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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Mark Burnhope’s Species (Nine Arches Press)

Mark Burnhope’s Species (Nine Arches Press)

Poet, disability activist and co-editor of Boscombe Revolution, with Paul Hawkins, Mark Burnhope has produced an energetic and thoughtful first collection in the Nine Arches Press Debut new poet series. Species explores bodily identities, disability and ideas of ‘otherness’ seeing the body as a point of loss, beauty and conflict. There is a degree of anger and protest against, amongst other things, Social Darwinism and categorisation that emerges through a penetrating playfulness. The distinction between human and animal is blurred. I admire both its provocativeness and use of unusual angles and approaches to realign and probe.

‘The Species That Begat The Binaries’ is an impressive poem playing with ideas of ordering and naming of species and dualistic thinking, and serves to establish the book’s theme.

The Moral is a magnificently resilient mammal:
both natural / unnatural, and neither thanks
to its ability to buck the competition rider
off its saddled back.
Police and Paralympians owe much
to its domestication, the increasing rarity
of its wild-stampede ways of working.

The poem leads to consideration of the meaning of constriction, the impact of disability on identity and the chameleon nature of binaries, such as figure and disfigure, obedience and disobedience, beast and burden, and so on. This forceful poem precedes the deadpan ‘ “Am I Disabled?” A Self-Diagnosis Questionnaire’ which asks whether ‘you wrestle with what your feet are for?’ and ‘Can you throw over your shoulder a) a tennis ball? b) a school satchel? c) a school teacher?’

Playfulness is given full rein in the ‘Abnominations’ sequence of poems and the ‘Paralympic Lessons: The Atosonnets’. An abnominal is a twenty line poem, developed by the poet, Andrew Philip, using only the letters of the dedicatee’s name, each of which must appear at least once per stanza. The title must be an anagram of their name, and should begin and end by addressing the dedicatee in some way, as in ‘Deviancy as God’ an abnomination for David Gascoyne.

A caved saying: dang dingoes dosing!
Vain dogs, ego-divas, edgy agony-codas

Did as David does: danced giddy, de-
Seeded. Ovid aced yogi’s inane, aged

Voyage. Dived good, snagged a gonad,
Donor in a saved Degas-coven. Navy Dave:

Gay voice, no novice, delicious screed,
Envoy via avid disco-gods and devices:

The poem ‘fragments from The First Week of the World: The Herpetological Bible’ is full of depth playing off different ways and approaches to the natural world.

Sudden mutism,
Idea-death, resort to
‘freedom’ within himself

(Rilke’s transformation,
Heidegger’s institution
of being the poet’s part).

Bonnefoy speaks:
logos, universe, impulse
towards salvation.

This vital and affirmative book concerned with placing and naming of self, species, and other within a split and dangerous world lingers after the first few readings and gets under the reader’s skin. I felt compelled to re-engage.

David Caddy 29th July 2014

Paris by Helen: Rod Mengham (Oystercatcher), Speedometry by Andrzej Sosnowski Trans. Rod Mengham (Contraband)

Paris by Helen: Rod Mengham (Oystercatcher), Speedometry by Andrzej Sosnowski Trans. Rod Mengham (Contraband)

Seven years ago Jeremy Noel-Tod wrote a letter to the Times Literary Supplement in which he suggested that Jeremy Prynne’s recently published chapbook To Pollen (Barque Press) was ‘directly concerned with the “war on terror” and its vicious circles’:

Afflicted purpose they hail we cut them they in
turn line the route denied, holding it most.

Rod Mengham’s recently published sequence of poems Paris by Helen (Oystercatcher) similarly has a lyric grace which is unafraid to gaze with unerring eye on warfare, lies and the Romance of twisted language which obscures human designs.

Language has an expiry date
with light foot, it is the tally-man ignorant of the branch-like
instructions for using your gun-rest. We shall not see its like
the load-bearing syntax of the river
settles everything. Once again
I have reached a dead wall.

When Rod Mengham’s poems were included in Iain Sinclair’s monumentally valuable anthology Conductors of Chaos (Picador 1996) they were introduced by John Wilkinson who noted how the language used ‘exacts the commitment of full attention at every instant’ before he went on to say that Mengham’s ‘mysterious lyricism…turns out to have been genuinely premonitory—it was exactly what the world was to be like, if from a particular perspective: for, after all, the people of Macedonia are best preserved from the knowledge that their nation’s new banknotes are given away as reader gifts by The Sunday Times.’
It was Thomas de Quincey who wrote in 1834 about Coleridge’s use of unacknowledged quotation:

Now, to take a phrase or an inspiriting line from the great fathers of poetry, even though no marks of quotation should be added, carries with it no charge of plagiarism. Milton is justly presumed to be as familiar to the ear as nature to the eye; and to steal from him as impossible as to appropriate, or sequester to a private use, some “bright particular star.” And there is a good reason for rejecting the typographical marks of quotation: they break the continuity of the passion, by reminding the reader of a printed book…

