Sunday, November 29, 2015

Yugoslavia, My Fatherland – Goran Vojnović

What would you do if after years of believing one of your parents was dead, 
you then found out that they were alive & that your other parent had lied?

What would you do if you found out that one of your parents was a fugitive war criminal, one of those people you see on the news photographed smiling next to a mass grave?

Would you want to know more?

Would you want to meet the person?

How would you react to this individual, this fugitive, this killer --- your parent?

When Vladan Borojević Google's the name of his father Nedelko, a former officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, supposedly killed in the civil war after the decay of Yugoslavia, he unexpectedly discovers a dark family secret. The story which then unfolds takes him back to the catastrophic events of 1991, when he first heard the military term deployment and his idyllic childhood came to a sudden end.

Seventeen years later Vladan’s discovery that he is the son of a fugitive war criminal sends him off on a journey round the Balkans to find his elusive father. On the way, he also finds out how the falling apart of his family is closely linked with the disintegration of the world they used to live in. The story of the Borojević family strings and juxtaposes images of the Balkans past and present, but mainly deals with the tragic fates of people who managed to avoid the bombs, but were unable to escape the war.

Vladan’s tale starts the day his father is seconded, this is also the day that an eleven year old Vladan deems his idyllic childhood is over. From this moment his father becomes an ever decreasing figure in his life till the day his mother claims news of his death and he disappears from his life for what he thought would be forever.

In 213 pages Yugoslavia, My Fatherland, documents the effect of the war in the Balkans. Through Vladan’s personal family crisis, we follow a nation’s past and its attempts to understand, reconcile and forgive itself collectively and as individuals. This is also a tale of identity as a nation and Vladan try to work out who they are and how that perception fits in to a modern state.

Goran Vojnović (b. 1980) graduated from the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television in Ljubljana, where he specialised in film and television directing and screen-writing. The film Good Luck Nedim (he co-wrote the script with Marko Šantić) won the Heart of Sarajevo Award and was nominated for the European Film Academy’s Best Short Film Award in 2006. He has directed three short films himself and his first feature film Piran/Pirano premiered in 2010. Vojnović is considered one of the most talented authors of his generation. Film magazines and newspapers regularly publish his articles and columns. His bestselling début novel Southern Scum go home! (2008) reaped all the major literary awards in Slovenia, has been reprinted five times and translated into numerous foreign languages. A collection of his columns from a Slovene daily newspaper and weekly magazine have also been published as a book under the title When Jimmy Choo meets Fidel Castro (2010), which was translated into Serbian.

Dr Noah Charney is a professor of art history at American University of Rome and University of Ljubljana. He is also an award-winning writer for numerous publications, including The Guardian, The Atlantic, Salon, The Times and Esquire. He is the best-selling author of many books, including The Art Thief and The Art of Forgery. He lives in Slovenia, where he collaborates with local authors and publishers on books such as this one.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Japan, 1936. An old eccentric artist living with seven women has been found dead - in a room locked from the inside. His diaries reveal alchemy, astrology and a complicated plan to kill all seven women and to use parts of each women to create an ideal women. Shortly afterwards, the plan is carried out: the women are found dismembered and buried across rural Japan. By 1979, these Tokyo Zodiac Murders had been obsessing a nation for decades, but not one of them has been solved. A mystery-obsessed illustrator and a talented astrologer sets off around the country - and you follow, carrying the enigma of the Zodiac murderer through madness, missed leads and magic tricks. You have all the clues, but can you solve the mystery before they do?

The author challenges you to solve this mystery, as this book belongs to the popular honkaku, “orthodox” or “authentic” sub-genre of murder mysteries, unlike psychological thrillers this genre tends to focus on plotting and on following the trail of laid clues. The idea is that the reader is not lead astray by the writer, but placed in the same setting as the book’s protagonists, given the same opportunities to solve the mystery - in fact there are several points that Soji Shimada actually stops the tale and tells you that you have all the clues necessary to solve the puzzle and challenges you to do so before the book’s own heroes. Honkaku writers tend to shy away from any form of social criticism, setting themselves apart from writers such as Ryū Murakami, Natsuo Kirino and Shuichi Yoshida, hearkening back to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie & Edgar Allen Poe. This style of fiction was predominant around the 1920s and 30s, but had been written since at least 1911, the genre even came to be codified with its own set of rules which were either Knox's "Ten Commandments" (or "Decalogue") (Ronald Knox) or the similar but more detailed list of prerequisites prepared by S. S. Van Dine in an article entitled "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" this appeared in The American Magazine in September 1928 and were commonly referred to as  Van Dine's Commandments – in this list the rules of engagement are:

  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

 2. No wilful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

  3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

 4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering someone a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. Its false pretences.

