Archive | February, 2015

Review of The Days of Surprise by Paul Durcan

25 Feb

daysAs 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

The Days of Surprise

Paul Durcan
(Harvill Secker, 2014); hbk, £12

There is a feeling that had Seamus Heaney entered any Dublin pub everyone would have known him, whereas Ted Hughes would have passed unnoticed in a London bar. Paul Durcan sits very near Heaney’s right hand in Irish affections, which may come as some surprise on this side of the water. Certainly, my first reading of this, his most recent of twenty plus poetry collections, did not instantly endear me to his work. I was struck by a clutter of upper case letters, a seeming punctuation surfeit and especially by the extraordinary quantity of exclamation marks.

However, that only points out my own inexperience. Durcan has received far too many awards to be dismissed on a cursory reading. He was Ireland Professor of Poetry from 2004 to 2007 and the Irish know more than a little about verse. Colm Tóibín cited an earlier collection as his Guardian Book of the Year and he has sung with Van the Man. Durcan merits investigation.

Despite a difficult relationship with his barrister father (which he examines here in “The Poet and the Judge”), Durcan took the perhaps expected path, reading law. His studies were interrupted when his family had him forcibly committed to a mental hospital. This descendant of Maud Gonne and John MacBryde endured treatments of E.C.T. and heavy sedation. Against this backdrop, his quirky, erudite poetry already begins to become more understandable.

Through his remarkable weekly radio broadcasts and recordings, Durcan’s voice is well-known to Irish listeners. Hearing his soft, surprising voice also lifts his poetry from the page. These radio programmes occupy quite a different space in Irish life from the niche that UK poetry broadcasts tend to fill; arguably, the Irish listener is already well-primed to read Durcan.

The Days of Surprise seems to work almost as a journal, opening with the significant “57 Dartmouth Square” which serves both an introduction to the poet and a haunting self-examination:

Sometimes I was called Paul
But mostly I was not a who or a what
But a where.

The next ten poems develop that early autobiographical theme. Knowing something of his life, his verse might be expected to be painfully confessional, but whilst there are dark revelations, and punch-in-the-gut sensations, Durcan has a delightfully off the wall touch, laced with surprising humour and hope. He writes in a racy, often gossipy and conspiratorial voice, witty with word play. He has a way with bold statements, pithy lists, and well-placed repetition and rhyme.

A lively observer of daily life, he knits together the famous, the infamous with the ordinary with a levelling, irrepressible charm.  Like many Irish poets, he looks closely at Roman Catholicism, but his is a balanced observation, unflinching yet far from polemical. In a series which includes the titular poem, covering the present pope’s election, he notes –

I will pray not only for a black pope
But for a black Archbishop of Dublin.
We Irish also have had enough
Of the hegemony of the white Irishman.
What is more, I will pray like a madman
For a black woman Archbishop of Dublin.
I am dust, and unto dust I shall return.

Alleluias doubtless sounded in the streets of Swords. His greeting to the incoming Argentinean after “The German Shepherd” warms, and he is stiletto-sharply brilliant in his observation of a mean Benedictine –

His urinal-stall mouth, his stick it in your face mask
His eyebrows crawling all over you,
His spilling-over jowls cowled.

This deceptively light touch lets him slip in some wonderful satire on other aspects of being Irish; consider his take on the now toothless Government –  not least in “1916, Not to be Commemorated” and he keens on the ailing Celtic tiger, prowling the ghost estates.

Undoubtedly, Durcan deserves a greater UK readership. Radio Scotland might do well to broadcast his Addresses to the Nation, in order that we can be truly ready to enjoy him.

Beth McDonough

 

Paul Durcan will appear at StAnza 2015 on 6th March. http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=747

 

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Meet the Bloggers

22 Feb

Screenshot 2015-02-22 11.30.15As regular readers will know, this Blog goes into overdrive each March reporting on what’s happening and making sure anyone who can’t manage along to St Andrews at least gets a flavour of the festival, not only of the poetry and poets (not to mention the visual art, music, drama and film), but also all the fun in between events. While the past year has been particularly lively for the StAnza Blog — which of course has been the main vehicle for our popular Poetry Map of Scotland — blogging has always been a regular feature at StAnza festivals.

