Jazz and Upbringing: Marvin Thompson’s ‘Road Trip’ reviewed

Congratulations to Marvin Thompson for winning first prize in this year’s National Poetry Competition. Here is The Guardian’s report of the occasion. He can be heard reading the poem here – and you can read it yourself below. And I though a good opportunity to re-blog my original review of Marvin’s debut collection.

The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22)

Dusk reddened a Dual Heritage neck, hands
and a moustache – its ends curled with wax. Jason Lee?
I stood below his dreadlocks in woodland

and reached up to touch his feet. A whirring fan
greeted my waking eyes, the house sleepy.
I’d dreamt both Dali’s Christ and someone hanged.

“… a pineapple on his head…” sang football fans
and a comedian blacked up as Jason Lee,
mocking Rastas. Did Jason beg Jah:

“Please keep this from my kids.” Should I tell mine
I filled my lungs with ’90s minstrelsy
and sang, a teen lost in lads’ mag England?

Who taught me pro-Black talk was contraband?
The me who cwtched Dad whilst watching Spike Lees
was shoved down basement stairs, feet tied to hands.

Embarrassed, should I play my kids Wu-Tang
and other rap that set my rebel free?
One day, when they walk their kids through woodland
will they sing calypsos or ‘Blood of the Lamb’?

Martyn Crucefix

Marvin Thompson’s debut collection from Peepal Tree Press is a PBS Recommendation and deservedly so. All too often we are informed of the arrival of a startling voice, usually a vital one, striking a new note in English poetry. Well, this is the real deal: a superbly skilled practitioner of the art whose work is driven by two seemingly opposing forces. Thompson writes with a disarming sense of autobiographical honesty, often about domestic life, as a father and a son. Yet he can also create fictional characters with detailed and convincing voices and backgrounds. What holds these divergent styles together is his demonstrated conviction that the past (as an individual or as a member of an ethnic or cultural group) interpenetrates the present.

‘Cwmcarn’ is a poem in an apparently simple autobiographical mode, the narrator out camping in Wales with his two children. He has been reading them to sleep…

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Friday Poem – ‘After Bonnefoy’ by Martyn Crucefix

Just got a marvellous birthday present yesterday – thanks to Shearsman Books The Society of Authors and Suhrkamp Verlag The Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from German, an annual award of £3,000 for translations into English of full-length German works – WINNER: Martyn Crucefix for a translation of These Numbered Days by Peter Huchel (Shearsman Books)
On behalf of the judges, Steffan Davies said: ‘‘This is an absolutely superb translation of Huchel’s poems: a clear, outstanding winner even among such strong competition. It reads as poetry throughout, never ‘feeling translated’ and yet always also an accurate capturing of Huchel’s German. The poems are beautiful, economical poetry in themselves. This is translation at its very best: deep, sympathetic comprehension, inspired creativity, confident composition, fine judgement. Congratulations to a very deserving winner.’

Seren Books Blog

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘After Bonnefoy’ by Martyn Crucefix from his collection The Lovely Disciplines.

Everyone at Seren would like to congratulate Martyn on winning the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for Translation 2021 for his translation of These Numbered Days by Peter Huchel, announced yesterday.

Martyn Crucefix The Lovely Disciplines

Displaying hischaracteristic flair, craft and intelligence, Crucefix’s poems often begin with the visible, the tangible, the ordinary, yet through each act of attentiveness and the delicate fluidity of the language they re-discover the extraordinary in the everyday.

‘…highly wrought, ambitious, thoughtful – and very good.’ – The Sunday Times

The Lovely Disciplinesis available on the Seren website: £9.99

Create your freeSeren accountand enjoy 20% off every book you buy from us.

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Winning Translation in the 2020 Schlegel-Tieck Prize

Just got a marvellous birthday present yesterday – thanks to Shearsman Books. The Society of Authors and

Suhrkamp Verlag….

The Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from German, an annual award of £3,000 for translations into English of full-length German works – WINNER: Martyn Crucefix for a translation of These Numbered Days by Peter Huchel (Shearsman Books)

On behalf of the judges, Steffan Davies said: ‘‘This is an absolutely superb translation of Huchel’s poems: a clear, outstanding winner even among such strong competition. It reads as poetry throughout, never ‘feeling translated’ and yet always also an accurate capturing of Huchel’s German. The poems are beautiful, economical poetry in themselves. This is translation at its very best: deep, sympathetic comprehension, inspired creativity, confident composition, fine judgement. Congratulations to a very deserving winner.’
May be an image of one or more people and text that says ""With Benn, Bobrowski and Celan, Peter Huchel handful zero-hour raby days. most Peter Huchel Crucefix's tartling voice rrestingly poetso landscapes Martyn luchel, Huchl beautifully nuanced prime These Numbered beguiling published rucefix's Popescu website Peter Huchel Orpheus 2016). Martyn's 9000 LSJ SHEARSMAN BOOKS 616608 These Numbered Days translated by Martyn Crucefix"

Tagay! on Romalyn Ante’s ‘Antiemetic for Homesickness’

