Sunday 22 November 2009

Linda Saunders' The Watchers

Linda Saunders' second collection, The Watchers, has just been published by Arrowhead Press. I must admit in this case to a personal bias: Linda has been in my private Poetry School seminar, meeting at my home once a month through the academic year, since 2005.

"Sideways" brings together Linda's principal strengths: a distinctive, precise visual perspective, arising at least in part, I assume, from her former career as an art critic; pleasing wit; a tightly-focused lyricism; and an abiding interest in the philosophy of language. It makes me eager to read the entire collection.

poem starting with a line by Jack Gilbert

We use them sideways.
Words, he meant, that will do for now,
slipping them through or between
to prise a way towards
what we don’t know yet how to say.

My mother cut sideways through water –
she’d swim in any weather, any sea,
her right cheek pillowed on the waves.
Once she hooked back a man from drowning,
brought him to shore on her strong sidestroke,
legs scissoring the undertow.

is a strategy of cunning,
making headway in adversity,
catching the gale sideways
and using it.

After the stroke, she was often lost
for a word – she the linguist who loved a cryptic
crossword. I took the slant of her meaning
and how she strove by indirection
to arrive at it, like a small craft
in a contrary wind.

Some things, faintest stars, we see more brightly
if we just look
so a mist, a smudge, resolves
into points of light, sidereal
in the corner of the eye.

It’s the way our eyes are made,
near the edge more densely receptive,
so we always have this sense of what escapes
our scrutiny,
a truth askance and facetted,
a love so far unsaid.

Using them, even the blanks in her mind –
“Almost...” she said once, exhausted,
gripping both my hands and waiting
like the poet for the word that will tend
his passion, then hooking the prize at last
with an intake of wonder, “...inexhaustible.”
Which was about the size of it.

Linda Saunders' The Watchers can be purchased from

Friday 20 November 2009

Elsa Cross's Selected Poems, first selection

Mexican poet Elsa Cross, as translated by Michael Smith and Luis Ingelmo


At every entrance of that village, a church.
The seven doors protected by the archangels, so they said.
And ours got drunk in the arcades of the square,
talking of heaven and hell
as placed separated by two inches
inside the body.

last lines of II

We forgot to mind our children,
like Bacchantes,
we forgot our homes.
The rain was a fiesta on the mountain.
And who could predict his own fulmination?

from IV

...pianos stumbling in an out-of-tune waltz.

* * *

We became deer,
we crossed through the woods like arrows.

from VI

Pleasure lashed us.
our bodies, the offering,
like fruits that women leave
on the beaches of the south and the sea carries away.
We were lost to the world.
We sketched boats in the air
and we went off in them.

from VII

Your eyes, emerged from what blaze,
from what sombre places,
saw without seeing the plates of food.

from VIII

Unceasing celebration,
at the cost of so much of our life,
our faces so pale.

* * *

And who could stop us?
Who could stop
those plants climbing along the wall?

from X

Elsa Cross's Selected Poems has recently been published by Shearsman and can be purchased here.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Words for Michael's funeral, 19 November 2009

I thank Michael’s family for giving me this way to pay my last respects to Michael as I can’t be there in person. (While this is being read, I’ll be teaching in England.)

I will remember Michael for his earnestness, his kindness, his gentleness, and his warmth. I will remember him for his greatest ambitions: to be a good father and to be a good friend.

As I look through photos of Michael with Kaylee and Austin, what impresses me most in all their faces is the look of contentment. There’s happiness, too, but contentment goes deeper and speaks to their appreciation, to their delight and pride in one another. If I had a dollar for every time Michael spoke, with a sneaking smile, of how smart his son Austin was, of how bright (in several senses of the word) his daughter Kaylee was, I think my flight from England would have been paid for several times over. He used those words in my hearing enough times for me to believe that for each time I heard him, he’d said it a hundred, maybe a thousand times to others. Yes, Michael loved Austin and Kaylee, he loved them dearly, and just as importantly, he admired them for who they were, for their individuality and strength of personality. Often I thought his tone of voice, when speaking to them, suggested he was speaking to a younger friend rather than a child.

He was also a good friend—so I have heard, and I have seen in him the qualities that make one. He avoided rudeness, cattiness, and complaint; he was passionately loyal, unusually unconditional in his affection, and considerate. The last time I spoke to him it was September. It was a warm night, and he was sitting in his truck while Sandra had come inside to pick up some mail. I didn’t want them to just come and go, I wanted to talk to them and hang out for a while, so I went outside and invited Michael in for a glass of wine. It wasn’t to his taste—not quite sweet enough—but even that he admitted with a smile. It was the kind of conversation you have late at night, in a quiet house, voices low, relaxed, and straightforward. I suppose if I’d been outside that scene and been able to look in, at the writer and her sister and her ex-husband, the person I’d have chosen first to have a drink with would have been Michael, for his earnestness, his kindness, his gentleness, and his warmth.

