Monday 29 December 2014

Nativity scenes in Funchal, Madeira, December 2014

In many shop windows, at every church, along public promenades, we found nativity scenes after nativity scene, some very small, some surprisingly elaborate.

 The stable scene to the right is just a small part of this overall display

A nearly life-size nativity, some ten metres or more long


The centre of the long nativity scene. It extends to the right with angels and shepherds.

Thursday 25 December 2014

Denise Riley's Selected Poems (Reality Street, 2000), third and final selection

A last set of passages from a tremendous collection...

A gush of water, welling from some cave, which slopped
Down to a stone trough squatting stout and chalky as a 
Morning sky: I plumped myself on lizard-ridden stone to stare
Into its old truth square that struck me as perhaps another lie
So serious did it look while it promised me, oh, everything.
That honest look of water nursed in stone excited me.


The heat of the day peeled off, the light got blurred and hummed,
Pounding dusk struck up then a strong swelling rose in my throat
Thick with significant utterance. So, shivery in my cool and newly 
Warty skin, I raised this novel voice to honk and boom.


Into the cooling air I gave tongue, my ears blurred with the lyre
Of my larynx, its vibrato reverberant into the struck-dumb dusk.


                                         Or should lyric well up less, be bonier?
So I fluted like HD's muse in spiky girlish hellenics, slimmed
My voice down to twig-size, so shooting out stiffly it quivered 
In firework bursts of sharp flowers. Or had I a responsibility to
Speak to society: though how could it hear me? It lay in its hotels.


I fished for my German, broke out into lieder, rhymed
Sieg with Krieg, so explaining our century; I was hooked
On my theory of militarism as stemming from lyricism. 


The scops owl in residence served up its decorous gulps.


                                    Then beauty sobbed back to me, shocking,
Its counterpoint catching my harmonies; I had heard a fresh voice.


No longer alone, not espousing Narcissus, I answered each peal
In a drum of delirium.


The voice hears itself as it sings to its fellows--must
Thrum in its own ears, like any noise thumping down
Anywhere airwaves must equably fall. I was not that 
Narcissus who stared stunned by his handsomeness;
Or I was, but not culpably, since as I sang, so I loved.


Could I try on that song of my sociologised self? Its
Long angry flounce, tuned to piping self-sorrows, flopped
Lax in my gullet....

from "The Castalian Spring"

(I should explain myself, I sound derivative? Because I am, I'm Echo, your reporter.
I'll pick up any sound to flick it back if it's pitched louder than the mutter of a dove.
I am mere derivation, doomed by Mrs Zeus to hang out in this Thespian backwater.)

from "Affections of the Ear"

What does the hard look do to what it sees?
Pull beauty out of it, or stare it in?


How long do I pretend to be all of us. 


the piney trees their green afire
a deep light bubbling to grey

long birds honking across
the scrub, the ruffled shore

coral beaks dab at froth
the pinched sedge shirring

from "Outside from the Start"

Is that clear as a glass stem cups its chill in its own throat.


And I must trust that need is held in common, as I think it my duty to.
That every down-draught's thick with stiffening feathers
with rustlings from pallor throats
as the air hangs with its free light and its dead weight equally

from "Rhetorical"

Stone looks speak freeze.
Not, call the sold earth hyacinthine 'to get the measure of the damaged world'.
The new barbarian's charmed sick
with his real sincerity, sluiced in town georgics fluency, solitude skills.

from "Problems of Horror"

                  I shine in this fresh equality, I figure us all
In our universal study, released from particular griefs

As we are to imagine an absolutely pure red
Like fine carmine suffered to dry on white porcelain.


But the girl at the inn will fade, however intently I stare.
And I go walking again all over the moors to sob

That she is a long way off, which is where we shall always keep her.
No having suffices the heart, which must keep integrally red. 

from "Goethe on His Holidays"

but it does hurt
top mid-left
under my shirt
with its atrocious beat.

last stanza of "It Really Is the Heart"

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Views from a Cable Car, Funchal, Madeira, December 2014

On our first full day in Madeira, we took a cable car to Monte to visit the Monte Palace Tropical Garden--and enjoy the views of Funchal. Here are some photos from the ride. 

Houses higgledy piggledy up the hill

 Returning to Funchal is returning to the sea.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Denise Riley's Selected Poems (Reality Street, 2000), second selection

More favourite passages from a splendid book:

One afternoon hour burns away until a rust-
coloured light sinks in towards evening

or any time at all when I fall straight through
myself to thud as onto the streaked floor of

a swimming pool drained out for winter, no
greeny depths but lined in blackened leaves. 


