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Moveable Type by Jo Clement (New Writing North)

Moveable Type by Jo Clement (New Writing North)

Already established as an editor, poet, workshop leader and researcher, Jo Clement published her first collaborative pamphlet with fellow writer and Traveller, Damian Le Bas, and printmaker W. John Hewitt in the weathered poems of Outlandish (NWN 2019). Together, the artists used St Cuthbert’s Way on Holy Island as a starting point for poetry and art inspired by the edgelands of the North East. Several of those poems touched on her Gypsy heritage. But it is in Moveable Type, Clement’s solo debut pamphlet, where the poet examines the poetics and politics of her Traveller ethnicity in depth through the engravings of printmaker Thomas Bewick (1753-1828).
These contemporary and lyrical poems evolve from family and childhood, and culminate in a homecoming at Appleby Horse Fair, the largest annual gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe. On pulling back the eye of a cob the skillful rhythms of ‘The Impression of Water’ resonate:

How fast the water flows in lines
against the Traveller’s face, her clothes,
the supplementary weight.

In this multi-layered poem we feel the pressure on both the Traveller and on the wood carver’s images. This ekphrastic practice continues as Clement assigns artwork with titles, juxtaposing an 18th Century man pole-vaulting across a river with the poem ‘Vault’. This poem teems with imagery from the northern council estate, Lascelles:

til his fists scream
on the glass
and they flush out
like so many bees
or game, back to the Moor,
where porn pulps open crotches

a powerful combination of the musical and the visceral. The final stanza in this poem is a reminder of how her own journey as Traveller, academic and poet has involved a certain ‘kicking back’ inside mainstream society: ‘His sloe arm moves her still, / lifts ‘til vaulting, she stamps the air.’
Two revealing poems then face each other, both corralled and blown free, first in ‘Teesdale Erratics’, and then ‘Market’:

The photographer says
turn a cartwheel, girls

but they shy away
pinch petunias

from pub planters
push stalks behind ears.

Here, the subtle imagery exposes the exploitive media succinctly.
We come across enviable terms such as ‘King Faa’, a poem smattered with delightful kennings like ‘fiddlescrape’ and ‘kettleflute’, as well as the Romani patrins: signposts for fellow Travellers made from twigs. Clement beautifully illustrates the horse dealer’s traditional haggle: ‘let horse dealer hands / take wing in soft claps / that swoop and slap / themselves away’. Meanwhile, Bewick’s tail-piece engraving of a powerless father and son next to the sign: KEEP ON THIS SIDE, reminds us of centuries of land-grabbing Enclosure Laws, and their impact on not only Travellers but on the rural community as a whole.
Clement certainly doesn’t shirk the uncomfortable. In ‘Knots’, Wordsworth is held to account in his poem ‘Gipsies’: ‘He saw us as spot, a spectacle, knots’. ‘Playing Cards’ also delivers a palpable shudder as the speaker falters when asked to tick a box pertaining to ethnicity as either ‘White or Gypsy’:

Black triangles
Needled to our chests like stars, badges of shame
That marked us work-shy Zigeuner.
The death camps devoured us

a reminder of how 200,000 Roma and Sinti Gypsies were put to death during World War II. But it is the pride in her heritage that defines Clement’s writing. ‘Homecoming’, in which the poet takes us to Appleby Fair, is sensuously charged:

In black-wet denim
all teeth and chest shining
half-boy
half-hoss
all bray

Walk alongside a young woman through the joys and frustrations of modern Traveller life inside poems of blood, politics and honesty, and you will see how ‘Gypsiness’ is inextricably linked to heritage and ethnicity, regardless of whether home is house or road. Moveable Type is an anthem, a celebration, and a timely reminder of all our histories.

Notes:

Traveller – the contemporary collective term for Gypsy/Roma/Traveller (GRT).
Zigeuner – the German noun that described Gypsies.

Sarah Wimbush 29th May 2020

Cavalcanty by Peter Hughes (Equipage)

Cavalcanty by Peter Hughes (Equipage)

In a letter from late 1831to Julius Charles Hare of the Philological Museum William Wordsworth made a comment concerning his experiments in translation:

‘Having been displeased, in modern translations, with the additions of incongruous matter, I began to translate with a resolve to keep clear of that fault, by adding nothing; but I became convinced that a spirited translation can scarcely be accomplished in the English language without admitting a principle of compensation.’

The translation work that Wordsworth was engaged upon was from Virgil’s Aeneid and one poet laureate commented upon another as C. Day Lewis referred to this passage in 1969 in his Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture on ‘Translating Poetry’:

‘By this principle we presumably mean putting things in which are not there, to compensate for leaving things out which cannot be adequately rendered.’

Day Lewis went on to suggest that ‘much greater liberties can justifiably be taken with lyric verse than with narrative or didactic’ and that very word ‘liberties’ suggests a hint of danger, revolution, turning a world upside down. When Pound wrote about Cavalcanti he suggested that the canzone, Donna mi Prega, ‘may have appeared about as soothing to the Florentine of A.D. 1290 as conversation about Tom Paine, Marx, Lenin and Bucharin would to-day in a Methodist bankers’ board meeting in Memphis, Tenn.’ Pound then goes on to suggest that Cavalcanti may well have read Grosseteste on Light, De Luce, and a reading of the opening lines of the canzone supports this idea. Grosseteste considered light to be ‘a very subtle corporeal substance, whose exceeding thinness and rarity approaches the incorporeal, and which of its own nature perpetually generates itself and is at once spherically diffused around a given point.’ As another reader of Grosseteste, the poet John Riley, recognized Light is the active principle of all things and the Bishop of Lincoln’s opening statement in Riedl’s translation reads ‘For light of its very nature diffuses itself in every direction in such a way that a point of light will produce instantaneously a sphere of light of any size whatsoever, unless some opaque object stands in the way.’ I can imagine that Pound might have regarded that Methodist bankers’ board meeting in Memphis as an opaque object.
Pound’s translation of Donna me prega opens:

‘Because a lady asks me, I would tell
Of an affect that comes often and is fell
And is so overweening: Love by name.

