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.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Black Country - Liz Berry

 Birmingham Roller.

“We spent our lives down in the blackness……those bird
brought us up to the light” – Jim Showell, Tumbling pigeons & the Black Country

Wench, yowm the colour of ower town:
concrete, steel, oily rainbow of the cut.

Ower streets am in yer wings,
ower factory chimdeys plumes on yer chest,

yer heart’s the china ower owd girls dust
in their tranklement cabinets.

Bred to dazzlin in backyards by men
whose onds  grew soft as feathers

just to touch you, cradle you from egg
through each jeth-defying tumble.

Little acrobats of the terraces,
We’m winged when we gaze at you

Jimmucking the breeze, somersaulting through
the white-breathed prayer of january

and rolling back up like a babby’s yo-yo
caught by the open donny of the clouds.

Tranklement/ ornaments (bits & Bobs): wench/affectionate name for a female: yowm/ you are: cut/ canal: onds/hands: jimmucking/ shaking: babby/ little child: donny/hand (child)

Black Country is an area of the West Midlands metropolitan county in England, north and west of Birmingham. It includes parts of the boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. During the Industrial Revolution, it became one of the most industrialised parts of Britain with coal mines, coking, iron foundries and steel mills producing a high level of air pollution. The region gained its name in the mid nineteenth century due to the smoke from the many thousands of ironworking foundries and forges plus also the working of the shallow and 30ft thick coal seams. Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham in 1862, described the area 'Black by day and red by night'.


It mizzled the night you died
but you’d already gone
back to your owd mon’s garden
with your yellow frock on.
In the beds, goosegogs furred,
peas climbed cane wigwams,
your brothers shirt danced
on the line. And you, thirteen
again, sensing light above,
raised your hand to shade
your eyes from the sun.

Mizzled/ rained: owd mon/ dad

Liz Berry was born in this region & still lives there now (Birmingham), so it makes perfect sense for her debut collection of poetry to be set there as well, but what makes this collection stand out is the language used. Liz Berry has drawn on the dialect of the Black Country and by combining this with its history & her own has created an extraordinary collection of poetry rooted into the landscape and yet at that same instant somersaulting, turning as though a bird in flight. The words come off the page almost as if they were incantations as though by reciting the “owd words” you are not merely harking back to the past but raising it fully formed into the present, with the dialect forming a vital part of the poems not just as some form of  tranklement, (love that word) but a way of placing this region its landscape and people on the map. This is not just a wonderful personal debut collection of poetry it’s a paean to a world that is changing, to a landscape that was carved out for a specific purpose, that now no longer exists. Liz Berry’s Black country, is like the region - there’s a darkness born out of the landscape, but there is also a humour, a tenderness that reflects it’s people and is there as a defence against all that the darkness represents.


For years you kept your accent
in a box beneath the bed
the lock rusted shut by hours of elocution
how now brown cow
the teacher’s ruler across your legs.

We heard it escape sometimes,
A guttural uh on the phone to your sister,
saft or blart to a taxi driver
unpacking your bags from his boot.
I loved itsthick drawl, g’s that rang.

Clearing your house, the only thing
I wanted was that box, jemmied open
To let years of lost words spill out –
Bibble, fittle, tay, wum,
vowells ferrous as nails, consonants

you could lick the coal from.
I wanted to swallow them all: the pits
Railways, factories thunking and clanging
The night shift, the red brick
Back-to-back you were born in.

I wanted to forge your voice
In my mouth, a blacksmith’s furnace;
Shout it from the roofs,
Send your words, like pigeons,
fluttering for home.

Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, received a Somerset Maugham Award and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014, it was also chosen as a book of the year by The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Mail, The Big Issue and The Morning Star.

Liz Berry received an Eric Gregory Award in 2009, an Arvon-Jerwood Mentorship in 2011 and won the Poetry London competition in 2012. Her pamphlet The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls was published by Tall Lighthouse in 2010. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, been broadcast on BBC Radio and recorded for the Poetry Archive.