The wind sheets slap the sea to ruffled wheatfields.
Angel, fish, paradise, rain of cherries.

from "Knowing in the Real World"

It will come sobbing in my ears
calling my names to me over and over.
I'll think, and try to keep my eyes
wide open as if swimming underwater.

from "What Else"

The violet 
light of snow falling.


It's restless, it can't 
find whiteness.

Its grey and violet
trillion souls.

from "Poor Snow"

I haven't got a body, till it hurts--

from "Pastoral" will keep your beautiful soul glazed as a 
skein of floating hill mist and as quietly as slightly
and as palely lit--

from "Well All Right"

                                --what you need you shall not get until
once you no longer need it then you will, will fall through
jampacked rivers red with thickset fish, through thrashing
muscled rivers' noisy dash pulsing from mud depths up to
air-drenched jumping surfaces in brilliant scales of scarlet


Wait, lean from the topmost window, see over all this city
in its gravely vigorous life the moon hung orange in the 
humming sky, the deeply breathing the electric air, tall
houses dropping glow, one fox-pure shriek, dark gardens'
charcoal pools, faint droning far-off traffic, never sleep
high twists of sirens spiral down the road and palest heads
of swimming roses gape awash in their own light against
the grind of buses starting out as in this night a single
traveller flies home through everything inside one life, its
fearful hesitations, pouncing leaps of speed; at daybreak
an hour's whiteness comes to lie in folds not brushed by
any shadow screens, I act as a fan, I find soul settlement

from "A Drift"

No I don't much like this bland authoritative tone either
but it is what I took from years of reworded loss.
So if my skin slid downwards to the ground
you would see only a standing pillar of blood.
Believe that this would be true also of you.

from "Cruelty without Beauty" become mildly malicious in studying the failed consolations of middle age
that at least some of the people you once mistakenly went to bed with and v.v.
now sometimes look seedier, more despairing than you, though that's only
because you get to use lipstick and hair-dye whereas they on the whole do not--
your vanities, and pleasure in theatrical self-blame, have got you where you are today
that's here: and though you've noticed now that you can breathe again, you do


with how to hook on to the sliding skin of the world in time
or: in time I am going to die, can you be there


an engine of light forgets about everything
but roaring you into it


Not your happy here-we-go-down-together dream of a roseate catastrophe
Not your reassuring conviction that whole governments
Will pale and stagger under the jawbones of your dismembered syntax
Vain boy! it keeps you busy, though you know
That Belgrade and Zagreb still shelter many post-surrealists, as does East Central One.


There was such brilliance lifting off the sea, its aquamarine strip 


Thickened with books again, vexed by the
grave again, falling downstairs and not looking

and going outside again there's
a world, there's one in here also


Saturday 20 December 2014

The Japanese Garden at Monte Palace Gardens, Funchal, Madeira, December 2014

For me, the most beautiful part of the Monte Palace Tropical Garden was the Japanese garden. These pictures don't render how exquisite it was, so you'll just have to see if for yourself!

 A large pond of koi!

Thursday 18 December 2014

"Permanent Winter"

My short-short story, "Permanent Winter," appears in the December online issue of Bluestem, available to read here. I wrote it last January, when my brother-in-law Reggie was complaining on Facebook about all the snow days they were having in Illinois.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

A mini-interview with Patricia Ann McNair

Some months ago, Chicago fiction writer Patricia Ann McNair interviewed me, and it's now on her website here. My favourite question was "If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be?" That took some thought.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Denise Riley's Selected Poems (Reality Street, 2000), first selection

Some favourite passages as I reread Riley's Selected Poems: 

An unselfconscious wife is raised high as a flag over
                 the playground and burns up


today it is all grandiose domestic visions truly

from Marxism for Infants

the houses are murmuring with many small pockets of emotion

from "Affections Must Not"

                                                             I'm seeing present history
glance round it for support, I'm hearing it at work to stammer its imperfect story
go on too long, be conscientious, grab at straws, then reach its edge of tears.


                       ...I'll leave
as I might leave a party whose guests are venomous yet inconsolable....


What is it that shapes us, whether 
we will or no, that through these

opened and reopened mouths that form
the hollow of a speaking wound, we
come to say, yes, now we are Illyrian.

 from "Laibach Lyrik: Slovenia, 1991"

If I seem mirthful it is tinsel & spangles on a black ground.


To come to the point, avoiding the temptation to impertinent
& superfluous labour. Exactness the common honesty of art.
What is prosperity without it but a violated responsibility.


The solemn & inexhaustible eloquence of rains and mountain.


We are first green and then grey and then nothing in this world.

from "Letters from Palmer"

steady me against inaccuracy, a lyric urge
to showing off. 


representing yourself, desperate to get it right,
as if you could, is that the aim of the writing?
'I haven't got off lightly, but I got off'--that won't
deflect your eyes that track you through the dark.