5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic book.

 7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much bother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.

8. The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, Ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.

9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one Deus ex Machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his conductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

 10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.

 11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion.

12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.

14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.

15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyse it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plotting and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic séance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knock-out drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) the word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unravelled by the sleuth.

Although written in 1928, for the most part these rules appeared to be adhered to and The Tokyo Zodiac Murders would with utmost grace be welcomed amongst the classics of this period, in fact such is the complexity of plot and the sheer elegance of the solution to this book, Shimada’s writing would be in the forefront of any of the writing to have come out at that period of time. I’ve chosen to write very little about the book itself and more about its genre, my reasoning is that to reveal too much about the plot itself would be breaking the rules by revealing details, thereby giving the reader a head start over the books detectives and negating the veracity of the challenge and, although I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and have even advised my wife (who is a big Agatha Christie fan) to give it a go, once I started researching the backstory this appealed to my sense of history and added a detail that to me at the very least enhances the reading experience.

 For any fan of The Golden Age of Detective Fiction and writers such as Margery Allingham (1904–1966), Anthony Berkeley (aka Francis Iles, 1893–1971), Agatha Christie (1890–1976), Freeman Wills Crofts (1879–1957), R. Austin Freeman (1862–1943), Michael Innes (1906–1993), Philip MacDonald (1900–1980), Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957), Josephine Tey (1896–1952), Anne Hocking (1890–1966), Edmund Crispin (1921-1978), Cyril Hare (1900-1958), this book will be an instantly loved addition to their library, anyone who is a fan of the  modern exponent of this style writers such as Sarah CaudwellRuth Dudley EdwardsPeter Lovesey and Simon Brett, or of the television series Murder, She Wrote, will also find delight in the plot detail, the elegance in which the solution is revealed and in the challenge set by the author to be beat his own detectives.

Born in 1948 in Hiroshima prefecture, Soji Shimada has been dubbed the 'God of Mystery' by international audiences. A novelist, essayist and short-story writer, he made his literary début in 1981 with The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, which was shortlisted for the Edogawa Rampo Prize. Blending classical detective fiction with grisly violence and elements of the occult, he has gone on to publish several highly acclaimed series of mystery fiction, including the casebooks of Kiyoshi Mitarai and Takeshi Yoshiki.

 He is the author of 100+ works in total. In 2009 Shimada received the prestigious Japan Mystery Literature Award in recognition of his life's work.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is part of Pushkin Vertigo, a crime imprint. Starting by Pushkin Press in September 2015 the imprint will publish crime classics from around the world, focusing on tours-de-force works written between the 1920s and 1970s by international masters of the genre, with spine-tingling jackets designed by Jamie Keenan.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

National Poetry Day 2015

Since 1994 National Poetry Day has engaged millions of people with poetry through a range of live events and web-based activities for people throughout the country. Such a variety of poetry is written and read that each year the day is given a new theme, in order to highlight particular poets

National Poetry Day 2015 is today (08/10/15) and the theme is Light. The Poetry Society and Southbank Centre have once again assembled a team of Young Producers aged 18-25 who will curate a day of illuminating poetry readings, workshops and installations. 

National Poetry Day Live will see an afternoon of free readings will take place in Royal Festival Hall, London featuring performances from some of the UK’s biggest and newest talents in poetry and spoken word, including Karen McCarthy Woolf, Michael Symmons Roberts, Rachel Rooney, John Hegley, and more. Working with Jaybird Live Literature, there will be a special evening event featuring new work by a range of contemporary poets who will examine what’s illuminated and what stays in the shadows. and styles of poetry. 


Be part of National Poetry Day & think, act,love, live & dream like a poet. The day is a chance to break with the tyranny of prose for 24 hours by sharing poetry in every conceivable way, with the hashtags


#nationalpoetryday and #thinkofapoem.

Contains Strong Language!!!!!

