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Rages of The Carbolic by Clive Gresswell (KFS Press), Some Municipal Love Poems by Simon Smith (Muscaliet Press)

Rages of The Carbolic by Clive Gresswell (KFS Press), Some Municipal Love Poems by Simon Smith (Muscaliet Press)

When I reviewed Clive Gresswell’s Jargon Busters, his first collection from Alec Newman’s radical and innovative Press, I recall using a phrase about the poems possessing an authoritative tone which is accompanied by a compelling lyricism. This new collection firms up that opinion for me. As the opening poem offers us “new shapes from this froth of form” we are introduced into a reading of the past through “a gate left partly open” and we are invited to glimpse

“narrow (needless) chattering
divulging corners of winter
(we) crept into the crypts
& buttercup fields.”

Our present reading of the past reveals our inheritance and the “froth of form” which constitutes poetic language permits “new shapes”. In a sense we emerge from the hidden darkness of the buried past (kruptos) to “buttercup fields” of explosion:

“igniting craters in gathering blossom
to storms of deluxe transition we ferry
able sea-soldiers subliminally required
a gesture at the foot

breaking fortunes to new requisitions
we gather in harvests of the bland
to dictating new forms of capital explosions
the garden-path is blocked

an extra energy exerts excitement
exhorting byways gathered in the sonnet
a dim-lit lecture betrays new breathing
clutching at the straws”

The martial and political thrust here is counterpointed against the language of the pastoral, the nostalgic nature of which is little more than “bland” and as that tyrant of Language, Humpty-Dumpty, recognised “When I use a word…it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”. However, Gresswell knows all too clearly what has happened to language and you may be “wrapped in your blanket / field of dreams” but still have to come up against broken realities:

“& all the kings horses and all the kings men
marching an army of dreams on its belly
into the umbilical”

There is less anger and more O’Hara in Simon Smith’s most recent collection and there is a tone of both realisation (acceptance) and resignation (a shrug of the shoulders) in his opening ‘General Purpose Love Poem’. That which can be “gathered” in a sonnet can be seen

“as fourteen pence of change
as fourteen sous of change
as fourteen bits all in a row

the fourteen lines of chance
& the six degrees of knowing

on London streets
along the boulevards of Paris

not an earthly
art without a heaven
not without chance”

If the world of Frank O’Hara casts its wandering shade over these attractive glimpses of time passing then so does Browning’s Faultless Painter and we can almost hear the wry tones of Andrea Del Sarto as he muses

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for? All is silver-grey
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!
I know both what I want and what might gain,
And yet how profitless to know, to sigh
“Had I been two, another and myself,
“Our head would have o’erlooked the world!””

Simon Smith’s skill as a poet and jongleur resides partly in his ability to forge “base language / into pure song / into various song” and partly in his understanding of human frailty and lost opportunity. These new poems are a delight and they reflect the vision of this new independent Press that believes in writing as “a process of synthesis; of arranging, combining, contrasting and layering ideas through language”.
Or as Smith puts it

“there’s a fizz in the glass
& the pleasure is mine
& ideological

like a guitar with L / A / N / G / U / A / G / E printed all along the
fret board

Ian Brinton, 10th January 2019

In Memoriam: Jay Ramsay

In Memoriam: Jay Ramsay

Cracked Voices
i.m. Jay Ramsay

Always a mystic and dreamer.
Did you know that he had died?
If you have ever wondered
what it would be like to be
bereft and in mourning, now
is your chance to find out.

First it was a missing toolbox,
then Sister Wendy left us,
with Collings fuming about art.
Today Maria told me that Jay
has gone away for good.
Use the simple search function

to find your future and then
demolish thought. The tears
will not come, even though
neither Jane or Sarah knew,
despite a userfriendly interface.
To delete a comment just log in.

I know a little something
about dissent, have heard
stories about fracture, about how
a great silence filled all heaven.
Those of you who were there
will remember the plenary talk

and may have several volumes
on your shelf. There are words
for states of being that have no
equivalent outside poetic language.
If you are looking for information
look no further: time is also place,

we are just passing by. Fear is also
love, connections can be made
without agreeing with the thesis.
In his alien architecture I found
hope and occasional rays of light
to illuminate a midnight heaven.