As well as our in-house blogger, many other regular bloggers attend the festival and put up posts later of their own StAnza experiences. We often provide links to these posts on our Afterword Page, along with other reviews and articles about the festival.

So this year we are taking that all one stage further. We’re delighted to announce that, with support from EventScotland, we’ve invited two acclaimed bloggers to come to St Andrews to be Bloggers in Residence at StAnza 2015. And to make it a hat-trick, we’ve also recruited a local Young Blogger for this year’s festival.

Screenshot 2015-02-22 11.29.07Fiona Moore is a poet and reviewer. She blogs at http://displacement-poetry.blogspot.co.uk. Her chapbook, The Only Reason for Time from HappenStance Press, was chosen as one of The Guardian’s Best Poetry Books for 2013, and she was voted Best Reviewer in the Saboteur Review awards in 2014. Fiona’s first blog post about StAnza is now online at the above link.

Susanne Arbuckle’s website at www.adventuresaroundscotland.com was only established in 2014 but it has already become one of the leading Scottish travel blogs and is currently rated in the top ten Scottish Blogs (from all genres) in the UK.  She was one of the official bloggers for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and Made in Scotland magazine has featured her as one of three ‘never miss’ Scottish Bloggers. Susanne’s first blog post about StAnza is online at www.adventuresaroundscotland.com/travel-blog

And we’re delighted to announce that James T. Harding is returning to the in-house team for another festival. As well as ghosting each March as StAnza’s own festival blogger, James is one half of Stewed Rhubard, a spoken-word poetry press which won the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2013. He details his freelancing adventures in design and writing online at http://www.james-t-harding.com/

Winning Poems - anthology of past winnersErin Morrissey Gillman was a winner in the StAnza 2014 poetry competition for young people in Fife. She will be a guest blogger posting on the StAnza Blog.

So for more on what they find to report when they get to StAnza, be sure to follow their posts over the next few weeks.

Review of Parallax by Sinead Morrissey

21 Feb

sinead-morrissey-parallaxAs 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.

Parallax (Winner of the 2014 TS Eliot Poetry Prize)

Sinéad Morrissey
(Carcanet, 2013); pbk, £9.95

Parallax is an astronomical term for the apparent displacement of an object caused by a change in the point of observation. In this wide-ranging collection of the same name, short-listed for the 2013 Forward Prize, Morrissey considers from different angles how our position affects what and how we see.

In several poems, Morrissey’s lens is taken from the visual arts. She writes about film, photography, Scandinavian television crime dramas, paintings, even a jigsaw. In “Photographs of Belfast by Alexander Robert Hogg”, she writes

he can barely pass an entry
without assessing
the effect the diagonal

of a porterhouse roof
beside a streetlight
might produce

Her interest, like that of the photographer, coalesces around the power and capacity of art to come at things “slant”, to “fix” moments in time, and in so doing, to impose a particular perspective. In “Fur”, a poem about Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” in which he shows the skull at a strange, skewed angle, Morissey writes,

Too obvious a touch

to set the white skull straight. Better
to paint it as something other: driftwood
up-ended by magic from the right-hand side

Perspective has the power to change the perceived nature of material objects and, by extension, to change perceptions of “truth”, ”memory” and “history”.

Nothing about this collection is too obvious. It is both intriguing and surprising in its range, from childbirth to a communist party bric-a-brac sale in Belfast, from the journal of Dorothy Wordsworth to “The Mutoscope” of the Victorian peep-show. In this poem, the rhythm and rhymes evoke the gathering speed of the mutoscope as it brings the static images to life using movement and light:

Only for you do the two mute girls on stage
who falter at first, erratic as static

in the synaptic gap between each image,
imperceptibly jolt to life-
grinning, tap-dancing, morphing into footage,

their arms like immaculate pistons, their legs like knives…
It lasts a minute, their having-been-written onto light.