Contains Strong Language is a major season celebrating the disruptive power of poetry, centred around National Poetry Day on 8 October.
The BBC is putting poetry at the heart of the schedules across its services, with new commissions from many of our major poets.
You can view the trailer below, along with details of just few of the highlights - for more details check out the full schedule or read the BBC press release.

My Brilliant Image - Hafez

I wish I could show you
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!


Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion – Kei Miller

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, won the Forward prize for the best poetry collection in 2014, also in this year the writer Kei Miller’s name was amongst the 20 "Next Generation Poets", a prestigious list compiled every ten years by the Poetry Book Society with the aim of recognising the poets most likely to go on to greater success. Past receivers of this recognition have been writers of calibre such as Seamus Heaney, Jamie McKendrick, Jean Sprackland, Pascale Petit, Michael Hofmann, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Alice Oswald and Owen Sheers.

Establishing the Metre

Like tailors who must know their client’s girth
  two men set out to find the sprawling measure of the earth.
    They walked the curve from Rodez to Barcelona,
       and Barcelona to Dunkirk. Such a pilgrimage!
         They did not call it inches, miles or chains –
            this distance which as yet had no clear name.
              Between France and Spain they dared to stretch
                uncalibrated measuring tapes. And foot
                  by weary foot, they found a rhythm
                   the measure that exists in everything.

In this collection Kei Miller pits one system of knowledge, one ideology of understanding a place or territory against a totally different method, one that comes complete with its own terminology and ways of communicating such ideas. Through the characters of the Cartographer and the Rasta man, we follow a journey as the cartographer armed with all the weaponry of Cartesian logic attempts to assume control over a place by mapping and naming it in a scientific unbiased way. The Rasta man puts forward the notion that such a mechanistic interpretation of physical nature can never truly name a place as every place name comes freighted with its own history, its own surfeit of bias and prejudices, making a totally nonpartisan approach likely to fail before the first line scores the blank sheet. As the book unfolds we follow the dialogue of these two characters, with the cartographer finally conceding that his approach would not lead to him mapping a route to Zion. The book also through this dialogue highlights the struggle between the idea of Zion as a utopian place of unity, peace and freedom and its opposition “Babylon", the oppressing and exploiting system of the materialistic modern world.

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion

I. in which the Cartographer explains himself

You might say
my job is not
to lose myself exactly
but to imagine
what loss might feel like –
the sudden creeping pace,
the consultation with trees and blue
fences and whatever else
might prove a landmark.
My job is to imagine the widening
of the unfamiliar and also
the widening ache of it;
to anticipate the ironic
question: how did we find
ourselves here? My job is
to untangle the tangled,
to unworry the concerned
to guide you out from cul-de-sacs
into which you may have wrongly turned.

II. in which the rastaman disagrees

The rastaman has another reasoning.
He says – now that man’s job is never straight-
forward or easy. Him work is to make thin and crushable
all that is big and as real as ourselves: is to make flat
all that is high and rolling: is to make invisible and wutliss
plenty things that poor people cyaa do without – like board
houses, and the corner shop from which Miss Katie sell
her famous peanut porridge. And then again
the mapmaker’s work is to make visible
all them things that shoulda never exist in the first place
like the conquest of pirates, like borders,
like the viral spread of governments

Whilst researching for this collection of poetry I realised that Kei Miller was the third poet I had posted on from the Next Generation Poets 2014, the other two being Helen Mort and Kate Tempest, also I had posted on another poet shortlisted for this award (Liz Berry) and came to realise how much the idea of identity/names play a part in these works. Sometimes they are specific individuals or regions and sometimes it’s more of an idea of a place whether this is the past (mythical or historic) or related to some ideology. It would appear that this theme is prevalent at this moment, as though it was part of the zeitgeist – I guess this kind of makes sense as with the current world situation and the idea of borders being in a constant flux, also with the idea of a nation’s identity being constantly redefined as immigrants add their own identities into how a nation perceives itself, although this flow has always happened it does seem that at this moment in time, the pace has quickened causing people to question who and what they are, and also leads to some individuals trying to set a definitive classification of what represents one nations persona and those who do not fit that image are deemed unwelcome - making this a very relevant collection. This collection like some of the others mentioned above is also not afraid to use dialect or patois, to identify itself and its characters, making it another method of mapping the somewhere with all the meaning, all the weight that the language used carries.

xx. in which the cartographer tells of the rastaman

The cartographer sucks his teeth
and says – every language, even yours,
is a partial map of the world – it is
the man who never learnt the word
“scrupe” – sound of silk or chiffon moving
against a floor – such a man would not know
how to listen for the scrape of a bride’s dress.
And how much life is land to which
we have no access? How much
have we not seen or felt or heard
because there was no word
for it – at least no word we knew?
We speak to navigate ourselves
away from dark corners and we become,
each one of us, cartographers.

