Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Carmen Giménez Smith's Milk & Filth (University of Arizona Press, 2013)

Here are some favourite passages from this bold, thought-worthy book:

It sets wild into new fluencies.


The jar houses my illusions

of eating men like hairballs.

end of "[Fragments from the Confessions]"

The charlatan was prelude

to the fracas I'd be.

Oh, those razor-sharp

appetites and their audacious



We met in the shadow

of his artificial interrogation

and wrested out the victories

from each other's defects.

from "[Wizardine]"

The blade was made

in the furnace where

excess is made and tiger

and where we sleep

like vampires when God

comes knocking.

She constructs a man

limb by limb from the earth,

and he belongs to us,

so we tear him apart

because he belongs to us.

from "[The Red Lady]"

I became the gelatin shiver of tea's

surface, that spent emotion.

from "[Susannah's Nocturne]"

Demeter became monster,

foul shame to motherhood.

We can be so insensitive

with others' losses when

they aren't our losses.

end of "[Hysteria]"

Poetry of regimented epigraphy smelled like fabric softener when I was young.

from "Parts of an Autobiography"

My cruel, divisive temperament: my cross

to bear. We all bear it because of our 

shared ancestry of milk and filth.

end of "Trigger Warning"

My parents can't describe me. All they ever see is assimilation and coconut. All they say is, "Why can't you just build yourself a Trojan horse into the big league?"

from "Can We Talk Here"

We're figures. We're lists of expenditure and food diaries,

but today I held the middle of me in hand and shook it.

It shook, shook like something fun.

from "Our Tiny Dimensions"

When God was a woman,

empire was meh.

the beginning of "When God Was a Woman"
The best way to purchase Milk & Filth in the UK is to order from Abe Books here.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Seizing: Places by Hélène Dorion, translated by Patrick McGuinness (Arc, 2012), second selection

I'd like to begin my second and final set of selections from Hélène Dorion's Seizing: Places with two quotations from Patrick McGuinness's excellent introduction:

"Though Dorion's poetry has evolved, it has always been limpid and intense, sophisticated in its thinking but elemental in its feel for the world. It is also emphatic about poetry's role in knowing that world, in putting the world to words not in order to name it, pin it down and categorise it, but because expressing the world is also to experience it."

"'Writing does not protect me from life's turbulence, but rather takes me to its most precarious points of equilibrium, where the sense of provisionality is at its sharpest', she writes in her essay, 'The Poem's Detail'."

And now for passages from the poems:

to the years echoing behind you 
the storm blurs your vision, your hands
reach only for this furious past.
Everything is red, will soon be mauve.


You see the path: long rays
where the dramatis personae of your
unfinished lives are jostling. In your mouth
jaws suddenly close
on one of them.


You open the box where memory stirs. by one, you find the stories again
--a crowd of images
fastens itself to every object. 


                                                    You open
a window and we breathe
the tiny leaves, branches, buds.


In Gursky's library
you turn the last page, it's the end
of the book, the world that's now contained
between the covers 
opens out then violently
shuts again on paths
you'll never tread
except in that rich
undefeated world of your books.
But each time, each time
your life will grow larger.


--so long as you hold
words in your hands
the garden where tonight, as every night
you open yourself to the wind's passage
will tell you what life really is.

from "Seizing: Windows"

Over the hill, a reddened
cloud grips that hour
when the soul settles--
and disperses.
As into myself, I enter
the cracked heart of dusk.


...slow cavities of hours.


Already the bank was fading
behind us, and far away, the brief
space where dream surges up.


is the place that is not a place
but that holds them all.


And for us the frail shelter invents
houses of fire and castles of sounds.


                                Each life
scatters its light
across time's room.

from "Seizing: Faces"

Thursday, 31 December 2015

For Love of 2015

I've had an extraordinary year. The only diminishment to the pleasure has been the inability to share any of it with my parents, especially my mother, my best friend, who I often used to speak to in my thoughts.

The first spectacular was the shortlisting of Imagined Sons for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry by The Poetry Society--or, more specifically, the judges, Julia Copus, Kei Miller and Grayson Perry. For a manuscript first completed in 2006, honed nearly until publication in 2014, I was honoured and thrilled to receive national recognition.

