Archive | January, 2015

Review of Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa

31 Jan

dancingAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/ – This review by Beth McDonough, Writer in Residence at the University of Dundee, is of Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa

 

Ilya Kaminsky
(Arc, 2014); pbk: £8.99

 

I was born in the city named after Odysseus
and I praise no nation –

to the rhythm of snow
an immigrant’s clumsy phrases fall into speech.

 

Ilya Kaminsky is an immigrant but in this his first full collection his phrasing is anything but clumsy. Born in Odessa, his family was granted US asylum in 1993, and the poet continues to work in various ways supporting the rights of the poor and disenfranchised. Those reading his poetry may be surprised that English is his second language and that he was only in his twenties when this collection was first published by Tupelo in the US in 2004. So sure is his grasp of his adopted tongue that he can pattern Russian-structured English in direct speech differently from his own fluent English.

A beautifully sequenced and curated collection, Dancing in Odessa is divided into an opening prayer, followed by five distinct but linked sections. The final group excepting, each of these begins with a memory-deep poem (and in most cases a prose poem), sunk to the bottom of the page.

In “Musica Humana [an elegy for Osip Mandelstam]” (section II), Kaminsky defines the earlier Acmeist poet, Mandelstam, as a “modern Orpheus”. Tracing his predecessor’s traumatic life to his death in a Gulag in 1938, the reference is justified indeed. The reader expecting an unrelenting delineation of woe, or poetry shaped after Acmeist movement will be surprised. Kaminsky’s elegy travels through stanzaic forms, prose poetry fragments, square-bracketed interjections and even a recipe.

For all that undeniably harrowing biography, and by extension those of the Travelling Musicians, Celan, Brodsky, Babel and Tsvetaeva, these poems are far from misery memoirs. Trauma is never skirted but these poems dance in unexpected warmth and even humour; Kaminsky’s writing has a surreal aspect, often bordering on the ecstatic. George Szirtes offers high praise on the cover, and indeed there are parallels with his own work and that of Helen Ivory.

Poetry verging on glossolalia is arguably a high-wire act, not only for the poet but especially for the reader yet such is the strength of the imagery and the language here, and the structured quality of the sequencing of these poems that Kaminsky balances these challenges with panache.

In a sometimes pulsating joie de vivre, Kaminsky can conjure some remarkable effects. Consider “In Praise of Laughter”, all in tercets bar the final couplet, the lines ring with repetition, and with both internal and end rhymes. What can be read as a comforting rhythmic dance, albeit one telling of sadness, becomes utterly shocking in the fifth stanza, and all the more so because of the deceptive propulsion of the earlier words. How much sharper then for the reader are the lines

 

He was shot, and my grandmother raped
by the public prosecutor, who stuck his pen in her vagina,

the pen which signed people off for twenty years.

 

Or, in “A Toast”

 

October: grapes hung like the fists of a girl
gassed in her prayer.

 

“Natalia” (Section III) recounts a love song, again in ostensibly traditional verse, cut with shifting points of view, prose poems placed like footnotes, the section ends with the haunting “Envoi”, set in another time, elsewhere.

Kaminsky says that he began writing in English after his father’s death in 1994, “because no-one in my family knew it […]. It was a parallel reality, an insanely beautiful freedom.” Aged four, he became almost completely deaf and indeed hearing loss is a running theme in this collection. This freedom can be said to carry lyrically into a language that he has never properly heard.

Whatever past horrors Kaminsky remembers, there is also love and joyous detail. “But you asked for a story with a happy ending” the final poem recalls. There isn’t quite a happy ending as such, no forgetting any of his painful hinterland. There is, however, an openness to a thrilling future and happily, Kaminsky has much more to offer. His next collection tempts already.

 

Beth McDonough

 

Ilya Kaminsky will be taking part in events at StAnza on 7th March http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=708

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Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 150: Cairnsmore

28 Jan

Cairnsmore’s love story

Like lovers who come together
with desperate longing,
tectonic plates collided in orgasms
of crashing waves, turning
world and ocean upside down.