Kei Miller was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He read English at the University of the West Indies, but dropped out short of graduation. However, while studying there, he befriended Mervyn Morris, who encouraged his writing. Afterward, Miller began publishing widely throughout the Caribbean. In 2004, he left for England to study for an MA in Creative Writing (The Novel) at Manchester Metropolitan University under the tutelage of poet and scholar Michael Schmidt. Miller later completed a PhD in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. In 2006, his first book of poetry was released, Kingdom of Empty Bellies (Heaventree Press). It was shortly followed by a collection of short stories, The Fear of Stones, (which partly explores issues of Jamaican homophobia). The collection was shortlisted in 2007 for a Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the category of Best First Book (Canada or Caribbean). His second collection of poetry, There Is an Anger That Moves, was published in 2007 by Carcanet Pressing. In the years since his first collection was published he has produced two novels, a short story collection, three more poetry collections and a book of “essays and prophecies”- he is also a prolific blogger and tweeter.  He attributes his productivity partly to his recently diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (Wiki)

Kei Miller was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He read English at the University of the West Indies, but dropped out short of graduation. However, while studying there, he befriended Mervyn Morris, who encouraged his writing. Afterward, Miller began publishing widely throughout the Caribbean. In 2004, he left for England to study for an MA in Creative Writing (The Novel) at Manchester Metropolitan University under the tutelage of poet and scholar Michael Schmidt. Miller later completed a PhD in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. In 2006, his first book of poetry was released, Kingdom of Empty Bellies (Heaventree Press). It was shortly followed by a collection of short stories, The Fear of Stones, (which partly explores issues of Jamaican homophobia). The collection was shortlisted in 2007 for a Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the category of Best First Book (Canada or Caribbean). His second collection of poetry, There Is an Anger That Moves, was published in 2007 by Carcanet Pressing. In the years since his first collection was published he has produced two novels, a short story collection, three more poetry collections and a book of “essays and prophecies”- he is also a prolific blogger and tweeter.  He attributes his productivity partly to his recently diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (Wiki)


Distance is always reduced at night
The drive from Kingston to Montego Bay is not so far
Nor the distance between ourselves and the stars
And at night there is almost nothing between
The things we say, and the things we mean,

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Ruined Map ~ Kobo Abe

The Ruined Map is a novel about an unnamed detective, hired by an enigmatically beautiful woman. She sets him the task of finding clues that would explain the disappearance of her husband. The only real guides he has are a map (a ruined one), that should point him in the right direction or at least suggest the existence of one, but turns out to be more of a metaphor, than a reference point; a phone number and a box of matches, which create more confusion than enlightenment.

 Right from the start the detective’s investigation is met with evasion, the wife has developed a drinking problem since her husband’s disappearance that makes her vague and unreliable, then there is the brother in law, who instead of providing the detective with whatever clues his own investigation has unearthed, insists that the detective starts from scratch. In almost every situation it seems that the detective is met with suggestion and contradiction. This was a strange book, as at first glance it comes across as some kind of hard-boiled detective fiction, some film noir with the wife as a femme fatale, this is partly helped by the fact the brother in law appears to have ties with a criminal fraternity and by the way the main character initially comes across as a street-smart tough guy wandering the mean streets of some unnamed Japanese city, slowly though things start to unravel. Slowly the detective becomes lost within the labyrinth of the city, and ends up assuming the identity of the disappeared husband, losing his own in the process.

This is the second Kobo Abe, I’ve read and like the first, The Ruined Map, appears to follow similar themes: whereas the first was about adding layers to a mask with the result of the individual losing connection with himself, with his own identity and via that with connection with the world about him, this novel takes a slightly different route. In The Ruined Map, our protagonist suffers some form of psychological disturbance, which involves him suffering from a partial loss of memory, with this he struggles to maintain the his own persona, finding his own personality subsumed within the anonymity of the city and his only point of reference being the missing husband, who is also lost somewhere within that anonymous mass. What I think clever is that by using the format of the detective novel with all its attendant clichés, Abe somehow manages to question the idea of personal identity, and also of that of national identity. The Ruined Map is at one instance a surreal take on the world of Raymond Chandler, and yet in that same instance a meditation on identity, persona.

