Archive | January, 2015

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 147: Muckle Flugga

25 Jan

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse

 

In a harsh world

she resists the elements.

Rises statuesque and sombre

regal in her own way.

Her bone white pallor

conceals inner warmth.

Tremulous, she surrenders

to midnight’s soft caress.

Betrayed by constellations

they reach for the moon,

struggle through inky depths

as lightning pierces the sky.

Shards of light fall

in celestial showers.

She beckons, they follow.

Sailors led to their destiny.

 

Cathie Devitt

 

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. : 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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Poetry Review from DURA of Kei Miller’s Forward prize-winning new collection

24 Jan

cartographer 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 Gail Low is of Kei Miller’s latest collection.

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Costa Poetry Award Shortlist and Winner of the Forward Prize “Best Collection 2014″)

Kei Miller
(Carcanet Press, 2014); pbk, £.9.95

If Kei Miller hasn’t produced a poetry collection since 2010, the intervening years have been anything but unproductive: two marvellous novels, a blog, a doctorate, editing work and a wonderful collection of essays. Yet Miller’s poetic sensibility is special; his ability to suggest a transcendent luminosity in the single line or a small commonplace detail, his lyric voice and special feeling for the shape and sound of words, and his care with the hidden lives of words are all distinctive features. No pressure then Mr Miller as I open The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion.

An extended dialogue between a cartographer and a “rastaman” over the nature and function of maps and mapmaking provides the central spine to Miller’s new collection about the politics and poetics of place. Underpinned by a voracious imperial appetite turning space into useable knowledge in order to master, conquer or to exploit, the cartographer’s abstract, scientific systems, as the rastaman objects,

Make thin and crushable
All that is big and real as ourselves; is to make flat
All that is high and rolling; is to make invisible an 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.

In contrast, the rastaman’s “map” is an invitation to think – with openness – about the ways in which the Caribbean landscape is imbued not only with the legacies of empire, but with local, personal and spiritual histories, and to see how spaces are transformed into places by their inhabitants (animal and human) and made to matter. Miller, being Miller, also invites us to think about the ways in which stories, myths, narratives, words – the imaginative – are sedimented into the lives of place names: “Wait-a-Bit”, “Me-No-Sen-You-No-Come”, “Flog Man”. Yet this collection offers no heavy-handed political lesson; the cartographer is given some wonderful lines, for example, when defending the right to name:

– every language, even yours,
is a partial map of this world – it is
the man who never learnt the word
‘scrupe’ – sound of silk or chiffon moving
against the floor – such a man would not know
how to listen for the scrupe of his bride’s dress….

Threaded through this dialogue of twenty seven parts are other gems that also reflect on the nature of place, naming, language and history, all of which speak to the largesse that is Caribbean literature. This is a poet speaking out of and also to a Caribbean literary tradition – Kamau Brathwaite, Louise Bennett, Mikey Smith, Derek Walcott, Lorna Goodison, among others – while all the time thinking about the poet’s relationship with the world and the language we all inhabit. Miller’s strategic repetition of words, phrase and syntax shows his rhetorical and performative expertise, and his awareness of the musical legacies of Caribbean. Similarly, the bold shifts of gear between a Jamaican creole, a Rastafarian vocabulary and an Anglophone lyric tradition indicate a poetic sensibility that can straddle these divides – even undo them. In addition to poems that address historical tragedy, there are heartbreaking poems of personal loss seen, for example, through a final gathering of dolls that map the world (“My Mother’s Atlas of Dolls”), and poems that thoughtfully gesture towards a larger dimension outside what we think we know: an “unsettled”, “unflattened” “unsugared” island with the “shrug” of animals “who though/ hated and hunted, have remained// profoundly unbothered”. All are leavened by flashes of humour, not only in the obvious comedy of upturned 28,000 yellow rubber ducks teaching scientists about global currents in “squeakless silence”, but also in the punch line of the “I-informant” who responds to the cartographer’s impatient request for directions.