© Rupert M Loydell

Collected Poems by Peter Riley (Shearsman Books) Part 111

Collected Poems by Peter Riley (Shearsman Books) Part 111

The second volume of Peter Riley’s monumental edition of Collected Poems opens with Cambridge poems from 1985-2000 before proceeding to Excavations and the substantial sequence Alstonefield, originally published by Oasis/Shearsman in 1995 before being revised and extended for publication by Carcanet in 2003. In addition we have a revised version of the Oystercatcher Press volume Best at Night Alone, Greek Passages 2006 and Due North 2015. Re-reading these many reconstructions of self and place I am drawn back to a few lines written at the opening of William Bronk’s ‘The Occupation of Space – Palenque’, 1974:

“It is not certain that space is empty and shapeless though it must seem so, just as it must seem that we are nowhere except as we occupy space and shape it. Whether we look at the surface of the earth which is endless though not infinite, or at the spaces beyond, whose limits we cannot see or perhaps think of, the need for a sense of place is so strong that we try to limit the vastness, however arbitrarily, and fill the emptiness if only by naming places such as a mountain, a water, or certain stars.

Alstonefield
opens with excerpts from two letters written to Tony Baker and the first, dated 6th August 1991, sets the imperative scene by saying that as Riley was strolling among the fields south of the village in the evening he “suddenly had the distinct sensation that it mattered, this place, that its very existence mattered”. When Tony Baker wrote about Alstonefield as his contribution to Nate Dorward’s end of century issue of The Gig, an issue devoted to the work of Peter Riley, he opened his piece with a sense of landscape:

“Draw a line on the map of Britain roughly along the route of Hadrian’s Wall, and the landmass prescribed to the south—including Wales with its own language, a portion of the Borders with its Lallans, Cornwall whose language is lost, and a host of other regions with distinctive local speeches—would have, as the convocal point of all its linguism, an approximate geographical centre among the Derbyshire moors and limestones. In this talk-defined heartland, north south east and west seem like equal extensions: starting from everything we could possibly be doing a line tends out and no one direction lays a greater claim to it than any other.”

This for me encapsulates one of the most important criticisms of Riley’s poetry: he starts from a heartland and “tends out”. As if heeding the advice offered by Charles Olson to Edward Dorn to follow the model of history set down by Herodotus Riley brings his focus to bear upon finding out for himself, absorbing himself intensely and entirely in his subject. The individual stanzas of Alstonefield, each ten lines long, are meditations, contemplations and they open in a style which has echoes of Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard’:

“Again the figured curtain draws across the sky.
Daylight shrinks, clinging to the stone walls
and rows of graveyard tablets, the moon rising
over the tumbling peneplain donates some equity
to the charter and the day’s accountant
stands among tombs, where curtesy dwells.”

It is in the civilized eloquence of “donates” and “curtesy” that we can recognise the quality Riley inherited from the seventeenth and eighteenth century that was also recognised by Charles Tomlinson when he referred to “building” being “a biding also” in his 1960 poem ‘The Farmer’s Wife: at Fostons Ash’. And it is also echoed in Riley’s 2015 sequence Due North which became a finalist for that year’s Forward Prize where “Moving and staying” bear the location with us and “advance built into the structure of settlement”. When that book was reviewed for The Guardian in October 2015 Evan Jones concluded with a sentence that could well offer some definition for Peter Riley’s work as a whole:

Due North excavates the local past, and makes the demolished current”.

The two volumes of these Collected Poems represent a dedication to poetry and to life: they reveal the portrait of a man whose commitment to Culture has spanned some sixty years and whose voice, quiet, careful and unreserved in its integrity, will always be worth heeding. It is no mere chance that takes me back to look at those lines from Ben Jonson’s Discoveries:

“Language most shewes a man: speake that I may see thee. It springs out of the most retired, and inmost parts of us, and is the Image of the Parent of it, the mind.”

Ian Brinton 2nd January 2019

Collected Poems by Peter Riley (Shearsman Books) Part II

Collected Poems by Peter Riley (Shearsman Books) Part II

About three-quarters of the way through the first volume of Peter Riley’s Collected Poems we will find the long piece of poetry and prose Lines on the Liver which had originally been published by Andrew Crozier’s Ferry Press in 1981. Re-reading this piece I am struck by echoes of Charles Olson:

“To the west, beyond Stoke, are Welsh hills and the sea, and eastward behind me stretches a simple and wide monotony to the coast, perhaps the most blessed condition of all land: unexciting and open. But the past I dwell in is not so distant, and the distance that worries me is not so extensive. West and East stay with me as I move around like a left and a right, while also beyond me and fixed. It is not a problem of extent but of accuracy, and the only true spatial index to that is the night sky.”

