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My Life As A Mad King by Alasdair Paterson (Oystercatcher Press)

My Life As A Mad King by Alasdair Paterson (Oystercatcher Press)

Having published The Floating World (Pig Press) and Brief Lives (Oasis Books) in the Eighties, Alasdair Paterson returned to writing with on the governing of empires (Shearsman, 2010), Brumaire and Later (Flarestack Poets), in arcadia (Oystercatcher Books) in 2011, and Elsewhere or thereabouts, (Shearsman 2014). His latest collection, My Life As A Mad King, is a wonderfully playful, energetic sequence of villanelles. The madness of the king is mirrored in the gradual break up of the villanelle’s refrains, repeated rhymes and their repetition in the final stanza. The nineteen line structure of five tercets and one quatrain remains intact until the final ‘Villanelle the ultimate and’ which consists of twenty two words. Here each word per line, apart from the elongated seventeenth line, and their repetition encapsulates the essence of villanelle. The linguistic wordplay is highly controlled and compressed with the possible variants of each set played out within a confined word field.

A pandemonium of smoke and fire
a panoply of wine and roses
a pantomime of flesh and blood

A panjandrum of cap and bells
a pantaloon of shreds and patches
a pandemonium of court and spark

Paterson has the ability to tease and freshen language, and invest his word play with precision and dry humour. This is a work of quiet authority testing a difficult form. Indeed, beyond Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop’s famous examples it is hard to recall other memorable villanelles. Paterson deftly plays around with clichés and misplaces repeated lines, sometimes reduced to one word, in order to explore the boundaries of the form. His villanelles are rhythmic, ramshackle and fun, punning on rock album titles.

A banquet of greased beggars
a glass with added glass
a saucerful of secrets

A locket drenched in lachrimae
a joint spiced with jacquerie
a saucerful of sanctitas

The sequence culminates with the aged narrator losing his memory:

A man walks into an oubliette / I forget what happens next / forget what happens next / forget

And moves into the final villanelle with its chilling opening:

Crack

head

forget

Windows

fire

crack

My Life As A Mad King is a joy to read and yet another wonderful sequence from Oystercatcher Press.

David Caddy 12th July 2016

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

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