Will you be good towards
these animals of unease
I can just about call them home.


                                                I'd thought
to ask around, what's lyric poetry?
Its bee noise starts before I can:
You do that; love me; die alone.


Unanxious, today. 
A feeling of rain
and dark happiness.

from "A Shortened Set"

Sunday 7 December 2014

An audio recording of "A Birthmother's Catechism" available online

My publisher Seren Books asked me to do a recording of the poem they wanted to use as poem of the month for the December newsletter, "A Birthmother's Catechism." You can listen to the recording at SoundCloud here.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

The Crown Inn, Belfast, November 2014

The Crown Inn opened in 1826. I visited both nights I was in Belfast.

 The ceiling

My snug on the first night--all to myself!

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The Gwendolyn Brooks Illinois Poet Laureate Award, 1986

A local poet had given me the wrong rules for the Illinois Poet Laureate Award, but Brooks bent them for me....

As I was living in a home for pregnant girls when I received this telegram, sadly I didn't attend the ceremony.

Friday 31 October 2014

A new review and interview in Exeposé

A review of my reading at the Exeter Poetry Festival and an interview appear in Exeposé, the University of Exeter's online student magazine. You can read them here.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Helena Eriksson's Strata (Shearsman, 2014)

My student, the poet Wendy Klein loaned me this book; she and Jan Teeland translated it from Swedish, and it came out earlier this year from Shearsman Books. Here are some favourite passages from this book-length poem:

the riverbed, the flat stones comprise the place
for the final scene

                               Fiction is the junction


               This is no real city. They're just acting. It
is real in my memory


                             the way of working stays within the frames
                             the way of working defines the frames


meanings stitched into the embroideries. Out there on the fortress
What was expected of her


Cover the body

               "fluttering golden veil"

        touches every part of the body that isn't listening


They pass in the forest of figures, discover places once again, now without intensity. The sharpness or salinity of these discoveries, and even the radiance itself, has diminished. Nevertheless they send thin rays out over their hands. My body has begun to emit darkness.


after the winter illiteracy


I think of him where he stands with his
grammar    the whole night haunted by


There was frost still lying over the ground, not even the dogs
were out     still longing for you when I
went     the membrane over everything or
the very sheen of the membrane


nothing that is left and nothing that
lies behind     only cupped hands and pairs of eyes


the darkening     remains
stinging silence no: speech
rises     remains


(the only relief is her gown
in her gown his and hollowed out)

You can purchase Strata directly from Shearsman's website here.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

More great reviews of Imagined Sons in Cape Times and Poetry Wales

A short review of Imagined Sons appeared in the South African newspaper, Cape Times, on 24 October, concluding that the poetry "haunt[s] the reader as that lost son haunts the mother." I'm most grateful to author Moira Richards for bringing my work to a new audience. 

In the new issue of Poetry Wales, Katy Evans-Bush comments, "It's one of the most universal untold stories, the giving up of a baby, and it comes at us here with the power of myth, as the narrator sees her missing son in every young man she encounters. The language is plain, unspectacular, and the most disturbing in its near-affectlessness." The review continues in this appreciative, thoughtful vein. I'm heartened by both reviews.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Around Prague 2, October 2014

Some more photos from last weekend in Prague--

These outrageous swan faucets are in the bathrooms of the art nouveau Cafe Imperial (with me smiling in the mirror).

If you have to have bars over your windows, 
why not have them in a funky design like this one?


The astronomical clock. A trip to Prague wouldn't be complete without a visit on the hour.


Prague Castle


Tuesday 21 October 2014

Friday 17 October 2014

A sterling review of Imagined Sons in The Warwick Review

Here are my favourite passages from Sophie Cook's rich review:

"...she does not shy away from acknowledging, even embracing, a sense of unimaginably impressive self-awareness. Etter's remarkable achievement in Imagined Sons is that she is able to exhibit such a balance; she is pragmatic without seeming unattached, and both emotive and emotional without appearing too overtly sentimental." 

"Etter uses more vibrant though obscure imagery to explore the relationship between people, as reflected in aspects of their environment. [...] Etter's unusual choices for these book-long tropes are perhaps what gives them their potency. [...] There is an unrelenting brutality to Imagined Sons which gives the volume cohesiveness and distinction."