Kobo Abe through his work as an Avant-garde novelist and playwright, has been compared to the likes of Franz Kafka and Alberto Moravia and like Kafka there is an apparent clinical detachment in the writing, as though Abe’s medical background has had a direct influence upon his writing style. This was apparent in The Face of another, with its use of the three notebooks, it is also apparent to a certain extent here, although not as pronounced, as this book is played out through the voice of the detective, but there seems to be a detachment as though there is a barrier between the detective and us, the style reminded me more of Albert Camus’s The Stranger  mainly because of that mask, that sense of distance from the world.

Kōbō Abe (安部 公房 Abe Kōbō), pseudonym of Kimifusa Abe (安部 公房 Abe Kimifusa was born on March the 7th 1924  in Kita, Tokyo,  he grew up in Mukden (now Shen-yang) in Manchuria during the second world war. In 1948 he received a medical degree from the Tokyo Imperial University, yet never practised medicine. As well as a writer, he was also a poet ( Mumei shishu "Poems of an unknown poet" - 1947) playwright, photographer and inventor. Although his first novel  Owarishi michi no shirube ni ("The Road Sign at the End of the Street") was published in  1948 which helped to establish his reputation, it wasn’t until the publication of The Woman in the Dunes in 1962 that he won widespread international acclaim. In the 1960’s  he worked with the Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara on the film adaptations of this novel, plus The Pitfall, Woman in the Dunes and The Ruined Map, in the early 1970’s he set up an acting studio in Tokyo, where he trained performers and directed plays. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1977.

Among the honours bestowed on him were the Akutagawa Prize in 1951 for The Crime of S. Karuma, theYomiuri Prize in 1962 for Woman in the Dunes, and the Tanizaki Prize in 1967 for the play Friends.Kenzaburō Ōe stated that Abe deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he himself had won (Abe was nominated multiple times).


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Division Street - Helen Mort

The French For Death

I trampled ants on the quay at Dieppe, dawdling
by the desk where they wouldn't take yes for an answer;
yes, it was our name and spelled just so –
Dad repeated it in Oldham’s finest guttural,
we shook our heads at Moor and Maud and Morden.

Rope swung from the captain’s fist
And lashed the water. I saw him shudder,
Troubled by a vision of our crossing:
Glower of thunder, the lurch and buckle
Of the ferry. I looked him in the eye

and popped my bubblegum. Child
from the underworld in red sandals
and a Disney T-shirt, not yet ashamed
by that curt syllable, not yet the girl
who takes the worst route home, pauses

at the mouth of alleyways, or kisses
strangers on the nameless pier; eyes open
staring out to sea, as if in the distance
there’s the spindle of a shipwreck,
prow angled to a far country.

Carol Ann Duffy has described Helen Mort as “amongst the brightest stars in the sparkling new constellation of young British Poets” and, going on her Curriculum Vitae, so far you’d have to be brave or just plain stupid to dispute this statement. A quick check on-line and it turns out that she is a five times winner of the Foyle Young Poets award, has received an Eric Gregory Award from The Society of Authors (2007), won the Manchester Poetry Prize - Young Writer Prize - in (2008), and in 2010, became the youngest ever poet in residence at The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere. She was also the Derbyshire Poet Laureate (2013-2015). Add to this that the poems featured in this post all come from her first full collection of poetry, which was shortlisted for both the T.S Eliot Prize and the Costa Prize (2013) and won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize in 2014, she was also named as one of the Next Generation poets by the Poetry Book Society.

Blurb from back cover

“From the clash between striking miners and police to the delicate conflicts in personal relationships, Helen Mort’s stunning début is marked by distance and division. Named for a street in Sheffield, this is a collection that cherishes specificity: the particularity of names; the reflections the world throws back at us; the precise moment of a realisation. Distinctive and assured, these poems show us how, at the site of conflict, a moment of reconciliation can be born.”