If, in some senses, Miller’s cartographer has to learn the true meaning of his task, finding “a rhythm/ the measure that exists in everything”, the rastaman, like his Emperor, locates the divine and his Zion with his sights firmly set on the ground:

Reach through history; touch
this kneeling crowd – the tarmac
soft against the substance of its faith.

With one eye fixed on the other side, this collection moves liminally between states, things, borders and people. Moving, wry and wise in turns, and much more than the sum of its parts, with The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, one can’t help but fall in love with Miller’s poetry all over again.

Gail Low

Kei Miller in conversation with Susan Mains is available on the DURA guest pages at  www.dura-dundee.org.uk/kei-miller-in-conversation-with-susan-mains/

Kei Miller will be reading at StAnza on Saturday 7th March at 8pm http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/event.php?event=715
He will also be taking part in the Saturday Poetry Breakfast panel discussion http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/event.php?event=744

 

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 146: Bath Street, Glasgow

24 Jan

Bath Street
for the Living Voices project

Walking west twelve blocks (I’d counted)
I crossed the bridge
to Mitchell Library.

Horizontals stepped my eyes up
to Minerva’s right-hand book,
green-printed, weighty as sterling.

Inside, she sang stories
sounding of ash trees
tuned by ear or key.

Letters flew to poetry
pink wool-coated
like midwinter spring.

Walking east, returning
I recognised the street―
twelve blocks, I knew (I’d counted)
but it felt like eight to new-named feet.

Martha Pollard

 

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. : 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.

 

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 145 : Auchindrain

23 Jan

Auchindrain

In the field of the thorntrees,
near the edge of the world,
we tended the beasts
and broke the stones,
before and since the days of Christ.

Our coats were the colours
of mosses, of heathers,
all the hues of the earth.
Sicknesses and darkest storms
did not diminish or defeat us.

We shared the plough, hewn from driftwood;
our cups were made from leather;
we drank the dawn-cold water of life
and sowed the seeds of generations.
The ways of our world seemed endless.

But the cross became too much to bear.
The spirit faltered, faded, died,
and we were scattered far,
throughout the cities, across the plains.
Soon we learned to toil for others.

In the field of the thorntrees
the visitors come;
they wander through our rooms
and through our past; our lifeblood
slows, congealing in the years’ slow dusk

Jim C Wilson

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. : 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.

 

Review from DURA of Liz Berry’s Black Country

22 Jan

Black-Country by Liz Berry 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 Lindsay Macgregor is of Liz Berry’s book, ‘Black Country’.

Black Country (Winner of the Forward Prize “Best Debut Collection 2014″)
Liz Berry
(Chatto & Windus, 2014); pbk, £10.00

Liz Berry opens her debut collection, Black Country, with the jubilant line, “When I became a bird, Lord, nothing could not stop me”, and, indeed, she never stops soaring. Themes range from summers of childhood innocence to sex and marriage, all set against Black Country landscapes, history and characters.

In these dazzling, sensuous, and utterly beguiling poems, Berry reclaims the dialect of her native West Midlands with its bostin fittle (great food), tranklement (bits and bobs) and guttling (chewing). Her use of dialect often connects contemporary concerns with times past in ways subtler than standard English might manage. So, in “Tipton-On-Cut”:

..like Lady Godiva, we’ll trot in on an oss
who’s guttling clover at the edge of the bonk.
We’ll goo straight to the sweet cabbage heart of ‘local’:
shout ‘oiright’ to blokes lugging spuds in their allotments,
yawning in the dark to call centres and factories;
we’ll flirt wi’ Romeos, grooming at Tip’N’Cut,
sunning emselves to creosote fences down the tan shop.

In the dialect poems in particular, there’s an earthiness of language and sound which parallels the down-to-earth lives of previous generations. “Bostin Fittle” opens:

At Nanny’s I ate brains for tea,
mashed with hard-boiled egg,
or trotters, groaty pudding,
faggots minced with kidney and suet.

Dialect words bring an extra dimension, drawing on echoes from standard English. “Jack squalor”, for example, lends an uneasiness to the poem “Birds” which the English equivalent (“swallow”) lacks; “cut” repeatedly brings an extra edge of meaning and feeling which “canal” lacks.