There are one or two little changes here from the first edition which offered us “Smoke” and “Celtic hills” and these little shifts are symptomatic of a concern for the type of accuracy referred to later in the passage. Similarly the “past I dwell in” was originally given as “the past I mean” and the shift brings us closer to the Olsonian sense of our being inescapably incorporated in history. Referring to different identities in the work, an ‘I’ and a ‘We’, John Hall had focused upon something central to Riley’s work: the urgently serious movement towards our understanding of ourselves by recognising who we are in relation to the world around us. In The Many Review No. 2 (Spring 1984) he had described it as “the plural form of the person assiduously involved in the rhetorical transactions of metaphor”. Hall also referred to a collective sense

“coinciding with the idea of ‘the town’ as a specific social and emotional force-field within the land-form, as extended home, a specific community lived from within rather than sociologically describable; or it might be the human figure implied by an archaic term like ‘the plain’ or an understanding of humans in which geology is socially incarnate.”

I am reminded here of lines from Riley’s earlier collection which Crozier’s Ferry Press had published in 1969, Love-Strife Machine:

“work: to make it at least feasible
that the lines should intersect the way they do
on the map of it all.”

Or, again, “knowing this stone / also as a city / I underwrite”. As if emphasising again the importance of that Hastings poem of the mid-sixties which I referred to last week, in this 1969 volume we read

“learning to (speak, listen, dance, be, etc.)
there comes a point when you have to act simply by
throwing out blindly onto whatever surface
seems likely to bear the weight, throw
the whole body forwards onto
the bright substance and hope it floats…”

Towards the end of the first volume of Riley’s Collected we arrive at the remarkable series of ten sonnets, ‘Ospita’, which had originally appeared as No. 4 in his beautifully produced Poetical Histories series that had started in 1985 as a result of his obtaining a hoard of mould-made paper from what had been the print shop of The Brooks Press, Wirksworth, Derbyshire. When James Keery wrote a fine exegesis of this sequence for The Gig he brought our attention to the “intensity of the speaking voice” being “palpable” and illustrated this in his reference to the poem’s “compelling” opening sonnet:

“Seeking a bearing point on hurt I find
Hollows and rooms in the thick of the night,
A building hard at work flashing its bright
Offers into the star dome.”

As Keery puts it the speaking voice undertakes an enquiry into the problem of pain with “a discursive cogency that the Age of Reason might have approved”. This ‘Ospita’, this house or shelter for a guest, is in Nigel Wheale’s account for Chicago Review, “some kind of visionary hospice, a post-war Britannia hospital where fundamental categories such as harm and care…roughly trade their terms.” For myself I am drawn forward to J.H. Prynne’s 2008 essay on ‘Huts’.

In an early piece from Love-Strife Machine the poet had wondered how the knowledge of knowing “how to sustain the music” could be kept alive “beyond the first bright hope”. Reading the opening lines of the tenth ‘Ospita’ sonnet we have that question answered:

“I walked out on the morning of May 12th
The blades were bright and coy and loud,
Thick with languages I walked without stealth
The fields of angry farmers, proud
To be harmless and legal, half and half,
No one could fathom my strong shoes,
There is no paradise but tongue of love.”

In an unpublished letter to Michael Haslam from September 1980, and now resting in the Cambridge Modern Poetry Archive, Peter Riley had raised a question about the world of Charles Olson and it has an interesting bearing upon his own forward movement:

“…the things (readings, informations, modes) he used for his poetry became items of a proscription, and that academic inflation slowly took him over. He began to think he was delivering important messages to the world at large, which is where you stop speaking to any particular member of that world and they become a ‘public’.”

Peter Riley’s poetry is firmly particular and his self-portraits are of ourselves.

Ian Brinton, 23rd December 2018.

