Archive for March, 2019

The Waits

Posted: March 31, 2019 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

Tch-twch on the line and then the express train
bow wave creases air over the platform’s yellow line,
mocking with a hug, then with repulsion lets go.
And all the lights up the line on hold.
Their freighted busy musk bastes our complacence;
we are for their passing a blur of architecture,
a waiting room. They are tubes of furred air.

We have each been where the others are;
there is no division. We are not that, we are
where and what we are. Tomorrow different;
tomorrow we swap roles, sides, minds.

 

Equinox

Posted: March 24, 2019 in Chat

 

They cannot abide the fires we raise
birds, trees, insects, worms, mice –

our joys do not quicken the earth; love, praise,
rise to the skies, colour crops, make meat taste
less like slaughtered trust.

Fires mark appeasements to Fate, we say,
as we bargain for better futures
with abstract potentials, hoping, at best

to erase our failures.

Venus As A Bear, by Vahni Capildeo, Carcanet Press, 2018.
ISBN 978184105549.
Pbk £9.99

This book was a happy buy. A book to keep returning to, and the pleasure undiminished.

Part of the pleasure in reading poetry is perplexity, it has to challenge intellectually, viscerally, even culturally.
This last point is important because a large part of the pleasure, and the hook that brings me back time and again to this book, is the wide cultural landscape it covers.

Vahni Capildeo is from Trinidad, of old Indian heritage. Her references are evident in a cultural questionnaire she responded to: asked about influences in painting, music, the arts, writing, she gave these responses, in no particular order –Peter Minshull; Bhanu Kapil; Sharon Millar (her Whale House book); Sharmistha Moharty; Martin Carter.

She gave, in effect, creators and curators of the vibrant Trinidadian scene. There is a measure of self-consciousness here, choosing for the Western press people not of their heritage. There is also an exuberant celebration of alternative tradition in this response.

One reviewer began with her first poem in the book, Welcome, on the birth of new lambs (acknowledgements to their keepers, Selina Guinness and Colin Henderson).
The reviewer’s title informs us there is nothing trivial in this book – and so the phrase ‘funny fuzzy’ relays more than seems. It has an essential pictorial dimension – letter/font shapes replicate the seen/experienced: the lower case nn of young lambs on long spindly legs, that become sleeping shapes by their dam, in the zz.

What initially drew me to the book was the opening of the poem LEAVES/FEUILLES/FALLS homage Pierre de Ronsard, Ode a Cassandre

(i)   Qui                                          m’a
vo

ma
fleur
verte

c’est                la vie

WordPress! I just cannot replicate the layout of these lines – I’ve tried all ways. WordPress!

Ok, I had been brushing up my school French before I came upon this passage, and so it chimed very nicely with my own concerns and interests.
It was the use of space, though, like a breath of fresh air after the blocks of print and narrow concerns of so many British poets. And also the sound values appealed to me, and still do.

So, from these two examples we begin to get some idea of the breadth of appeal of these poems – visual and auditory, but also concerns with translation, with relationships of the perceived to the known, felt, the plasticity of awareness.

Let’s look to Vahni Capildeo again: she came over from Trinidad to the UK to study at university. She gained her PhD in Norse/skaldic, and Translation Theory.
She has worked in academia, culture for development, with Commonwealth Writers, and even as an Oxford English Dictionary lexicographer.

So, do we need a background in, say, Cultural Theory – the Stuart Hall- Raymond Williams spat for example – to understand her work? No; it’d help, but….
Do we need experience of diaspora issues, then? No; it’d help.
Do we need to be academics? No,but it’d help.

It’d help because it’s always useful/essential to broaden and deepen one’s current knowledge.

What appeals about her work is that very breadth of cultural heritage, and it all was encapsulated for me in that, spatially aware, culturally and chronologically diverse, opening section of LEAVES/FEUILLES/FALLS.
Incidentally, did you spot the ee cummings reference? The falling leaf in the positioning of words and lines?