Points of View

“These are poems of great vitality and charm. Seasoned with the dialect of Liz Berry’s home territory, but with a linguistic and lyric freshness independent of that, they offer nourishment – right bostin fittle, in fact – to readers hungry for the real thing.” (Christopher Reid) 

“Ecstatic, quicksilver poems, ablaze with originality, curiosity and a passion for words.” (Ruth Padel)

"Liz Berry makes you look at the world differently. Her book is a real appreciation of a place that’s not often appreciated. She is a fresh, exciting and distinctive new voice. Her work is that rare thing, a collection that leaves you feeling full of real optimism and hope"(Jeremy Paxman, Forward Prize Judge)

"I have wondered why the wit, warmth and energy of the West Midlands had no voice amongst the younger English poets. Now it has. Liz Berry is the Black Country’s shining daughter."(Alison Brackenbury)

"Superb… a sooty, soaring hymn to her native West Midlands, scattered with words of dialect that light up the lines like lamps. Expect to hear a great deal more from her in years to come.(Sarah Crown, Guardian)"

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Death in the Museum of Modern Art - Alma Lazarevska

When Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia and achieved United Nations recognition, the Serbian leaders and army whose goal was to create a "greater Serbia", declared a new Serbian national state, Republika Srpska (RS). 

They carved this from the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, encircling Sarajevo with a siege force of 18,000 stationed in the surrounding hills, from here they assaulted the city with weapons that included artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles.

From 2 May 1992 - to 29 February 1996 the Serbs blockaded the city, the Bosnian government defence forces inside the besieged city were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege. It became the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, during which 11,541 people lost their lives, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. When the siege ended, the concrete scars caused by mortar shell explosions left a mark that was filled with red resin. After the red resin was placed it left a floral pattern which led to it being dubbed a Sarajevo Rose.

This forms the backdrop to Death in the Museum of Modern Art, a collection of six short stories by Alma Lazarevska, a graduate of the University of Sarajevo, and a seriously acclaimed writer in her homeland. In fact this collection won the “Best Book” award from the Society of Writers of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I was going to write a small piece about each tale, but on thinking more on the subject decided that this post would work better if I just gave an overall impression of the collection and not try and dissect the inner workings of what are very beautiful sad.. ..I wanted to say snapshots but that doesn't capture the details, doesn't explain how these stories resonate. They are more like miniatures, each one capturing a moment, highlighting the minutiae of an individual living a life besieged, a life encircled by the ever present character of death and trying their damnedest not to invite them in. This in a way is a state we can all comprehend as all our lives are circumscribed by that old foe, although these tales in their concentrated heightened and in certain cases surreal nature bring the lens in tight, take us below the epidermis.

What is truly breath-taking though, is that they do this without recourse to all the blood and gore one would expect from a book of tales about a city facing one of the bloodiest sieges in modern history, in a city where the all the creative might of the arms industry was pouring down with the regularity of a local shower, it’s the teardrop that pierces the heart. This is a collection of moments, of individuals contemplating what it means to hold on to ones humanity, of people struggling to preserve what’s of worth to them and despite the inherent fragility of the flesh - fighting against the inevitable sinking of the light.
Death in the Museum of Modern Art, is a pellucid and yet dreamlike collection of tales, that manages to capture the beauty in moments where none would be expected, and yet doesn’t shy away from intrinsic monstrosity of a life defined by cannon fire.

Alma Lazarevska is a Bosnian prose writer and member of Bosnian PEN. Her published books include Sarajevo SolitaireThe Sign of the RoseDeath in the Museum of Modern Art and Plants are Something Else (the title story of which has recently been included in an edition of the magazine Wasafiri).