Collected Poems Volume 1 by Peter Riley (Shearsman Books)

Collected Poems Volume 1 by Peter Riley (Shearsman Books)

Peter Riley’s two volumes of Collected Poems weighs in at about 1200 pages and they need to be reviewed. There is no way that a short piece here can do justice to the wealth of this work and so I shall write three or four reviews covering the chronological development of a poet whose voice is a labour of “calm close attention” (‘All Saints’, a short prose piece from the opening section of Volume 1, pieces written in London between 1962 and 1965). When I gave a Paper at a Conference in Birkbeck devoted to Riley’s work I focused on his editing of the magazine Collection. The Paper was written up for PN Review 207, some six years ago and it began rather mischievously. Now that we can see more fully the quality of Riley’s early work from the Sixties I wish to repeat that mischief by beginning with a quotation which will set the scene and trust that this will prove to be in no way contentious:

“For a time young poets of very different backgrounds and temperament may feel themselves, or be felt by critics, to be working along similar lines. Though its long-term consequence necessarily remains unclear, such a shift of sensibility has taken place very recently in British poetry. It follows a stretch, occupying much of the 1960s and 70s, when very little—in England at any rate—seemed to be happening…”

The quotation comes of course from a very reliable source: a Poet Laureate, a highly successful journalist and a highly competitive and long-standing publishing firm: The Penguin Book of Contemporary Poetry edited by Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion. And so it’s official: “very little seemed to be happening” in the 60s and 70s and this reminds me of the mischievous title of a splendid little journal founded by Anthony Barnett in 1966, Nothing Doing in London. There were only two issues of that beautifully produced item but they contained work by Andrew Crozier, Edmond Jabès, George Oppen, Tom Pickard, Samuel Beckett and Nick Totton: nothing indeed happening very much at all!
The calm close attention which Riley has given to his wealth of life’s experiences is there from the very start as is evident with the poem ‘Introitus’ written in his Hastings years during the mid-to late 60s. The poem opens with the short phrase “How it begins” before proceeding to examine the difficulty of walking on shingle on Hastings beach. The quiet and purposeful movement recalls the ‘Riprap’ progress of Gary Snyder in a very different landscape:

“To walk effectively on shingle you have to
lean forwards so you’d fall if you didn’t push
your feet back from a firm step down and
back sharp forcing the separate ground
to consolidate underneath you, with a marked
flip as you lift each foot, scattering
stones behind, gaining momentum.”

The year is 1967 and Peter Riley was about to take over the editing of The English Intelligencer from Andrew Crozier. Writing to Crozier on January 12th, having arrived back in Hastings after the two had met up, he told of finding Jeremy Prynne on the doorstep and how they had spent that evening discussing the future progress of the magazine. In a letter from a few months later Riley referred to the need for energetic engagement with the poetry scene, “something not so much finished as in mid-stream, alive and still developing” and this energy pulses through these early poems.
When Barry MacSweeney organised the poetry gathering at Sparty Lea Peter Riley was there of course and the letter he wrote to a newspaper a few years ago emphasised the event’s importance:

“Sparty Lea was a serious event that involved listening to each other carefully and weighing up the possibility of common purposes.”

The publication of ‘Sparty Lea Epilogue’ in the first volume of these collected poems is testament indeed to its importance as a meeting-place for new poets who were concerned about what was happening in the world of British poetry:

“It must be the whole continuance,
of our lives bound through the occasion
it must be this other place given
in return, the small room at night.

The meeting was a specific node
of exchange like a thank-you in a long
conversation, fastening the discourse that
sustains us to a future weather.”

The “long conversation” has continued down the years and when Roy Fisher referred to Riley’s deepening sense of how poetry “can be capable of mediating between inner and outer experience” it was adopted as the blurb on the back cover of Pennine Tales issued by Calder Valley Poetry two years ago. It is within the lyric grace of those late pages, written and published too late to be included in the Collected Poems that one can pick up the mournful wisps of sound from an energetic poetic engagement that is by no means over:

“There is nothing here but stone
walls and distance. We are alone. We are nowhere.
We are the length and breadth of a dark nowhere
which encompasses the world.”

I am tempted to say that Peter Riley is a towering presence in the world of modern poetry and yet even that image of stasis is immediately rendered inappropriate when we can read now the early lines he dedicated to Andrew Crozier in the late 60s when he felt that they were “wanderers not in exile / but at permanent home / in movement.”