Michael Lusher, I am glad you were alive. I have no doubt your children will take your ambitions—to be a good parent, a good friend—into their lives, and they will be better and happier for them. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sunday 8 November 2009

George Ttoouli's Static Exile

Tonight at eight o' clock, George Ttoouli's first collection, Static Exile, has its London launch at The Slaughtered Lamb. Here is a poem from the collection, first published in Pomegranate.

Love on a Monday Evening

Today I felt fear and it was the grandest thing -
like the crown of my head would lift off.
Not a leaf could have flipped on its back in the wind

that I wouldn't have noticed.
An Arab sat opposite me on the train.
I had taken the first carriage,

the one we had imbued with likely death
in a way we can only substantiate for each other.
My fingers filled with static and my blood turned

to white noise. I could describe him for you,
a quick photo-fit sketch, but mostly it was his stubble
and the wart on his left cheek,

like in news reports. I have a spot in the same place
on my right cheek. You've never called me
a terrorist when I've not shaved for that long. Mostly

I have been supporting myself on wire link fences
looking at each partition of waste land,
square by square, until the police move me on.

George Ttoouli

Static Exile can be ordered directly from the publisher, Penned in the Margins.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Online Notices

Thanks to George Ttoouli for his kind remarks on the launch of The Son in Bath last week.

And somehow only now have I come across
an article published in El Mercurio (according to Tony Frazer it's Chile's equivalent of The Times) on New Year's Eve in 2004. Tony Frazer translates the passage in which my name is mentioned thus: "
As for poetry, the global scene is vast, dynamic, diversified and in some cases brilliant (the recently deceased Anthony Hecht, Monica Ferrel, John Ashbery, Charles Simic, John Mole, Carrie Etter, Brad Leithauser are mere sample [names] (or: illustrative examples) in the thriving English language poetry of today. In other words, if we left our parochial surroundings, we would be able to see a literary landscape [that is] stimulating, energetic, provocative, tempting, very diverse and a contrast with the backward republic of native letters."

How I got on that list--how I'm known to Camilo Marks--I don't know, but to be among those poets and to have my work described as "brilliant" thrills me.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Infinite Difference launches March 2010!

If I work very hard over the next two to three months, work like an ant, a bee, a cadmium yellow insect, Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets will launch on schedule in March 2010. Indeed, the launch has already been scheduled by the perhaps-too-trusting Shearsman editor Tony Frazer, for Wednesday, 10 March 2010 at Swedenborg Hall in London. As many contributors either live in London or are planning to come to London specially for the occasion (as with Catherine Hales, who intends to fly in from Berlin), the launch should be a fabulous event with a wonderful range of poets and poetries, so mark the date!

Don't Women Write Great Books?

Please read the following press release from the Women in Letters and Literary Arts.

Why Weren’t Any Women Invited To Publishers Weekly’s Weenie Roast?

Publishers Weekly recently announced their Best Books Of 2009 list. In their top ten, chosen by editorial staff, no books written by women were included. Quoted in The Huffington Post, PW confidently admitted that they're “not the most politically correct" choices. This statement comes in a year in which new books appeared by writers such as Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Rita Dove, Heather McHugh and Alicia Ostriker.

“The absence made me nearly speechless,” said writer Cate Marvin, cofounder of the newly launched national literary organization WILLA (Women In Letters And Literary Arts), which, since August, has attracted close to 5400 members on their Facebook web page, including many major and emerging women writers. “It continues to surprise me that literary editors are so comfortable with their bias toward male writing, despite the great and obvious contributions that women authors make to our contemporary literary culture.”

WILLA’s other cofounder, Erin Belieu, Director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University, asked, “So is the flipside here that including women authors on the list would just have been an empty, politically correct gesture? When PW’s editors tell us they’re not worried about ‘political correctness,’ that’s code for ‘your concerns as a feminist aren’t legitimate.’ They know they’re being blatantly sexist, but it looks like they feel good about that. I, on the other hand, have heard from a whole lot of people—writers and readers--who don’t feel good about it at all.”

PW also did a Top 100 list and, of the authors included, only 29 were women. The WILLA Advisory Board is in the process of putting together a list titled “Great Books Published By Women In 2009.” This will be posted to the organization’s Facebook page and website. A WILLA Wiki has also been started for people to share their nominations for Great Books By Women in 2009. Press release to follow.

WILLA was founded to bring increased attention to women’s literary accomplishments and to question the American literary establishment’s historical slow-footedness in recognizing and rewarding women writers' achievements. WILLA is about to launch their website and is in the process of planning their first national conference to be held next year.

(Note: until recently, WILLA went under the acronym WILA, with one “L.” If you’re interested in the organization, please Google WILA with one “L” to see background on how this group was originally formed.)

For more information contact:
Erin Belieu ebelieu at fsu dot edu
Cate Marvin catemarvin at gmail dot com