Helen Mort, seems to have been raised within a similar landscape to Liz Berry, a poet I have previously posted on, Helen was born in Sheffield (South Yorkshire,) and raised Derbyshire which is in the Midlands, although east as opposed to Liz’s west. I mention this because Helen Mort has stated that “landscape is an important presence in her work”, in fact she composes many of her poems whilst walking or running on the Cumbrian Fells and whereas I felt that the poetry in Liz Berry’s collection Black Country, used language and specifically dialect to place this region, it’s landscape and people on the map and in some way hark back to a specific time through the language used, I believe Helen Mort seems to me more precise, she picks out places, names and uses them as almost as though they were Cairns, boundary stones, pinpointing to what she is trying to communicate. I also felt that although Division Street harkens back to the past as did Black Country, it’s imagery was more overtly political, what I mean by this is that - in my opinion - Liz Berry may use the dialect as a political tool, as a way of highlighting the decline of industry and the effect that has on her region, Helen seems to use specific points in time, specific events such as the Miners Strike for her imagery, now for a lot of people, myself included, this was time of severe division & conflict, my stepfather was a sparkie (electrician) at one of the pits in Kent & for almost two years I worked at the same pit, before escaping to what for me was a hell-hole. I got out before the government at that time decided to curtail the power of the unions and do this by using the miners unions as an example and destroy them, this ended up ripping whole communities apart & leaving towns and villages with no purpose as they were set up to provide manpower for the mines. 

Scab III (part of a 5 sectioned poem)

This is a reconstruction. Nobody
will get hurt. There are miners playing
coppers, ex-coppers shouting
Maggie out. There are battle specialists,
The Vikings and The Sealed Knot.
There will be opportunities to leave,
a handshake at the end. Please note
the language used for authenticity:
example – scab, example – cunt.


This is a re-enactment.
When I blow the whistle, charge
But not before. On my instruction,
Throw your missiles in the air.
On my instruction, tackle him,
Then kick him when he’s down,
Kick him in the bollocks, boot him
like a man in flames.Now harder,
kick him till he doesn't know his name.


This is a reconstruction.
It is important to film everything.
Pickets chased on horseback into Asda,
Running shirtless through the aisles of tins.

A lad who sprints through ginnels,*
Gardens, up somebody’s stairs,
into a room where two more miners
hide beneath the bed, or else
are lost – or left for dead.

                       *a narrow passage between buildings; an alley

Meaning that this collection of poetry has a lot of resonance for me, in fact I picked it up because of the front cover of this book, which shows an image from the Orgreave Miners strike. Although to make the claim that this is all the collection relates to would be doing it an injustice, even the part of the poem Scab, I placed here is part of a larger poem, that is more an exploration of betrayal in its many forms, the leaving of the home to go to university (Cambridge), with all the feelings raised relating to the family being left behind both physically & socially. In fact this collection explores relationships both on a personal level and a wider scale, on the individual as well as the community,meaning it deals with ideas of both loyalty and betrayal, it also hones in on all those grey areas, those points of conflict that can never be defined by the simple definition of black or white. So what started out for me as a collection raising some ghosts from a long forgotten past, raised more ghosts than I was expecting and in areas I wasn't.


An auditorium
where nobody is clapping

you enter naked, breasts
like two grey stones. You have
to leave your things outside.

They will be counted, weighed,
put back exactly as they weren't.

Helen Mort is a poet born in Sheffield in 1985. She is an alumnus of Christ's College, Cambridge, a constituent college of the University of Cambridge from which she graduated with a Double First in Social and Political Sciences in 2006. In 2014, she completed her Doctorate at Sheffield University with a Ph.D. thesis in English/Neuroscience and her BlogSpot `Poetry on the Brain` was one of the Picador `Best Poetry Blogs` choices.

Poetry & the Brain (Interview Poetry School)

Common Names

 Somewhere, there is a spider called Harrison Ford,
another genus known as Orson Welles. The ocean’s full
of seahorses who take their names from racing champs.
Above our heads, a solitary Greta Garbo wasp takes flight.

Each day, someone adopts a killer whale or buys
a patch of moon only to call it Bob and last night,
watching meteors sail drunk across the Grasmere sky,
you told me there are minor planets christened

Elvis, Nietzsche, Mr Spock. So forgive me if I looked up
past your face, to see those nearly-silver drops
make rivers in the dark, and, for a moment,
almost thought there might be stars named after us.