Ian Brinton 9th December 2018

The Wedding-Guest by Keith Bosley Eds Owen Lowery & Anthony Rudolf (Shoestring Press)

The Wedding-Guest by Keith Bosley Eds Owen Lowery & Anthony Rudolf (Shoestring Press)

I have started writing a book about English teaching based upon my own experiences over the past forty-five years and am determined to give it the title “There was a ship”. When I mentioned this to a colleague recently he asked what that meant and I explained something about the hypnotic power behind Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner who stopped a wedding-guest in his tracks:

“It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

‘The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
“There was a ship,” quoth he.

The wedding-guest attempts to break away but is held by the Mariner’s “glittering eye” and he stands still to listen “like a three years’ child” as the old man unfolds his tale of guilt and redemption, a tale in which he tells the listener about how he was

“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!”

In his Preface to this fine collection of Keith Bosley’s poems Anthony Rudolf directs us immediately to the central image of the story-teller:

“At the heart of the book is the powerful poem whose title the editors have chosen for the whole, ‘The Wedding-Guest’, a World War Two poem spoken by the poet narrator himself and his friend.”

Rudolf gives us the dramatic scene of Coleridge’s wedding guest standing as a literary antecedent behind Keith Bosley and the Ancient Mariner himself standing behind the friend “just as he did for Primo Levi, who inspired our cover illustration”. The illustration is by Jane Joseph and it was used for the fine Folio edition of Levi’s The Truce. However, as Rudolf also points out for us it is the wedding guest who tells this story and both the host and the reader are compelled to stand fixed, rooted to the page:

Sometimes we are afraid of you
as if you knew too much
from going to the pit and back
so that when you touch

less travelled lives like ours
you burn
and we are scarred with a knowledge
from which there is no return

Keith Bosley’s poem is immensely powerful and in a world where we are surrounded by so much inescapable history I was left thinking what is it about the quality of this writing that so moves me. The style of the narration reminds me perhaps of Brecht’s 1939 poem ‘The Children’s Crusade’; Bosley’s narrative has a similar simplicity in its style. Brecht opens with an almost naïve tone to his four-line stanzas:

“In ’thirty-nine, in Poland
a bloody battle took place,
turning many a town and village
into a wilderness.

The sister lost her brother,
the wife her husband in war,
the child between fire and rubble
could find his parents no more.

From Poland no news was forthcoming
neither letter nor printed word,
but in all the Eastern countries
a curious tale can be heard.

Snow fell when they told one another
this tale in an Eastern town
of a children’s crusade that started
in Poland, in ’thirty-nine.”

Perhaps it’s that word “curious” that rouses the attention, that sense of the singular nature of a tale to be told. Keith Bosley’s narrative possesses a similar sense of understatement as the simplicity of the four-line stanzas is used as a frame for the most awful experiences which will never disappear. The Guest’s narrative begins, like Brecht’s, with a clear and simple picture:

“In January ’43 (he will say)
because I had not enlisted
in the German occupying forces
I was arrested”

The tale is harrowing but it never moves into the sentimental: the craft of the poet’s language keeps us clearly on track:

“We were locked in the hangars to sleep
on sawdust and concrete
and the frost bit uncovered toes
on rows of wood-shot feet.

‘Blow wind…’: we sang the ancient song
huddled on a little hill.
The other nations who had no songs
gathered and stood still.”

Bosley has for many years been recognized as a translator of some distinction and Owen Lowery is very helpful in bringing this status to the fore in his introduction. Lowery reminds us of Bosley being awarded the Finnish State Prize for Translators and being made a Knight First Class of the Order of the White Rose of Finland in 1991. His translation of Kalevala is the one published by Oxford World Classics and an Agenda review of that publication celebrated not only its “scholarly awareness” but also how its freshness provides “sheer pleasure”. Lowery quite rightly also directs the reader to Bosley’s ability to focus on the details of individual stories and lives, “indicative of an intellectual and compassionate curiosity”. That quiet and humane concern for capturing the moment is clear in a previously unpublished poem written for Antony Rudolf, himself a poet and translator of distinction, ‘Visiting A Poem’:

“August, late afternoon: we are in Gloucestershire.
Chipping Campden: we pass through the old market town.”

The purpose of the journey is to visit the source of Eliot’s poem ‘Burnt Norton’ and to wonder if “great poems” can “be called private?” The “two middle-aged men” go down a track until they are confronted with a notice that spells out “PRIVATE”.

