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There Are Angels Walking The Fields by Marlon Hacla translated by Kristine Ong Muslim (Broken Sleep Books)

There Are Angels Walking The Fields by Marlon Hacla translated by Kristine Ong Muslim (Broken Sleep Books)

Let’s get the negative out of the way first: Tilde Acuña’s calligraphic and hand-drawn ‘Introduction’ is physically unreadable here, despite looking wonderful. It’s a shame, because Broken Sleep books have got better and better designed since the press started, because I’m sure she had something useful to say, and because this is a marvellous book.

Kristine Ong Muslim’s useful ‘Translator’s Note’ explains that this collection was originally published in the Philippines in 2010, and frames the book as a gathering of ekphrastic poems which ‘”manifest” real or imagined artworks through various poetic devices’. It’s not the kind of ekphrasis that the reader – or English readers – will recognise, as few sources or artists are mentioned. Instead we get intense and often disturbing snapshots along with captured moments, most often set in stark, desolate or abandoned settings and populated by nameless characters and personified objects.

The language is often voluptuous, the images engrossing, even when describing violence. ‘Diorama #26’ tells us ‘The fingers were like dragonflies / As they strangled her’, whilst ‘Serial Killer’ enters the mind of the subject:

   Now, about that man on the first page of the newspaper
   This morning, the one whose mouth has been slashed,

   Don’t worry.

   I let him scream
   Just a little.

   Always, knives are reasonable priced in the public market.

The titular angels appear in the final line of ‘Diorama #54’. They are the memories or ghosts of those already dead at the scene; the poem is about a grenade which ‘was useless at this point / Because there was no one else left to kill.’ Hacla’s landscapes are often populated by the unexpected: cicadas which ‘sound as if they are trying to tell him something’ (‘The Trysting Place’), a child’s ‘invisible friend’ (‘The Playground’) or ‘a being that was not yet an infant’ (‘Some Forsaken Things’).

Time and action are frozen here, where ‘Everything begins / With a long wait behind the window’ (‘5.26 p.m.’), a long wait that is shared by many others behind their own windows, all aware that ‘Everything ends with a long wait behind the window.’ Even the ‘White stones have been crushed / Into teardrop-shaped pieces’ (‘Still Life Moments after the Blast’) and ‘Suppressed moans can still be heard / Next door’ (‘The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh’). Only by remembering can the world be understood, and there be the possibility to forget.

Caught in this contradictory tension, the poet and reader are like the characters in the brief poem ‘The Room’ (reproduced here in its entirety):

   He led me inside the room
   Where she kept his past.
   Each day is like a corpse.
   Like sapphires devoid of luster
   Their open eyes.

   All night we stroked and closed
   Every eyelid.

By recognising and confronting the war-torn, abusive and violent world, Hacla animates and subverts the darkness, offering us an awkward exit point in ‘The Exchange’, the final poem here:

   Tell me everything you want to say
   Before the light silences us.

This is powerful, moving and lyrical poetry, and I hope to be able to read more of Marlon Hacla’s  astonishing writing in due course.

Rupert Loydell 23rd July 2022


Broken Sleep Books 2020 anthology edited by Aaron Kent (Broken Sleep Books)

Broken Sleep Books 2020 anthology edited by Aaron Kent (Broken Sleep Books)

This unassuming, slightly chunky book delivers far more than its undemonstrative cover design might intimate. It is essentially a sampler of what Broken Sleep Books got around to doing in 2020, and some 24 poets are presented along with five examples of prose or nonfiction. It strikes me as pretty remarkable actually, the novelty and standard of writers represented. The publisher is using on demand printing. There is a mantra, ‘Lay out your unrest’, a good one to ponder over. But there is no mission statement nor any commentary on the writers appearing here. They are arranged chronologically according to date of publication and each writer gets approximately about 8 pages, give or take.

So perhaps first off, the grade of contributor quality is satisfyingly met if not exceeded. This, naturally, is a long way from a Faber or a Picador. The press I’m most reminded of is Knives Forks and Spoons. And by that, that Broken Sleep are largely dealing with newcomers and fringe activity. They haven’t quite yet settled with any ‘house’ authors whom they might wish to centre on or prioritise. Also, Aaron Kent is an able publisher but I wonder if he has other interests; he has a great way of identifying talent, but is that centred on literature or perhaps on other media. I think some of us are wondering about YouTube, just to cite one prominent hub of activity.

The book leaves the reader with a dilemma. Surely, all these tantalising excerpts are most entertaining and thought provoking to encounter, but which of these 28 assembled authors would one want to know more about. Being newcomers, few names are readily identifiable. 

And this appetite for novelty attends both to form and content. Some contributors are formally highly adventurous. And the range of subject matter is wide including an amount of risqué material, even in our age of unshockable indifference.

I’d perhaps venture that Kent is not getting behind a particular style of writing as such but rather more a sort of sensibility, a state of attitude or mind, that is slightly offkey, an amount of radical departure from what would ordinarily be expected. Looking with a new perspective is some hint, although the waters can become a little uncertain.

The layout prescribes that no one or more authors is highlighted or given unusual prominence. Two I particularly liked were Jonny Wiles, quite radical formally, and Alex Mazey, who is promulgating a Baudrillardian vision of consumerist society. The book both begins and ends well. The conclusion, a most unexpected short discourse on the rhinoceros in classical literature by Luke Thompson is quite fascinating. The opening by Emilee Moyce is actually reasonably indicative of what to expect. Her opening poem ‘Over the Moon’ concludes;-

            I felt that I was floating,

            my eyes no longer burned, and I slept

            until the sun came and went away again,

            waking only when the moon called my name.  (p12)

which in its mode of narrating is suitably moonstruck and, I think, quite original.

There are numerous edifying passages like this scattered through the anthology. I am reminded again that its design is highly understated, with few real hints of what to expect, although the plug from Andrew McMillan isn’t far off in speaking of an ‘exciting, and vital press in the dreamscape of UK publishing’. A valuable find, then, and I certainly hope that Aaron Kent, our editor, finds his way in the creative sphere, and there might be some anticipation as to where he heads next. 

Clark Allison 5th June 2021

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