Language stands upon the shoulders of those who have previously used it and I found much of the lyric grace in these poems by Rod Mengham enhanced by the references, occasionally direct as with the echoing sound of Eliot’s The Wasteland in the poem ‘Through a Blow-Pipe’ in which the ‘drip drip drip’ leads to connecting ‘nothing with nothing’. Sometimes the references are more oblique echoes such as the opening image of Ulysses lashed ‘to the mist’ with its sly glance back at Prynne’s early poem ‘Lashed to the mast’. Perhaps most dominant for me is the eerie shadow of Dante cast across this doomed love affair between Paris and Helen. In the opening poem, ‘To Repeal the Spoils’ it is almost as if a Francesca is whirling through the air lamenting the cause for her being in the Second Circle:

That was your great discovery

an unreasonable desire for poetry while
swallowing blood. Now you find me shaking something

Penelope’s chervil glove, unharmed in the debris
on a worn-out carpet.

Just as the larks lose all sense of their bodies
so you are wearing your skirts much higher

every night in my bed. But my flight of bemusement
will not add up. The occasion demands flight
with its opposite number.

Mengham’s translations of the contemporary Polish poet, Sosnowski, are terrific. They provide that bridge which I referred to in last week’s blog on Anthony Barnett so that the reader who is unknowing of the original language can experience something of the taste of another man’s mind:

You raise your eyes, and the wind roars among the great bells.

Ian Brinton 26th July 2014

Marius Kociejowski’s God’s Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners

Marius Kociejowski’s God’s Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners

Carcanet Press 2014

This beautifully structured and illustrated book consists of a series of encounters with creative artists living in London who have become exiles from their cultural and geographical roots. It bears witness to the myriad of life stories and historical-geographical connections, which form multicultural London and fuel its underbelly of creativity.

Kociejowski distills their lives of through interviews, conversation and stories, and produces some compelling portraits of character struggling through adversity and a desire to give voice to those that have none. The Turkish novelist, Moris Farhi, for example, speaks eloquently of the survival of Turkey’s eroticism despite the pressures from Islam, the impact of the Holocaust, his work on the plight of gypsies, thinking on ‘otherness’ in Europe and his campaigning for writers imprisoned for their writing. It is a compelling story.

There are stories of poets, such as John Rety, who left war-torn Budapest for London in 1947, Fawzi Karim, who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Chinese poet, Liu Hongbin, who moved to London in 1989 following his involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests.

Rety left Budapest, occupied by Germany in 1944, liberated by the Russian army in 1945, with the Russian women soldiers who ran the city etched on his memory as the personification of the Russian Revolution. Rety, born Réti János, has some fine stories from this period involving chess and a whore. He became immersed in Soho’s bohemian literary scene in the Fifties, editing Intimate Review and publishing a novel, Supersozzled Nights (1953). His mother fled the new regime and moved to London but found her now bearded and anarchist son unacceptable. I found Rety’s story captivating. His life touched on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe in the early sixties when he sold furniture in Camden High Street. Later he returned to poetry organizing events at the Torriano Meeting House, Kentish Town, presiding over an atmosphere that according to the late Julia Casterton, was

‘somewhere between that Aldermaston March and Brendan
Behan’s aunt’s tea party, because everyone’s very nice, in
a pugilistic, revolutionary way.’

The book also features the lives of Brazilian artist, Ana Maria Paceco, Polish actor, Andrzej Borkowski, Zimbabwean novelist, Brian Chikwava, Indian filmmaker, Rajan Khosa, Iranian poet, Mimi Khalvati, irish poet and novelist, Martine Cotter, Russian pianist, Nelly Akopian-Tamarina, jazz bassist, Coleridge Goode, from Jamaica, and Razia Sultanova from Uzbekistan.

This wonderful collection of essays amply illustrates the value of art and creativity in voicing what matters most in our lives.

David Caddy 24th July

InExperience and UnCommon Sense in Translation

InExperience and UnCommon Sense in Translation

a lecture given by Anthony Barnett,


published by Allardyce Book


This beautifully produced little pamphlet is simply a delight and it should be acquired by anyone who is interested in the art of translation. The opening paragraph of this guest lecture given at Meiji University sets the scene for some serious debate:


I start off with the premise that there is no usable theory of translation other than the one that says that each text to be translated dictates, in the necessary rather than the tyrannical sense of the word, its own requirements—and that you must use your head. It is in that fresh innocence of each text to be translated, and the fresh naïvity of the translator’s approach to each text, that I have used the word inexperience in the title of this lecture.


The fine combination of good sense and sympathetic understanding expressed here reminds me of J.H. Prynne’s 2007 paper titled ‘Some Aspects of Poems and Translations’ in which he says that translating poems into poetic form in a foreign language is difficult in many ways and that no individual translation can be satisfactory in every direction at once:


There is very often a conflict between the effort to convey the meaning in a recognisable way, and the effort to communicate the formal aspects of composition, to show the shapes and patterns and energies of the writing as much as its meaning.


