Posts Tagged ‘contemporary poetry’

What Was It?

Posted: February 24, 2020 in John Stammers Page
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‘Venetian ‘merchants’, besieging Athens’
their artillery scoring Acropolis hits. 
Imagine it.
                       Sneering; 
we were always good at that.
Commerce and culture, ‘Bean-counters, 
and creators, makers.
’ 
Both bear our scrutiny.

How these thin columns hold their lintel
of argument. The frieze of warriors
that overlays bare stone, chisel marks,
the industries of art – overlaying
the sophist’s forgotten blind alleys,
with only the successful, useful
remaining.

                    What was my argument, again?
I forget, my concentration overlaid 
by an artillery of marketing 
and contemporary concerns, moments.

Chain

Posted: January 3, 2020 in Chat
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Each day’s like a chain that hangs from its cloud.
Tuesday was clumsy, loose, not reaching ground;
today is fine-spun, hall-marked, many linked –
each link frames a dimension of life.

Broken chains are dangerous, lash out
whenever air stirs, clouds mass, trees bend,
and no storm breaks. How many died, do you think,
their lost days clashing overhead?

These chains connect us, we would not be
without them. They themselves could be
the finest spun, glinting, and delicate.

But they are not.

Every time you turned the street turned with you:
the languages, distractions, sales, and somewhere
a street band. You turned and the current flowed
around you, through you; kept moving. The window display
was there for you. Streets of bodies eddying, surged.

You still felt their tug in a doorway. Turned, and
lifted away; it fell from you. You rose
quickly and above it all; shop lights far below.
Rose past cornices, pigeon spikes, to colder air;
the smells of fast food, music, muting.

A sudden panic; the city lights indistinguishable –
you were rising faster, ‘How will I breathe?’
Higher, higher to break through to sudden
openness, emptiness,
and strung there
were huge chains of lives, channelled
across darkness — people connected, singly,
as far as sight was possible.

A policemen next to you, his difficult face;
the barrista who snubbed you, the shop assistant
who had seemed distant,  all there together,
connecting.  And listening revealed
high tones, metallic, different timbres. The planets,
ringing in the openness.

Linked lines of lives stretched from planet
to planet and the sun’s radiance. All connected,
attuned  to a vast, opening sense
of awareness, completion.

 

A cub reporter he was cobbling up
in the hot Turkish sun
that dries and chaps noses, lips,
the freckly European skin,
how soldier’s flake out under canvas
sapped by flies, and inaction.
‘At first,’ he wrote, ‘the skirmishing
kept them sweet, but adrenaline’s
as much a drug, a poison, as any
you can buy on the Turkish street.’

‘Now month on month, while the season closes,
shops close, and beaches are deserted,
they’re still here, still camped among
the growing dunes of cans, skirting
the latrine’s no-go areas.
The last flight gone they linger, inert
in airports with low-slung rifles,
assertive in bars, or hammer, drunk,
on closed doors late at night.’

And the horror stories the military
could not hold down: the travel guide
dragged off was more lucky murdered
than others they took.

Now sub-editor, on his desk
a new cub’s update on his winning story:
Contacts inside say the soldiers’ home-pay
is used by top brass to invest outside.
And so when stocks fall
cheques bounce, families… fail.

From his high window, watched
as developers bulldozed
an office block in the next lot.
His favourite Turkish restaurant
cordoned off; he sipped coffee
from a plastic cup; a superstore ciabatta.
The photo of his wife fell flat;
his coffee a telephoto lens
focusing in, focusing out, as a rumble
shook the superstructure.
Some hot-head cowboy contractor
had not secured the foundations
.

 

HER FRIEND SAID

Posted: September 13, 2019 in Chat
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reversing her beloved Beetle to angle it better,
the parking-space side-on, and the pampered Chrysler
there unexpectedly. Inevitably
the exchange of insurance, names and addresses.

To be weighed against a feather, judged, then passed on.

And he was late for the lecture he was giving,
and she for the first paper of her exam.
Aged sixty; sitting her Egyptology: she had applied
for a post in the city museum already. He was lecturing
in Quantum Physics, some current thinking.
They met, parted; lives stalled, and then restarted;
crossed lines diverging into complex futures.
The story starts where it stops, they walk out of shot.

The correct positioning of the hieroglyph
in the cartouche, she would say, is crucial to the meaning.
For him, the pilot wave spreads out, a pulse,
until meeting an obstacle, is then registered as a particle.
These lives that cross, but do not meet.
By mapping out trajectories we think to identify natures;
weigh what we observe; judge; then pass on.
All are part of the same point.

APPS

Posted: June 23, 2019 in Chat
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Something is speaking, but you don’t know the language.
Your body does, trips you, its knowledge
coding through into nerves of muscle, to balance.

You will need an app to help you stop, listen.
What is it saying?  It’s saying
you’re stretched beyond your limits, a wire spring
about to buckle. It’s saying
listening is no good, but there’s still time
to save the debilitated, ruined.

Listen, and then act
by stopping doing.

Falling is just the beginning.

Tie

Posted: April 20, 2019 in Chat
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New blue silk tie blowing over his suit jacket shoulder;
he fought it back, tangling with name tag, document folder.

She tugged the points of her faux-bolero jacket, lifting chin
to face-down the Chief Accountant; he told her ‘None can win.’

Her thought ran, ‘I can.’ The execs looked on, nervous:
go-getters, surfers of recession. No one now remembers,

presumes their own time unique. The superstructure
remains the same; the built-in success, then failure.

Opens the car’s door he had barely begun to pay for;
checks his Blackberry, and watches investments fall.

 

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 one window a woman’s voice
an aria from Mozart, a clear cool breeze
in thick night heat.

Another window, a parrot flying,
a tropical storm trapped behind glass;
a noise like heaven tearing.

This window is empty, no one home
or elsewhere: shift workers
before early call. These I have known.

Here a laugh, a conversation;
an insistence of children, rolling banter,
close-woven tones of communion.

Another a blue flicker of a tv
and nothing else; the curtains open,
the night falling in like isolation.

Here the crackle of an argument
already full-throttle, self-feeding;
ending inevitable, origins forgotten.

And in and between each window, holes
gaping in the night’s fabric.
The hot night stalking restless.

 

INSOMNIA

Posted: October 23, 2018 in Chat
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All night long it seems planes have been leaving,
squalling their metal and exhaust through cloud banks.
Summer trees’ packed bags are in the loading lanes.
Loud in the lull between take-offs cats squeal.

All night long watchful, hollowing out sleep
until light sifted slow down through air corridors.
To have extended yesterday through the night, my watch
quarrying one long moment; whatever’s to follow
calls for configurations of several unknowns.

To not detect the impact of those ideas
we played with ‘til afterwards, when laughter
brought out their underlying assumptions: inflections
as foreign to us now, as umpteen other moments
when time has moved through us.

And just for those moments it seemed what was felt had
meaning and significance; if we could just step
into undefined selves it could save us: to go
further out between belief and conceit, that edge
between one heartbeat and another.