E’en its deniers can now hear the truth,
I for the nonce to them that know it call,
Having no hope at all
that man who is base in heart
Can bear his part of wit
into the light of it,

And save they know’t aright from nature’s source
I have no will to prove Love’s course
or say
Where he takes rest; who maketh him to be;
Or what his active virtu is, or what his force;

Nay, nor his very essence or his mode;
What his placation; why he is in verb,
Or if a man have might
To show him visible to men’s sight.

In the Preface to his own collected poems, published in 1936, Ford Madox Ford, to whom Pound had shown his canzone many years before, wrote that aureate diction was a civic menace because ‘the business of poetry is not sentimentalism so much as the putting of certain realities in certain aspects,’ and ‘poetry, like everything else, to be valid and valuable, must reflect the circumstances and psychology of its own day. Otherwise it can be nothing but a pastiche.’
Turning to Peter Hughes’s version of ‘Donna me prega – per ch’eo voglio dire’ in this new Equipage delight we can see what might halt that Memphis bankers’ board meeting in Memphis in its tracks:

‘now the lady makes me think about love’s
pit-bull attacks on the soul’s soft tissues
& those fatal core-reactor meltdowns
& deep immunity to metaphor
it’s tricky thinking through these things in ink
as love demands we loosen up our grip
on pre-existing modes of consciousness
affiliation & self-confidence
otherwise we stand no chance of melting
flowing into fresh configurations
in response to love’s accommodations
of feral power rerouted through refined
reformulations of specific lips
in actual laps tomorrow evening

The energy of these lines gives off a heat which confronts us with a social and political sense of ‘in yer face’ and that ‘deep immunity to metaphor’ ensures that any prevailing post-Movement, post-Martian, post-Mush world is left completely behind in the dusty cupboard of dead poetry anthologies. This is a world of Love which is made ‘of nothing yet feels like marble knuckles / kneading your most vulnerable hollows / articles & raw protuberances’. The energy of childhood’s games of marbles (no feeling of butterflies here!) merges with the pun on knead/need and the empty cries from empty places within. It’s superb!
This short flagging-up of Peter Hughes’s tremendously powerful evocations of Love in Cavalcanti is merely to whet your appetite and, with that in mind, take a warning about how ‘beauty’

‘finds its finest incarnation in her
being out of touch around the corner

we’ve never been quite bright enough to take
the subtle hints & reassurances
the goddess always hovers round the bend’

Ian Brinton 4th January 2016

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems (White Gorilla Press, 2013) is as vivid a portrait of the impact of the Reaganomics on the American working class between 1986 and 1989 as I have read, carrying within it a cinematic focus on the life and times of a wayward teenage narrator. It reads like a deranged cross between Charles Bukowski and William Wordsworth, yet draws its strength from both traditions.

 

Newman employs both long narrative poems, with precise and poignant detail, dramatic tension, and short pithy poems that reverse the narrative. He gives the reader a wide emotional access to the condition and relations of an impoverished and pressured community through direct speech, strong imagery, wide-eyed characterization and succinct dialogue. Each poem, never without wit and attitude, works to deepen the view of a striving and beaten underclass within a social malaise and economic recession.

 

Bikers, strippers, wrestlers, bouncers, psychos, drug dealers, prisoners, bowling alley and bar owners, slaughterhouse workers move in and out of the poems and leave a sense of desperation and of a bloodied economy. Newman has a Dickensian streak, and draws potent poems from the characters of the slaughterhouse, where drunk men work with chainsaws, cut the throat’s of squealing pigs, eyeballs collect over grates in the killing floor, and Crazy Ed, the world’s greatest juggler of cow balls, gets fired for fucking a 300-pound pig.

 

A Concise Lesson On The Delicacies Of Cuisine In Foreign Countries And Here At Home By Two Lifetime Slaughterhouse Employees

 

Because they threw pig eyes like ping pong balls

 

Because they pelted us with bull balls

because the testicles

were slimy and hard as rocks

 

Because I ran

and slid on a puddle of blood

 

Because a man older than my father

stuffed a testicle down the back of my shirt

 

Because there are lessons to be learned:

bull balls, they said, were a delicacy

in many foreign countries

and chefs for kings

called them Mountain Oysters

 

and the butcher wearing a funny hat

smoking a Marlboro Red

said “Foreign countries like Kentucky”

 

then asked me if I’d ever eaten any ass

 

 

The narrative blows and glistens entering into the signs and representations of the two America’s, and offers implied readings of the position of the lowest underclass, the single mother, as well as a contrast with the state of manhood and masculinity. People are used and abused by an economy based around neon sweatshirts, meat and killings. It is an honest and grim account of a vicious and fraudulent period.

 

The short poem, ‘The Worst Weed I Ever Bought’, echoes Ed Dorn in Recollections of Gran Apacheria, in its use of indirect implication and humour to convey a wider duplicitous situation. Seemingly self-deprecating, note how each line develops and turns the narrative into something else.

 

smelled great

didn’t get me stoned

and tasted delicious

in a nice tomato sauce

over angel hair pasta

 

Newman is an accomplished novelist and his narrative skills are given full rein in this powerful sequence of poems.

 

David Caddy  20th March 2014

 

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