Not long after the shortlisting, Susannah Herbert phoned to ask if I'd serve as a judge for the Forward Prizes in Poetry. The work proved exceptionally heavy--180 books, 225 poems (or thereabouts)--with a quick turnaround before the shortlist meeting. It was a treat to work with A.L. Kennedy, Emma Harding, Warsan Shire and Colette Bryce, and I learned so much about the way poetry collections operate, about the way they achieve integrity and excellence.

With the Forward prizegiving and celebration on 30 September and the new academic year commencing at the same time, I felt overwhelmed and delighted with my year in poetry. At the end of October I attended one of the most personally gratifying events of the year, with the launch of my late friend Linda Lamus's collection, A Crater the Size of Calcutta. Many publishers didn't want to touch a posthumous book by an unknown poet, but Mulfran Press took it on and produced a beautiful volume. The launch of the book in Bristol, with ten people who loved her reading a poem each, was perfect.

Yet there was more, relevant to my position teaching at Bath Spa University. To my delight, I received some teaching relief for the upcoming academic year, so while I'd be coordinating four modules, teaching PhD and undergraduate students doing independent studies, doing the usual load of moderation of marking for my own and other modules, and running the weekly first-year plenary series, I would not be teaching directly any individual modules and so not doing any large loads of marking. Instead of working five days a week for Bath Spa (I'm on a .7 contract, which means just under three-quarters' time), I would be working 2-3 days, so I'd have 4-5 days a week for my writing. Wa-hey! Further recognition came in December, with promotion to Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa.

I've had a splendid few months using the extra time the university's given me. I've been writing as much as possible, researching (this is the first book of poetry I've worked on that involved extensive research), and reading widely and voraciously. Thanks to my friends, colleagues, students and readers for your encouragement and support--I'm so grateful.

Here's to 2016!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Seizing: Places by Hélène Dorion, translated by Patrick McGuinness (Arc, 2012), first selection

Here is my first selection (of two) of favourite passages from Canadian poet Hélène Dorion's Seizing: Places. Thanks to Patrick McGuinness for the translation (and presumably for bringing it to a UK audience) and to Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese for recommending the book to me.

...the emptiness heavy on your shoulder....


              Look only at the room
where your life echoes.


...soon you confuse your shadows
with your body's signs of life.


All around you the season
circles, like the sky's bones
like the days' cold marrow


...the pain death spreads
along the immaculate corridors.


                                              Above the town
the sky walked its greys.


...the sea contemplates the island....


A century dispersed--the image takes shape--
in the barking carhorns
hear the scraping of oars, see
the city is waking.

from "Seizing: Cities"

Only a few marks of other lives
are left on the edge of the days, those faces 
the darkness has stopped burying.


The present catches up with what he remembers.


Dark, naked
in the century's boneyard
the tide swells.


You fix your eyes on the borderless window
pierced by the road
imagine the hill it explores
like a language, like a face.

from "Seizing: Shadows"

The wind. --And you're falling
through the landscape:
the silent wave
closes around your steps, your hands.

Far off the burned-out day
tilts. The birds tear up 
the sky as they come
to meet you.


There's no journey you return from
without your life, from its
far-off bank, coming closer.


Some shadow in the voice
like a little sand
running. You throw back
your head: do you see

time sinking
behind your words, do you see
the patient downpour?


Arrows plunge
into the water
and the water trembles
--the wound

on the lake's back
obscures the night
that tried to fall.


Tonight, the moon
slices the lake, digs
a sheer well of silence
on the horizon.


What shadow
undoes the dawn
hour by hour?
What fragmented

word is piecing itself together
time after time?



so many skies
sloping down to your mouth?


Is it the sea
or the island--
that your gaze dismantled?


You chew over
the scraps of silence
the earth left unburned.

from "Seizing: Mirrors"

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Bahia Palace, second selection

Trev and I experienced ceiling awe so often in Marrakech that at one point, shortly after we walked into such a room, he said, "Ceiling alert." It became our code for another stunning ceiling. 

If we'd included "door alert", we'd have been saying it all the time in Marrakech!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Majorelle Garden, Marrakech

French painter Jacques Majorelle created this wonderful garden, and in 1980 Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought it to protect it from destruction. You can learn more from the website here

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Street cats of Marrakech, first selection

Cats are everywhere in Marrakech and seem to belong to streets and businesses rather than people's homes. A few were in too sad condition to photograph, though.