Imagery, lyricism and energy are never sacrificed by Morrisey for the sake of concept. Technically, this is a most assured collection. Several poems are written in couplets or tercets, and there are sonnets and shape poems, including, “Through the Eye of a Needle” and “Fool’s Gold”, both delicately taut and controlled, for Morrisey’s control has a deftness and lightness of touch about it. In “A Day’s Blindness”, for example, she writes:

He stood up to carry his plate and cup
to the sink and couldn’t see.
He sat back down. The clocks
went on consuming Saturday.

He would have needed practice
at being blind to pretend to be sighted.

Morrisey writes about birth, death, illusion and reality, from the apparently straightforward “truths” of a child’s perspective to the deliberate distortion and manipulation of Soviet Russia, where people were “disappeared” from photographs. A strong thread running through the collection is the artifice of art and, by implication, of humanity, in trying to “fix” a moment or capture a particular “truth”. Deception, whether deliberate or unwitting, is often an element of perception.

Even in the touching sequence of poems about her young daughter, the child in her enthusiastic, energetic garrulousness, is perceived by the worn-out parent as,

like a businessman
on the last train home
after one too many espressos,
selling you his dream.

The concept behind Parallax provides a fascinating underlying unity so that the whole collection becomes much more than the sum of its individual poems. It opens with journal writing and ends with blogging, and in between there are philosophy, politics, humour and pain. Appealing to both the intellect and the emotions, this is a collection I will return to again and again.

Lindsay Macgregor

 

Sinead Morrissey will be appearing at two events at StAnza 2015 on Sunday 8 March: http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=718

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 162: Inchcolm

19 Feb

Excesses of the Prior of Inchcolm
Deposed from office for his “many and unbearable excesses”, 1224

A monk is illuminating
aspects of the deadlier sins.
The Prior is much in his mind.
The blue snake twined
round the capital of Pride
follows his long smooth shape.
Something of his in the smirk
of the Scarlet Whore.

The Prior doesn’t inspect the work.
He strides freely, he is not afraid
of the hellfires they resentfully
score down for him. Along this road
he will elevate self and soul: to see
his priority shining out beyond
the stony shape of the cloistered island.

Peter Daniels

To view our map of Scotland in Poems as it grows, and for instructions on how to submit, see http://ow.ly/J4Aja

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 of Carolyn Forché’s Blue Hour

19 Feb

forcheAs 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

Blue Hour

Carolyn Forché
(Bloodaxe, 2003); pbk £8.75

Carolyn Forché’s single-authored 2003 collection, Blue Hour, is reviewed here in advance of her appearance at the StAnza 2015 International Poetry Festival.  The eleven poems which make up the collection contemplate remembrance, the transition between life and death, and the effects of war. Above all, it seems to me that Forché is concerned to present the fullness of the experience of life – its beauty, suffering, cruelty and its otherliness.

The title of the collection is a translation of the French phrase meaning “dawn”, described beautifully in the poem, “Blue Hour”:

When my son was an infant we woke for his early feeding at l’heure
bleue – cerulean, gentian, hyacinth, delft, jouvence. What were also
the milk hours.

The image of the infant, the shades of blue, the italicisation and fragments of French, the spacing and layout, the dash, the white space, all fuse synesthetically to suggest the strange and beautiful otherness of “the milk hours”. As readers, we are not mere observers – we are transfigured into the fullness of the original experience.  Again, from “Blue Hour”,

My son rows toward me against the wind. For thirty-six years, he rows.
In 1986, he is born in Paris.

Bice the clouds, watchet, indigo, woad.

We lived overlooking the cemetery. It was the summer of the Paris
bombings. I walked him among the graves for what seemed hours but
were clouds drifting across marble.

Here, again, Forché evokes several dimensions of remembrance – images, events, associated colours, and the intersection of all of these in space and time.