Passions ignited, blood heated
fierce in the veins.
Fires quenched, love cooled,
held fast in an icy grip, blizzards
blind lovers to core-deep truths:

ice moves, smoothes harsh corners;
hearts, toughened, beat stronger.

Mary Smith

 

from Thousands Pass Here Every Day (Indigo Dreams)

 

To view our map of Scotland in Poems as it grows, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/the-map-revealed/ . For more information on this project, and on how to submit a poem, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/mapping-scotland-in-poetry/.

All poems on our poetry map of Scotland and on the StAnza Blog are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet’s permission.

Brochure for StAnza 2015 now available online!

28 Jan

StAnza 2015 brochure. Artwork by Patricia Bray, design by Levenmouth Printers

StAnza 2015 brochure. Artwork by Patricia Bray, design by Levenmouth Printers


The brochure for StAnza 2015 is now available. Hard copies will be turning up all over the place shortly, but meantime you can view it online at this link – or even print out your own copy if you like. And if you haven’t got your tickets yet, the early bird discount is still available until Saturday.

To view brochure, go to the StAnza homepage at http://www.stanzapoetry.org and follow the link in the middle of the page.

Next Generation

27 Jan

PBS-NextGenPoets-flyer-FINAOn 5 February the second leg of the Next Generation Poets 2014 tour starts, with events in Nottingham, Oswestry, Manchester, Ely, Winchester, Keats House, Bristol, Belfast, Newcastle and Norwich. There will also be a fabulous celebration at the QEH in London on 15 March and all 20 poets will be invited to read.

We’re delighted to have four of the Next Generation poets on the bill for StAnza 2015, Kei Miller, Helen Mort, Heather Phillipson and Mark Waldron and you can catch them at four different events on the Saturday and Sunday of the festival. More details on our website at http://www.stanzapoetry.org, and you can get more information on all the Next Generation 2014 Poets at http://nextgenerationpoets.com/.

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 149: Hoy, Orkney

27 Jan

Easter at the Dwarfie Stane

I know an old man who lay
for three days and three nights
in the three chambered cairn of his mind.

Antler hands had hewn and rough hewn
until his skull was smooth and echoed
with the curlew wind that curled and wound
down the corrie, around the cliffs,
to roll the heather in purple waves
breaking against his brows.

In his tangled beard a lapwing cradled her eggs,
hares rolled like mops of March herring
among the panic-merchant oyster catchers
and liquid skylarks drew sound-spirals
threading his memories onto whirlpools
of the endless wind.

Great blocks of silence stood
like sandstone on sandstone
glowing in the nightly nuclear holocaust,
where gulls, black backed, black headed and common,
spun to the rhythm of dreams
drummed by the tribes of his children,

singing
of nine lives lost
that rattle now as dust-bones in the mist.

That cairn is empty now,
that great stone, rolled downhill by tides,
lies boulder on boulder, smooth among the kelp.
Fulmars descend angelic to the weeping sea
and announce he is risen, that old man
standing tall among the spray.

 

Peter Cawston

 

To view our map of Scotland in Poems as it grows, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/the-map-revealed/ . For more information on this project, and on how to submit a poem, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/mapping-scotland-in-poetry/.

All poems on our poetry map of Scotland and on the StAnza Blog are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet’s permission.

Reviews of Bill Manhire

27 Jan

Bill Manhire

Bill Manhire

As part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/ – This review by Andy Jackson is of Bill Manhire’s Selected Poems.

Selected Poems – Bill Manhire
(Carcanet, 2014); pbk; £14.95

Manhire is the pre-eminent voice of New Zealand poetry; that country’s first Laureate, and author of over a dozen collections, stretching back to the earliest part of the 1970s. He found some notoriety in his early career when a short poem, “Wingatui”, whose meaning was partially rooted in the vernacular of the New Zealand horse-racing world, was included in Private Eye magazine’s “Pseuds Corner” column. It was an act of philistinism for which the New Zealand poetry community took some time to forgive the British press, but that incident has served as only a minor footnote to what has become a significant literary career.