Berry’s collection is a celebration of the Black Country – its language as well as the culture and communities that have forged it. “Homing”, a love poem to a girl’s Black Country dialect, makes this inter-connectedness of dialect and material culture explicit:

bibble, fettle, tay, wum,
vowels 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.

Dialect also adds to the folkloric, timeless qualities of Berry’s poems, many of which are at once tender, charming and dark. In “The Sea of Talk”:

Bab, little wench, dow forget this place,
its babble never caught by ink or book
fer on land, school is singin’ its siren song
and oysters clem their lips upon pearls in the muck…

There’s a musicality to the poetry; her deft use of assonance and alliteration and her frequent inclusion of refrains and lists of wild flowers, names of canals, collieries and canal boats, not only add distinctive rhythms but also make connections with Anglo-Saxon antecedents and reveal a West Midlands specificity in her work. In “Sow”, the libidinous pig is deliciously personified in sound as much as image:

an’ when lads howd out opples on soft city palms
I guttle an’ spit, fer I need a mon
wi’ a body like a trough of tumbly slop
to bury me snout in.

Berry has a wild imagination which melds the everyday with the fantastic in a uniquely innocent yet knowingly unnerving manner. Startling themes and titles are a feature of her work -“The Year We Married Birds”, “The Last Lady Ratcatcher” and “Our Lady of the Hairdressers”, for example. And opening lines such as, “Let me tell you about the sex I knew/before sex” (“The Silver Birch”) and “I was a boy every weekday afternoon” (“When I Was a Boy”) are alluring.

This is that rare collection – one which has the capacity to widen the reach of poetry, appealing at once to dyed-in-the-wool poetry lovers as well as new audiences.

Lindsay Macgregor

Liz Berry will read at StAnza at 5.00pm on Friday 6th March 2015. http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/event.php?event=704

Poetry Reviews

21 Jan

WH Herbert booksigning at StAnza 2015 (photo by Dave Vallis)

WH Herbert booksigning at StAnza 2015 (photo by Dave Vallis)

In the run up to this year’s festival we’ll be posting links to online reviews of books or projects by poets on the StAnza 2015 programme. Do let us have suggestions for more, and we’d also be happy to re-blog relevant blog reviews which have appeared elsewhere.

Meantime here are the first links to reviews of books by Sheenagh Pugh, Kei Miller and Chrissie Gittins.

Sheenagh Pugh’s Short Days, Long Shadows (Seren 2014) Pugh, Sheenagh , photo by Sam Burns

Write Out Loud: http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/blogentry.php?blogentryid=43633

Sky Train: http://www.skylightrain.com/poetry-review-short-days-long-shadows-sheenagh-pugh/

Kei Miller’s The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Carcanet 2014)

The Critical Flame: http://www.criticalflame.org/mapping-a-way-to-kei-millers-zion/

Chrissie Gittins’s Professor Heger’s Daughter (Paekakariki Press)

http://www.oftime2.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/how-we-might-continue-to-exist/

Chrissie Gittins’s Stars in Jars (A&C Black Childrens & Educational)

http://www.booksforkeeps.co.uk/issue/206/childrens-books/reviews/stars-in-jars

Ian Duhig’s Pandorama (Picador)

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/29/pandorama-ian-duhig-poetry-review

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem 144: Bridge of Weir

16 Jan

The Field

Afterwards, my father walked to The Mare:
one of the far fields on the hill of Barcraig
crowned by a crescent of elder and chestnut.

He listened to the calls of curlew and peewit
remembered shafts of light and summer days
recognised the breeze as an endless breath

over rough acres fenced but never tamed:
large clumps of whin, thistles, rye grass
a heart of marsh reeds sloping to the burn.

He looked to Muirshiel’s dark and brackened hills
round to the hard won grazing of the Law,
and further to the creep of city high rise.

He raised one strong arm across his body
then with the grace of a sower’s wide arc
scattered his father to the wind.

Jim Carruth

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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