escape real life.  When the local library had the summer book club, I would check out a stack of books I couldn’t see over each time we went to the library, and the library was a popular summer destination because it was a free public place with air conditioning.
 
Will you describe the Argos of your childhood?  What were the main social, political and cultural influences of your youth?
 
The Argos of my childhood was probably much stranger than I realised at the time.  From the outside, and for a time, it was quite idyllic.  I would play at the park across the street from my house, where my mom could see me from the kitchen window, or my father and I would practice batting, catching, and throwing in the backyard.  If I was at my grandparents’ farm, I would ride my bike all day or I would go horseback riding with my friends who lived near my grandparents.
 
In 1984 and 1986, there were two murders that have still gone unsolved to this day, and they had a great influence on my childhood.  My mother became very protective, especially because the 1986 murder was of an eleven year old girl who was staying home from school with the flu.  I write about this in an essay which will be published in the spring issue of Contrary.  It’s an essay on what it was like to read a “true crime” novel, when I had known the victim.  Basically, my childhood went from being very idyllic to extremely repressive.
 
I think most of the influences of my youth were things that helped me rebel against the narrow scope of a rural town that was overwhelmingly Republican and oppressively religious, at least back then.  I listened to whatever music my friends listened to (and whatever was in at the time).  Some of these bands will date me and be really embarrassing, but a lot of time was spent listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and then a lot of Guns ‘N Roses and those sorts of “hair bands”.  I vividly remember reading Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla one day in in-school suspension, and that seemed pivotal.  I mean, what’s more rebellious than a lesbian vampire novella from 1872 (or reading it in in-school suspension)?
 
But regardless of how I tried to rebel, there was always something oddly Indiana about everything.  For instance, one of my high school boyfriend’s grandparents were Amish, and when he and I were together in our world, we were high schoolers getting into trouble (I think we actually met in detention) and listening to angst-ridden teenage music, and then when we visited his grandparents, we unloaded hay at an auction yard and visited their gigantic Belgian plow horse and looked at quilt patterns with his grandma.
    
When did your passion for words develop?
  
I’m sure very early, but I don’t know how early.  I know that before I could write by myself I would tell my mom stories and make her write them down.  When I was sorting some things years ago, I came across a slip of paper with something about a cat and a rat written in crayon on it, and I asked my mom what it was, and she told me I would make her write stories like that all the time.
 
We also didn’t have a lot of money – so little, in fact, that how my family lived is still a little bit of a mystery to me, but I’ve never asked my parents about it – but when we got those Scholastic Book Club order forms at school, my mom let me buy whatever books I wanted.  Other students would always laugh at how many books I got.
 
My mother wrote a local history book (one of those sold in county historical museums) when I was about seven, and I used to research with her by going to graveyards and copying down names and birthdates and death dates and “proofreading” pages of the book.  I doubt I was actually proofreading, but she let me pretend I was.  She also completed her Master’s degree sometime around this point, so I remember her always researching and typing (on an electric typewriter) and showing me how things worked – like changing the ribbon or using correction tape.  Thank G-d for computers!
 
My father always had some massive book from the library with him wherever he went, so I guess this was what I grew up thinking adults did.  My parents, despite whatever other flaws they had, were probably the best intellectual role models I could have had in the time and place I grew up.
 
Which writers have inspired and influenced you?

Wow.  This is a hard question.  I had the great fortune of studying with Richard (Rick) Jackson at Vermont College, and his views on associative poetry changed the way I write immensely.  He told me to read everything I was interested in, especially nonfiction, and to include all of that in my poetry – landscape, philosophy, physics etc.  I’m afraid I’m sort of a fickle reader; nearly any book I like that I’ve just read is my “favourite”.  But some books and writers that stand out are If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, which changed the way I think about writing.  One of my friends told me it would, and I thought he was exaggerating, but it really did.  It made me not take linearity so seriously.  Why tell things in order?  I was so blown away when things wrapped up in the end, that I actually hugged the book.  I didn’t want to let it get away.  Cosmicomics, also by Calvino, taught me to think outside of the boundaries, too.  In that story collection, there are characters that are molecules, nebular dust, all types of possibilities.