An Interview with Alma Lazarevska in: The Mantle

This collection of short stories was translated by Celia Hawkesworth, who worked for many years as Senior Lecturer in Serbian and Croatian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London. She has published numerous articles and several books on Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian literature, including the studies ‘Ivo Andric: Bridge between East and West’ (Athlone Press, 1984); ‘Voices in the Shadows: Women and Verbal Art in Serbia and Bosnia’ (CEU Press, 2000); and ‘Zagreb: A Cultural History’ (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Among her many translations are two works by Dubravka Ugrešić, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998; ‘The Museum of Unconditional Surrender’, short-listed for the Weidenfeld Prize for Literary Translation, and ‘The Culture of Lies’, winner of the Heldt Prize for Translation in 1999.

Published by the wonderful Istros Books.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sándor Weöres (1913 – 1989)

Sándor Weöres (1913 – 1989) was a Hungarian poet and author. Although he was born on 22 June 1913 in Szombathely, he was raised in the nearby village of Csönge, he was considered a very bright and keen individual wanting to read and learn from anything that he came in contact with, including books from diverse nations and cultures - this at a time when the established learning was focused inwards and Eurocentric. As a poet influences such as Taoism, Indian philosophy, in fact both Eastern and European mysticism, would resurface in his writings and become major factors in his work, he would even go on to translate the Tao Te Ching (his version still the most widely read in Hungary). At the age of nineteen, his poetry was being published in the influential journal Nyugat ("West") through the acceptance of its editor, the poet Mihály Babits.  He attended the University of Pécs, originally to study law, before switching to geography and history and ultimately receiving a doctorate in philosophy and aesthetics. His doctoral dissertation The Birth of the Poem was published in 1939.

In 1937 he made his first journey outside of Hungary, going first to Manila for a Eucharistic Congress before visiting Vietnam and India. During World War II he was drafted for compulsory labour, but was not sent to the front. After the end of the war, he returned to Csönge, living for a short time as a farmer.

The Lunatic Cyclist (1930)

Sometimes one whose soul is pure
sees himself as if he might
be some cycling lunatic
as he pedals through the night

he the lunatic evokes
who can neither see nor hear
while the pebbles his wheels flick
are flung twanging through his spokes

wheels that cut into the earth
around him weave a dusty veil
the stars above a lazy herd
sleep in their narrow sky-tall

while the wind soaks up his sweat
and shakes out his bushy hair
the lunatic continues yet
to pedal through the moonlit air

sometimes one whose soul is pure
sees himself as if he might
be that lunatic cycling there
with mounting fury through the night

as clear to him as bread and wine
mirrored by the light of day
the moon that sprinkles round about
on every side its netted ray

cold the light and cold the wind
that blows the lunatic’s hair back
while dust humiliates his wheels
and unvirginal is his track

infinite is the cyclist’s track
and the soul that’s pure and bright
watches while the lunatic
pedals weeping through the night.

                       Trans: William Jay Smith

In 1948 Weöres left the country again residing in Italy until 1949. In 1951 he returned to Hungary, settling in Budapest where he would remain for the rest of his life. The imposition of Stalinism in Hungary after 1948 silenced Weöres and until 1964, with very little able to be published, one of the exceptions was “A hallgatás tornya” (The Tower of Silence), published during a brief period of relative freedom prior to the revolution of 1956.

On Death (1937) 

Don't mind if you die. It's just your body's shape,
intelligence, separate beings which are passing.
The rest, the final and the all-embracing
structure receives, and will absorb and keep.

All incidents we live through, forms we see,
particles, mountain-tops, are broken down,
they all are mortal, this condition shows,
but as to substance: timeless majesty.

The soul is that way too: condition dies
away from it—feeling, intelligence,
which help to fish the pieces from the drift

and make it sicken—but, what underlies,
all elements that wait in permanence,
reach the dear house they never really left.

                                             Trans: Allan Dixon

In 1964 he published “Tűzkút” (The Well of Fire) in Paris and his poetry became officially tolerated in Hungary. Weöres also translated writers into Hungarian, including the works of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko, the Georgian poet Rustaveli, the Slovenian poets Oton Župančič and Josip Murn Aleksandrov. He also translated Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and Henry VIII, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, the nonsense poems by Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, and the complete poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. In 1970 he received the Kossuth Prize, the nation’s highest award. English-language translations of his poetry include If All the World Were a Blackbird (1985) and Eternal Moment (1988).