Manhire was from the start unafraid of abstraction; “Poem” from his 1972 collection The Elaboration reads,

When we touch,
forests enter our bodies.
The dark wind shakes the branch.
The dark branch shakes the wind.

However, it’s clear that the poet’s voice has become richer, more conversational over time, although many of the conversations are one-sided, as evidenced by his easily-distracted conversation with “Kevin” in the poem of the same name, from his 2005 collection Lifted:

I don’t know where the dead go, Kevin.
The one far place I know
is inside the heavy radio.

Manhire then goes on to speak more to himself than to his subject, recalling his own experiences of radio, while Kevin sleeps on. To a certain extent, the poet’s work is much more introverted and internalised than it first seems – he appears in most of his later poems as “I” and is rarely detached, which hints through the chronologically-arranged sequence at a growing self-concern as he ages. This not-quite-solipsism reaches its zenith in “1950s”, a supercharged list poem detailing the very personal paraphernalia of his childhood;

My cricket bat. My football boots.
My fishing rod. My hula hoop.
My cowboy chaps. My scooter.
Draughts. Happy Families. Euchre.

The most vividly-drawn poems are from his mid-period work, especially 1991’s Milky Way Bar, two of which are pieces of poetic reportage. “Hirohito” examines the de-deification of the wartime Japanese emperor and “Phar Lap” tells the tale of the legendary Depression-era Australian racehorse. In both poems, Manhire considers the geography of the South Pacific and its relationship with other nations along the Pacific Rim through figures of history and popular culture. In “Hirohito” the God-emperor is replaced by the God of capitalism and commerce in the final lines;

I catch sight of him through snow,
a man with glasses
staring out of the screen
of my 14-inch Sanyo.

In “Phar Lap” he pokes at the corpse of the great horse and the mystery of its death in the USA, evoking the conspiracy theories formed in response to perceived jealousy at the horse’s success;

Well, let’s say he died in California,
let’s say he died of absence.

Manhire is distinctively-voiced and largely accessible, more so as he matures into his fifth decade as a writer, with three new poems tackling the eternal theme of ageing and mortality. The selection’s final poem “Old Man Puzzled by His New Pyjamas” could perhaps serve as a simple metaphor for the older person’s hope for the coming afterlife;

I am the baby who sleeps in the drawer.
Blue yesterday, and blue before –
and suddenly all these stripes.

Bill Manhire has much to talk about – often himself, but also the concerns of others – but he says it with a confident lightness of touch and image, and he is never less than engaging. Infusions of melancholy keep his poems afloat in the mind, and the mood is always questioning, probing. His Selected Poems is a good way for the European reader to introduce themselves to a poet often marginalised by geography.

Andy Jackson

You can find further reviews of Bill Manhire online at:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10838299
http://www.nzbooks.org.nz/2013/literature/moving-the-world-along-mark-houlahan/
http://www.poetrysociety.org.nz/manhireselected
http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2535564/book-review-2-books-today
http://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/books/231141/manhire-selection-choice-collection-favourites

Bill Manhire will be appearing at StAnza 2015 on 7th and 8th March. http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=716

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 148: Mellon Udrigle, Wester Ross

26 Jan

Ehm You

Tropical hues northern blues
Beneath yelps of delight
Under bird call and breeze
I can surely hear your tune

Worn rocks carry resonance
A mellow tone remains
Stolen moments of time
Sand grains on well-worn denim

Miriam V Owen

 

To view our map of Scotland in Poems as it grows, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/the-map-revealed/ . For more information on this project, and on how to submit a poem, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/mapping-scotland-in-poetry/.

All poems on our poetry map of Scotland and on the StAnza Blog are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet’s permission.

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