Political events interweave personal memory in the fragmentary, partial process of remembering – in “Blue Hour”, from the specifics of the Paris bombings to the shocking generality of, “You see, one can live without having survived.” In “Writing Kept Hidden”, composed in Beirut in winter 1983,

In the barracks, those who had sketched themselves in coal and smoke
became coal and smoke.

And the living remained, linking unknown things to the known: residue,
scapular, matchlight, name on a tongue.

There are also philosophical, aphoristic and spiritual ruminations scattered in amongst the beautiful imagery:

What one of us lives through, each must, so that this, of which we are
part, will know itself. (“Blue Hour”)

And from “Hive”, “we are so made that nothing contents us”. “Nocturne”, like “Blue Hour”, is an elegy, considering the experience of death:

The people of this world are moving into the next, and with them their
hours and the ink of their ability to make thought.

Particles of light have taken from them antiphon, asylum, balefire,
benediction.

Themes of war and dying continue in the long poem, “On Earth” which takes the form of a fragmentary, abecedarian, a form used in gnostic hymns. From the sections for the letters “s” and “t”,

the sun will turn into a red giant, and then into a white dwarf
the sweet stench of gangrene, a cloud of flies, in its hand a child’s
necropolis

the temptation of temptation
the three hidden lights beyond the grasp of thought

the tomb into which we escape

the trains. sometimes a silent coupling
the trees: almond, annatto, sweetsop, banana, monkey-bread, bay rum,
sandal bead, breadfruit, yellowsilk, camphor, candle
the trees mortared into flower.

This is a beautiful collection – hopeful, horrific but never gratuitous on the experiences of alienation, otherliness and suffering. I look forward with great anticipation to Carolyn Forché’s reading at StAnza 2015.

Lindsay Macgregor

 

Carolyn Forché will be taking part in several events at StAnza 2015 on 7th and 8th March: http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=700

Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 161: Loch Eriboll

18 Feb

Upheavals

Scotland’s far northwest:
Lapworth, a figure on the skyline,
or lost against a craggy hillside.
He strode across immensities of time,
grappled with a devious landscape,
interrogated rocks.

All around – evidence of violence:
thrusts, fractures, shears and faults;
gargoyle contortions on cliff faces,
rocks twisted, altered, in a cover-up.
No resting places then or now:
on a quiet day he’d hear the clinks
as quartzite moved on Arkle’s screes;
in storms, wind chafing the buttresses
above Loch Eriboll.

Nightfall, back in his hotel:
glass-cased trout, mounted heads of stags,
ambiguous, ghostly in the semi-dark.
Under oil lamps he analysed, hypothesised,
composed his maps.

He clashed with the establishment,
proposed a mighty engine of the earth
thrusting Moine mountains miles westward,
pushing older rocks above the younger, usurping
the accepted order.

For a time his mind was overturned,
its topography in disarray.
Earth tremors, night terrors.
The Moine Thrust, implacable and dark,
crushed its way towards his house.
He felt his flesh compress, heard
his notebooks scream and tear.
His maps were scattered,
crumpled on the floor.
Michael Davenport

To view our map of Scotland in Poems as it grows, and for instructions on how to submit, see http://ow.ly/J4Aja

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. 160: Loch Stornoway, nr Tiretigan

17 Feb

Indian Summer

Gnarled and free we frolic,
selkies seeking our pelts.
Summer’s bay shimmers coolly.
The air is beaten by ancient wings –
a heron coasts
along its own horizon.
Arms of glittering mica hold
a quick surface of sequins.
Our toes slurp oyster shells.
Samphire tempts our tongues.
Slack flesh tingles with delight,
reborn in this molten caul.
Cloaked in golden droplets,
far out, you stand.
Safe near soothing shore, I sway.
The swell of Jura’s Paps gleams.
Wild swimming indeed.

Finola Scott

To view our map of Scotland in Poems as it grows, and for instructions on how to submit, see http://ow.ly/J4Aja

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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