Sandor Weöres, confounded the critics of his homeland throughout his career, from the very start he was interested in experimenting with form, he would try his hand at everything from automatic writing to creating nonsensical poems without regard to any semantic meaning, before translating them using diverse methods. He was searching for methods to express his thoughts in a way that could only be done via a language he saw as specific to poetry & could not be expressed in a standard literal form. This he pursued through a period of history when poets and writers where expected to follow the socialist ideal and write realist poems that praised the state, that provided propaganda to the regimes ideology. Although recognised by his peers he was seen by the state apparatus as a propagator of nihilist ideas, and thus his poetry was not published until the political climate changed. He continued regardless constantly expanding his ideas, taking everything from nursery rhymes to long mythical poetry. In 1972 he published Psyche, an anthology of poetry and prose by a female poet called Erzsébet Mária Psyché Lónyay, whose work had lain forgotten since the early 19th century, and who Weöres rediscovers: this was later turned into a film called Narcissus & Psyche by Gábor Bódy (1980). He also edited an influential collection of Hungarian poetry Három veréb hat szemmel in 1977 (Three sparrows with six eyes).

Renaissance (1980)
It was the era of masks
And the bird saluting the well.

Eyes opening to the knowledge
Cobbled the dark alleys

Solid ruins stepped from the past
And mixed with present dilapidation.

Wombshaped, pluckable instruments
contended with huge baggy keyboards.

Born in pain
was promptly dying.

Anyone who thought to speak
was already overheard.

The city was full of expectation;
the country with countless flowers,
and unsuspected silky tunes
flew, like a mist of cuckoos, far off.

                  Trans: Hugh Maxton

I found out about Sandor Weöres, through my local charity bookshop, where I came across a copy of Eternal Moment (Selected poems), this anthology of poetry covers Sandor’s poetry from 1928 – 1980, giving the reader an overview of this Hungarian writers oeuvre, it was edited by  Miklós Vajda, who also wrote the introduction, it has an after word by Edwin Morgan and some drawings by Sandor Weöres. This collection was published in 1988 by Anvil press Poetry

This is a wonderful & interesting collection of poetry that shows this writer finding his own voice, but not just that it also demonstrates that, despite the whole apparatus of governmental opinion against him, he was proved right in the end becoming a much respected, loved and emulated poet, whose work has been set to music, made into film & is a fixture in Hungarian life whether through the nursery rhymes heard as a child or through verse, film & music whilst growing up.

 Moon and Farmstead (1954)
full    moon   slip   swim
wind  fog     foam  chord  hum
the    house   empty

thorn  fence
eye   blaze

moon   swim   flame
grass   chord   twang
cloud   fling

the  house   empty
door   window
fly   up

chimney  run
fog   swirl
full   moon   circle

the   house   empty

    Trans: Edwin Morgan

Monkeyland (1955)

Oh for far-off monkeyland,
ripe monkeybread on baobabs,
and the wind strums out monkeytunes
from monkeywindow monkeybars.

Monkeyheroes rise and fight
in monkeyfield and monkeysquare,
and monkeysanatoriums
have monkeypatients crying there.

Monkeygirl monkeytaught
masters monkeyalphabet,
evil monkey pounds his thrawn
feet in monkeyprison yet.

Monkeymill is nearly made,
miles of monkeymayonnaise,
winningly unwinnable
winning monkeymind wins praise.

Monkeyking on monkeypole
harangues the crowd in monkeytongue,
monkeyheaven comes to some,
monkeyhell for those undone.

Macaque, gorilla, chimpanzee,
baboon, orangutan, each beast
reads his monkeynewssheet at
the end of each twilight repast.

With monkeysupper memories
the monkeyouthouse rumbles, hums,
monkeyswaddies start to march,
right turn, left turn, shoulder arms -

monkeymilitary fright
reflected in each monkeyface,
with monkeygun in monkeyfist
the monkeys' world the world we face. 
Trans: Edwin Morgan