What appeals about her work is this multi-cognitive awareness that informs the crafting of her work. Each word is weighed, rang for sound, you might almost say chromatically tested for possible linkages to alternative structures and meanings.

Why Venus as a… bear? An obvious Bjork reference, ok, but also referencing other genders than the blurry two. Gender politics has enforced its own peculiar and special psychological dimensions; repression skews responses. To be aware, to write from the contemporary moment, is to take on the clamouring injustices of marginalised lives and experiences.

The book is arranged into seven sections: Creatures; Shameless Acts of Ekphrasis; Langues/Tongues; Sea Here; Some Things; Like… Like…; Music/Avant Toute Chose

You’ve got to love the exuberant humour and playfulness. They round out the poems.

Normally, I have a growl at this use of needlessly academic terms, like Ekphrasis. Here she uses it wryly, as if she was also aware of its overspending. It’s in that ‘Shameless Acts’ offsetting pretension.
Yup, I admit myself charmed.

from Gone South

It happens as soon as you step off the train. Everyone savours it, a look of pleasure lighting up chinks of harried business faces, care-worn mothers trawling lines of squabbling children. Gil couldn’t make it out. That smell. What on earth…? He topped the road outside the train station and was hit by a gleaming brightness; it shifted, twinkled, blinded.
The sea.
He had often heard about it. This was the smell.
The sea.
It drew him on, hungry as he was, drew him down those extra miles, to its gleaming wonder. He stood on the promenade holding the rail in the cooling inshore wind. He breathed deeply.
It was high tide, and crested waves lapped and licked at the sea wall a yard below him. He stood, mesmerised.

He clutched the steel rail tightly, but still the suck and surge below him pulled; it was as though the solid concrete of the promenade was almost liquid.
He looked at the green of the sea; it shone like a lizard’s back. But the smell that came from it, when it belched on the sea wall – something ancient and beyond musty, beyond rotten, something older than any of it.
The City and its concerns were not even a dot in its memory.

He looked into it, and it looked back, into him, found a kinship there somewhere.
Then it released him.
He was doused in a cold sweat, mouth and throat dry as sand, muscles taut. It released him, and he sagged, still holding the rail.
He could turn away at last; he turned and never came back again.

This was Eridu, city by the sea.

Opening of first chapter of my new unpublished novel, Gil

FLYING LESSON

FIRST THINGS 

‘First thing they did. I mean I was already pretty freaked by then,’ he was saying. It was a warm, calm night in The City, and they were sat on the old river wall, a part not closed off, a part not structurally unsafe. ‘They took me up the Tower. You know…’ he nodded towards it in the distance, black on black in the night, its two upper floors dimly lit; watchful.

‘I’d been running wild, getting into bother, just the usual sort of things. You’d know. Only, I kept getting told, I always took it too far. Then the Men in Suits called round. It was at my ma’s. I was trying to squeeze home nosh out of her, ok, but I was in. Knock at the door. Shapes outside the back door too. I was ready for shinning up the loft ladder, skylight onto the roof, and over. I had this all planned out. Just in case. Then a lamp post and down. And I had on my Angry Antonys; I was good. It was quite a jump; not sure I’d make it.’ He looked down at the river, watching slick after foamy slick coasting past.

‘The daft… opens the door. And they were in. One grabbed my ankle on the loft ladder. He was a strong monkey, that one; built like an office block too. Yanked me clean off to his manly bosom.’ He paused, grinned, his teeth a sudden flash in the dim light from the street lamp below. ‘What was the point in struggling? Let him hold me.’

‘Boss wanted me.’ He looked across at his friend, his cheek, the line of his jaw, the slightly crooked nose,

‘They gave my ma a funny look – and she stared them out.’

‘Let him see the lad.’ she said. ‘Then he’ll believe.’

‘What the…? What was all that about? I was thinking.’ He laughed.