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Another positive review of Imagined Sons appears in Poetry London

Sarah Hesketh has written a nuanced review of Imagined Sons for the Autumn 2014 issue of Poetry London. Here is the final paragraph: "Etter creates a sustained narrative across the whole volume, layering the poems elegantly. The fact that these are prose poems probably made this sense of wholeness easier to achieve, but there are still moments of lovely, isolated imagery that make you want to pause. The answers in the catechisms give Etter an opportunity to be more fragmented and abstract in her descriptions and the final line in the book quotes Celan, a poet well known for taking the horrors of reality and presenting them in dense metaphor: 'It is time, Celan said, the stone made an effort to flower' ('A Birthmother's Catechism'); Etter has found fertility in a scenario of intense loss."

Monday 8 September 2014

"Imagined Sons 9: Greek Salad" in The Forward Book of Poetry 2015

On my return from Illinois last week, I found The Forward Book of Poetry 2015 and my poem, "Imagined Sons 9: Greek Salad," among the Highly Commended Poems. It seems to me that there's more range in this edition of the Forward anthology, with the likes of Andrea Brady, Lee Harwood, Marianne Morris and Denise Riley alongside such usual suspects as David Harsent, Andrew Motion and Hugo Williams. I may have to take it with me on the train to Norwich today....

Friday 5 September 2014

Pony League Baseball Starring Nathan Wallace (my nephew), 24 August 2014

A few days into my US visit, I saw my nephew Nathan, 9, play a game of Pony league baseball (akin to Little League, as I understand it). Here are a few choice photos. 

Watching the game and playing around, 
brother-in-law Reggie Wallace and his father 

My lovely sister Laura

My nephew Justin, 12, shows off his post-Icee blue tongue


Nathan at bat

The most exciting moment of the game (for me): 
Nathan sliding into home base. Go, Nathan!

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Arielle Greenberg's Given (Wave Books, 2002)

Arielle Greenberg and I were on a delightful panel at AWP in Seattle: on poetry and desire. I'd read her poems here and there, but not read one of her books in toto, and now I regret the delay, as I've relished reading her first collection and now eagerly look forward to more. Here are some favourite passages:

We (the clown, the doll, the murderer and I) are in love.
With the moon.

She ascends: the sky purples, clouds, she rises, now grinning,
becoming a burning door. We love her still.

from "Afterwards, There  Will Be a Hallway"

I know thirst very well because I once belonged to that organization.

from "The Expert"

I've been teaching English at a two-year college and it isn't going well.
Every single one of my students is somehow a furious dolphin.

opening lines of "Teaching English at a Two-Year College"

To debate an aesthetic issue is to go shopping for a party
    dress. You cannot come over till you have something interesting.

last stanza of "Pathos: a ghazal"

The project that loves to hang its head out the car window and smell the ocean

from "A Proposal for a Longer Work 
(Preferring the Dunes)"

They were free to be startled by their bondage.

from "Startle"

there is us
& there is a valley & there is the tight song the air forgot

from "happy holy"

The people who sleep with their socks on,
the day is over to them, adoring and abandoned.
The inside of her long body is a yellow flower. 
Breathe here, in the small hole your life has made.

from "This Train"

I do love my breasts. they are so soft.
but I love my hair more. it's my rosetti.

from "The Teeth of Betty Page"

Night came, blue night. It knew all the terrible choices. It covered the girl like a shawl.


What a catastrophe! Nothing all over, blue shawls, oven mornings. The girl was in a fit, fit of smiles. What was in her pocket? What terrible jealousy was in her mouth?

Come, she said. Come choose the terrible choice.

from "The Girl"

To be a magician's assistant, you must first believe in the real as a Fact in itself. Without the real, there is no awe at its breakage. Lucy was trained in basic chemistry and liked large dogs. She was as real as they come.


"There is something magical about this realism," the audience exclaims, delighted, somewhat dopey on little paper cups of swirled ice cream served with tongue depressor spoons glued to the lids. "It's the chocolate," Lucy says flatly, removing the knife from between her teeth. "I invented it to make you happy."

from "The Secret History of Chocolate"

Are you male or just malnourished?

from "To My Beaux-Artsy Bedfellow"

We make marks, and in this way we are like the species of fish who leave their ink when they are frightened.

from "Berlin Series"

In front of the house, the townspeople have gathered for the nod-out into plush plush love, so easy and out.

from "Nostalgia, Cheryl, Is the Best Heroin"


Sunday 24 August 2014

The Illinois Corn Festival, 23 August 2014

I timed my visit to my hometown to coincide with its annual corn festival and spent four hours there yesterday with my niece Ella.

 One of the two corn shucking tables

A pile of corn awaits shucking

 Ella with corn

Me with corn

A perhaps slightly more flattering photo of Ella, a sweet and spicy sixteen!

The next installment of my home visit photos will be of today's baseball game, in which my nephew Nathan Wallace plays second base &c.