Anne Carson’s poetry does something that I want to accomplish, but I can’t even put into words what that is.  “The Glass Essay” in Glass, Irony and God, in which she interweaves Emily Bronte’s life with the speaker’s (I’m assuming her own) is amazing.  There is something about the economy of emotion which is almost like an out of body experience.  I think that Louise Gluck does something similar in a lot of her work.  There is some sort of elegance in talking about such emotionally-charged events in a detached way that it almost becomes more emotional for the reader because of the absence of emotion in the writer.  It is almost as if the reader’s emotion does the work because the writer leaves out a piece of the puzzle.
 
Anne Sexton has always seemed brave to me.  Just writing a poem entitled, “For My Lover, Returning to His Wife”, is brave, let alone what it says in the poem.  And she’s always surprising with images, especially in that poem, “I have been momentary. / A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor” and that heartbreaking ending, “As for me, I am a watercolor. / I wash off.”  I think any woman, regardless of her romantic history, feels that ending.
 
Would you name a few of your favourite books?  Why are they important to you?

I’ve already named several, but let’s see …  When someone asks about favourite books, I generally think of prose.  For some reason, it’s hard to come up with favourite poetry collections, but I have favourite poems and poets.  As far as favourite books, it’s been a long time since I read it, but Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter sticks with me.  I think it’s because each character is so beautifully tragic because they are so fully human.  Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America is a gorgeous short story collection.  The one time I can remember simultaneously laughing and crying while reading was the story “People Like That Are the Only People Here”.  And I love what Lorrie Moore does with alternate stories and characterisation in Anagrams.
 
Another thing I like that writers do is when they rework previous works – like retellings of myth, fairy tale, or Shakespeare’s plays.  I recently read David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle which is a retelling of Hamlet in mid-twentieth century rural Wisconsin and found that really interesting.  I really enjoyed Louise Gluck’s Meadowlands, in which she uses the figures of Odysseus and Penelope to explore the breakdown of (presumably) her own marriage.  I guess in the same vein, we could add Kate Daniels’ The Niobe Poems, where she takes the grieving mythological mother and transforms her into a farm wife whose son drowned in a river; Anne Carson’s The Autobiography of Red, where she takes the myth of Herakles and Geryon and turns it into a teenage same-sex love story, and, of course, Anne Sexton’s Transformations.  I think these stand out to me because there is a plot that holds the collection together, and the story holds up rather than individual poems or images staying in my memory.

I guess that was a roundabout way of answering, but I got to it.
  
*
  
Shaindel’s next virtual tour stop is Brandon Wallace’s blog, Julius Speaks, on 11 March.  Don’t miss it.
  
All “On the hood of a Cutlass Supreme” tour dates are here.
  
Order A Brief History of Time here.

Susan Richardson’s ‘Waiting at the Breathing Hole’

Waiting at the Breathing Hole
Susan Richardson
 
The white of this screen burns
my eyes. Its unswerving glare
might well make me snow-blind. 
  
There was a time when words would fly
across the screen, like a dog-team speeding,
each at its peak and pulling
equally and all I’d have to do was leap
aboard the sledge, guide it
in the right direction, then
relish the ride.

But suddenly,
                    we hit uneven ice.
          Bumped over ridges.
I fell from the sledge.          The dogs fled.
The instructions I yelled
                    had no meaning.
 
So now, with tender eyes,
I must hunt for a hole in the white
 
and wait
 
patient
 
at the rim
for the whiskered nose of inspiration,
for a flippered urge to surge to the surface.
 
And when it comes, I won’t shoot it,
harpoon it     skin it     rip its liver out and eat it raw
leave banners of blood on the snow.
 
No. I’ll feed it all the saffron cod and shrimp it needs,
teach it to move with the ease it knows beneath
the ice
 
but first, I’ll take a few steps back
and just let it
 
breathe
 
 
First published in Creatures of the Intertidal Zone
(Cinnamon Press, 2007).
 
Visit Susan’s website and blog.