“We drive over a grid, scattering sheep and goats
and arrive at a gate: here is the poem, here”

With a sense of excitement Bosley takes us, now the guests, into a world in which “we have spotted a word, a / phrase and even a line or two”.

“But we waver because no one expects us here
so two middle-aged men take a quick photograph”

The two turn homeward “as if we / heard some bird saying Go, go, go.”

And the echo of that Wedding-Guest’s narrative from January ’43 can be felt as we recall Eliot’s lines:

“Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality,”

The integrity and care behind the craft of Keith Bosley’s poems make this volume from Shoestring Press worth getting NOW. Read these poems, then stop, and then read again. An Ancient Mariner is always worth listening to!

Ian Brinton, 2nd December 2018

Butterfly Valley by Sherko Bekas trans & intro by Choman Hardi (Arc Publications)

Butterfly Valley by Sherko Bekas trans & intro by Choman Hardi (Arc Publications)

One of the immediate qualities of Choman Hardi’s introduction to this powerful volume is its focus upon distance: the space between where one is now and the never-to-be-erased memory of horror heaped upon horror. The Kurdish poem was originally published in Sweden in 1991 after Bekas had sought refuge there from the genocide taking place in Kurdistan where the gassing attack upon Halabja had taken place in March 1988. As Hardi puts it

“Longing for homeland starts Bekas on a constant search for reminders of it. He tours Stockholm, walks in its rain and sun, throws himself at the wind, follows girls, and circles the markets hoping that an image, a sound, a sensation would briefly take him back to his homeland.”

The former Iraqi state had used a cocktail of deadly gasses in the chemical weapons it fired into Halabja: “The gas looked brown and yellow. Some survivors report that it smelt of garlic while others say it smelt of rotten apples”. This attack came as part of a concerted attack upon Kurdish villages in which a hundred thousand civilians were exterminated during the months of that year.

“—What is exile? She asked me. What shall I tell you?
Shall I say: it is the love between land and dreams?
Or the sigh of a flower, away from her own garden?
Or the wandering of a vision, looking for its memories?
Or loneliness when she flees
and carries her country on her shoulders?”

Adorno is often misquoted as asserting that it is impossible to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz and what he did say, in his essay on Lukács, was rather different:

“Art does not provide knowledge of reality by reflecting it photographically or from a particular perspective but by revealing whatever is veiled by the empirical form assumed by reality, and this is possible only by virtue of art’s own autonomous status.”

It is the veiled sense, that which is so difficult to grasp, which makes me think of Paul Celan when I read this long poem. Poetry of course can be a form of active engagement with socio-political realities and sometimes it is compelled to respond to the ungraspable: the Holocaust, chemical warfare. Sometimes poetry has to speak whilst already knowing that it must fail in speaking. And it was Charles Tomlinson who said that reality is not to be sought in concrete but in “space made articulate”:

“Who says exile is longing for
the neighbourhood children’s chaos in the evening?
If it is, then what are all the neighbourhoods’ children
doing in the roads of my voice?”

Sherko Bekas bridges distance and makes space articulate when he asserts “I was the yellow light, / I was the fog, / I was the railway tracks, / and the roads and the journey were me.” The lines on the page are themselves the tracks which join the exile to his homeland and the solemnity with which lost beauty is brought shimmering into the present is a dirge which is related “without laboured tone, like the litany of a wake in which we are told, one by one, the beads of a rosary” (Preface, Gérard Chaliand). What is exile? What is loss?

“Shall I say it is the lost smell of a string of cloves,
the smell of my mother,
the smell of the neighbourhood girls that has forsaken me?”

This is a sophisticated and intense expression of grief in which Sherko Bekas, as is made clear on the back cover of this astonishingly powerful and beautifully produced edition from Arc Publications, uses a mixture of conflicting traditions, “folksong, funeral lamentation, wedding ritual”. The poem mourns but also celebrates the victims not only of Anfal and Halabja, but also those of past centuries. Butterfly Valley, a long poem of human response to pain, deserves a wide readership and if we ignore it we become thinner by doing so. Listen to the poet

“You had to do this
to write poetry with the tip of flame
and set fire to your fear and silence.”

Ian Brinton 26th November 2018

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