Our tongues are neither spoons
nor arrows. Neither flower petals
nor leaves. Our tongues are
obsidian tongues, shorter than
the knives priests use to sacrifice
but equally sharp.Our tongues
flint sparks. Our tongues chip
thin flakes when stabs
aren’t straight and quick. Our
tongues are neither spoons
nor arrows, petals nor leaves.
How one book/writer grabs your attention more than another can be quite shallow, can be an image or a connection with another already loved writer and to be honest when Eyewear Publishing, sent me this book to read I was immediately entranced by the backstory and the image. David Shook looks like he could be Jack White’s kin and on top of that, amongst his many translations (poetry, novellas etc.), he has translated Roberto Bolano’s Infrarealist Manifesto, also whilst Translator in Residence for the Poetry Parnassus, he premiered his poetry documentary Kilometro Cero about the the poet Marcelo Ensama Nsang, covertly filmed in Equatorial Guinea* . He is also editor of the online broadside Molossus and the publishing and film production house Phoneme Books.
All of this would engage my interest for a moment, I'd probably note the name and move on, and that is as far as it would go, if the poetry itself didn't deliver.
I Know your Body
after Victor Teran
If you were a city
I could give perfect directions
to wherever they asked me,
I could map your neighbourhoods &
catalogue your smells.
If you were a city
I would get lost every day
down some new corridor.
I would toss my map, hitchhike
your suburbs, wander your downtown.
If I were twenty years younger, I’d say “This man Rocks Poetry!”. So being an older more mature individual, I’m left with the poetry itself. Our Obsidian Tongues, is the voice of a city, the voice of a million potshards screaming to be heard, it’s the sound of all a city’s fragments and minutiae distilled into words that then explode off the page. This is a violent, sexy restless poetry, that like the city itself cannibalizes it’s past to build new structures, to raise new edifices to the old and the new gods.
My Father had a vision
through the double-window of an airplane:
Aztec gods protecting their city, arms folded
like celestial bouncers.
Their listless kids swim, jump cannonballs
into sulphuric lakes, tickle volcanoes
until they laugh ash. At night they get high huffing
bus fumes, pheromones & sweat.
The sun rises each morning without human sacrifice
The misery of the city is enough.
The Poet Jamie McKendrick, said of this collection:
“Our Obsidian Tongues has a tough, abrupt, incendiary quality. Its violent palette and its restless formal play – ‘postcard’, prose poem, epigram, ghazal – are not gratuitous but a response to the turbulent and vivid Mexico it describes. Nature and culture on a collision course: skies filled with volcanic ash and streets ranged by ravenous mutts but also the poverty and desperation behind the drug wars. It’s to the credit of this unusual first collection that these striking features still allow for quieter humour and tenderness”
David Shook grew up in Mexico City before studying endangered languages in Oklahoma and poetry at Oxford. He served as Translator in Residence at Britain’s Poetry Parnassus at The Southbank (London) in 2012. His poetry, translations, and criticism have appeared in Ambit, Oxford Magazine, the Oxonian Review, Poetry, PN Review, World Literature Today, and many other reputable and disreputable magazines. A chapbook of his translations from the Isthmus Zapotec of Víctor Terán is available from the Poetry Translation Centre, a chapbook version of Oswald de Andrade’s Cannibal Manifesto is forthcoming from Manifestoh! (Insert Blanc Press), his translation of Roberto Bolaño’s manifesto Leave Everything, Again appears as an appendix to the new Picador edition of The Savage Detectives, and his translation of Mario Bellatin’s Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction is available from Phoneme Media. His work also appears in the anthologies Oxford Poets 2010 (Carcanet), Initiate (Blackwell), and the Los Angeles Telephone Book (ed. Brian Stefans). Recent forays into creative nonfiction appear in The Rattling Wall and Ambit. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden's Ferry Review, Oxford Magazine, PEN International Magazine, Poetry, World Literature Today, on the Poetry Translation Centre website, and elsewhere. He now lives in Silver Lake, Los Angeles with his wife, the poet and pastor Syd Shook and their Chihuahua, Okie Doke.