Prynne goes on to say that translation ‘is for sure a noble art, making bridges for readers who want to cross the divide between their own culture and those cultures which are situated in other parts of the world; and yet a material bridge is passive and inert, without any life of its own, whereas a poetic translator must try to make a living construction with its own energy and powers of expression, to convey the active experience of a foreign original text.’


Anthony Barnett is himself a translator of immense subtlety and power and I urge our readers to look for his 2012 publication of Translations which he published in association with Tears in the Fence. In that extraordinarily powerful collection we can read the entire script of Akutagawa’s A Fool’s Life as well as major poems by Roger Giroux, Anne-Marie Albiach, Alain Delahaye, Andrea Zanzotto and Paul Celan amongst many others. That volume, like this excellent little lecture, is a model of the art of fine printing and it is available from


Ian Brinton July 22nd 2014



Tears in the Fence cover archive

Tears in the Fence cover archive

There’s a milestone coming up and some interest has been expressed in old Tears in the Fence covers. So, in the service of all things vintage, I thought I’d track down a few.

Following on from the cut-up illustration by Elaine Drake used in No. 23. Summer 1999, not long after I joined the magazine, and right away embarked upon what in hindsight we’ll call the ‘bright phase.’

This is the second cover from the Tears in the Fence archive. Here we’ve jumped years to, I think, the last incarnation before the present design. Issue No. 48 – one of the bridge series. In this case, the Forth Bridge, using a photo that I took on a visit to Edinburgh. And yes, I do think maintenance was being undertaken at the time.


I was looking on the cover, and then inside, for the date. Annoyingly I must have decided that a date was unnecessary or, more likely, that not having a date added to its timelessness. Hmmm! But, strike that. I’ve just looked on the spine and there it is: Summer 2008.


By this time the format of the magazine is A5, and we have dispensed with varnishing to give a more tactile feel, but it is still single colour print onto card. The font is Garamond.


Westrow Cooper 21st July 2014

Anthony Barnett’s InExperience and UnCommon Sense in Translation

Anthony Barnett’s InExperience and UnCommon Sense in Translation

Allardyce Book ABP

This lecture on translation delivered at Meiji University, Tokyo, in May 2002, has been lightly revised and is prefaced with a new note updating references.

Barnett confronts the slippery world of translation theory by boldly asserting that there is no usable theory of translation other than treating each text to be translated in terms of its own necessary requirements and using your head. He utilises Umberto Eco, whose book Experiences in Translation offers practical and imaginative solutions to various problems, Yves Bonnefoy, who believes that translation is not only possible but also poetry rebegun, and his own experiences. He uses the word uncommon to indicate that a common sense solution to a translation may not be obvious, and that something unusual or uncommon may be seen eventually to be the obvious common sense solution. There is, he argues, a way through to the poetic equivalent in the second language.

The lecture is full of illuminating asides and examples of what he means. Barnett notes that poetry, whilst a special use of language, may not be special in every way by comparison with packaged food labels and product instruction sheets, which come in several languages. He wonders why the translators may opt on the same packet for a less precise equivalent and a potentially hazardous result, and notes the necessity to avoid calamitous results by confidently refusing nonsense.

His first example refuting the impossibility of translation is the Italian poet, Giuseppe Ungaretti’s two line poem, ‘Mattina’ (‘Morning’) ‘M’illumino / d’immenso’, literally ‘I am illuminated / with immensity’ and other possible but unpoetic versions. He explains how he found the solution ‘I am blessed with light’ one morning. The line certainly has more poetry than the literal translation and is in harmony with the original.

Amongst further examples, Barnett considers Donald Keene’s problem with translating Midori iro no sutokkingu by Abe Kōbō. When Keene asked the playwright whether the translation should be singular or plural, there being a lack of distinction in the Japanese, he replied that it was his problem. Keene settled for the plural, The Green Stockings. Barnett notes that he failed to utilise the help given by the non-committal reply and could have dispensed with the definite article and the plural to arrive at the more poetic, Green Stocking.

In his consideration of Bashō’s famous frog haiku ‘Furuike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto’, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa as ‘Breaking the silence / Of an ancient pond / A frog jumped into water / A deep resonance’, he cites the concrete poet and Benedictine priest, dom sylvester houédard’s fortune teller origami construction from 1965 where the reader manipulates the folded paper to reveal ‘frog / pond / plop’. This wonderful solution to the translation moreover also has the mouth and shape of the frog, the hollow and shape of the pond, and splosh of the plop as the fortune teller is manipulated through its various combinations. This translation is a shade more minimal than say Cid Corman’s ‘old pond / frog leaping / splash’.

Barnett also points to the example of exceptional author-translators and cites the practice of Samuel Beckett and Isak Dinesen of re-writing their original work in translation. Sentences are recast and passages removed, and sometimes added.

The lecture is full of practical common sense and comes with an appendix ‘Thinking About Translation’, addressed to a translation symposium in Bremen and a translation of Leopardi’s ‘The Infinite’ poem, with accompanying note, as an insert. The translation ends:

In this immensity my mind goes under:

And my foundering at sea is sweet.


David Caddy 6th July 2014



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