Romalyn Ante was born in Lipa Batangas, in the Philippines, in 1989. For much of her childhood her parents were absent as migrant workers and the family moved to the UK in the mid-2000s where her mother was a nurse in the NHS. Ante herself now also works as a registered nurse and psychotherapist. As a result, this debut collection has multiple perspectives running through it: the child grappling with the parents’ absence, the mother’s exile, the daughter’s later emigration and a broader, political sense of the plight of migrant workers. The economic driving force behind such movements of people is recorded in ‘Mateo’, responding to the Gospel of Matthew’s observation about birds neither sowing nor reaping with this downright response: “But birds have no bills”. So, in poem after poem, the need for money, for a roof, livestock, fruit trees, medical treatment, even for grave plots back home is made evident.

Antiemetic for Homesickness also consequently has two prime locations: the UK appears as snow-bound streets, red buses, the day to day labour of nursing grateful (and often less than grateful) patients, casual racism. But it is the home country that predominates in vivid images of its landscape, people, culture, folk tales, food and frequent fragments of its Tagalog language (there is a glossary of sorts, but I found many phrases not included). So the promise implied by the title poem – a cure for homesickness – is willed, even a delusion, but a necessary one adopted for self-preservation. It’s a great poem. Opening with “A day will come when you won’t miss / the country na nagluwal sa ‘yo” (lit. who gave birth to you), it also closes in the same mood: “You will learn to heal the wounds / of [patients’] lives and the wounds of yours”. But the central stanzas are densely populated by memories of home, the airport goodbyes, the tapes recorded by left-behind children, the recalled intimacies of the left-behind husband, the gatherings and food of the distant place. The antiemetic is proving less than effective.

This is the material for all Ante’s poems here. ‘The Making of a Smuggler’ opens with “Wherever we travel, we carry / the whole country with us” – lines that recall Moniza Alvi’s, ‘The country at my shoulder’ from 1993. Despite Ante’s personal experiences, these poems often speak in this plural pronoun (a sense of solidarity in experiences shared plus a pained awareness of the plight of unnumbered, unknown migrant workers). The ‘smuggling’ image also suggests an illicit action, a coming under suspicion in the destination country. What is being smuggled across borders under the insensitive noses of its guardians are memories, places: “He can’t cup his ear // with my palm and hear the surfs / of Siargao beach”. If these are thoughts on arrival then ‘Notes inside a Balikbayan Box’ evoke the on-going sense of loss, distance, almost bereavement accumulating through years of working abroad. Such boxes – Ante’s notes explain – are used by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and filled with small gifts to be eventually sent back home, a kind of ‘repatriate box’.

Accordingly, the poem takes the form of a note – “Dear son” – partly accompanying objects such as shoes, video tapes, E45 cream, incontinence pads, perfume but, just as important, offering life-advice and apologies:

I owe you for every Simbang Gabi and PTA meeting

I could not attend. I promise I’ll be there for Christmas.

I know I’ve been saying this for a decade now.

Romalyn Ante

Scattered throughout the collection are short extracts intended to reflect cassette tape recordings – sent in the reverse direction to the Balikbayan Box – by a child to her distant mother. The risks of attempting such a child’s perspective are many and Ante keeps these little more than fragmentary utterances, not authentically child-like. These were some of the less successful moments in the collection, many others of which also arose from such formal experiments. Ante tries out the forms of a drug protocol, a questionnaire, a concrete poem, centred, right or left justified verse, prose passages, assemblages of fragments, typographical variants. Such moments presumably constitute the “dazzling formal dexterity” alluded to in the jacket blurb, but you’d not read Ante for this but for the poems’ “emotional resonance”, also referred to in the blurb.

Siargao Beach

The plurality of her subjects also gives rise to poems in several voices. ‘Tagay!’ portrays the migrant workers’ embattled situation and their making the best of it through the communal drinking of Lambanog (distilled palm liquor) – the title is something akin to ‘Cheers!’ Each speaker toasts the others present, going on to imagine their personal homecoming: welcoming smiles at Arrivals, the bringing home of Cadbury’s chocolate, the heat of Manila, home-cooked food at last, story-telling, marital sex. Many of the speakers cannot keep their work out of the moment: “Tomorrow we’ll be changing bed covers, / soaking dentures, creaming cracked heels”… but for the moment, “Tagay!” Something similar is attempted in ‘Group Portrait at the Stopover’, in which migrant workers are briefly thrown together at an airport, in 5 short sections swapping gifts and stories of their labours and abuse, preferring not to think “of the next generation that will meet at this gate, / the same old stories that will hum out of younger mouths”.

‘Group Portrait..’ is one of Ante’s poems that explicitly addresses the long-standing global reality of migrant labour and ‘Invisible Women’ does the same. These are the women, world over, who are seldom given credit or even attention, yet are “goddesses of caring and tending”. Ante’s mother is one of them, a woman who “walks to work when the sky is black / and comes out from work when the sky is black” (the studied repetitions here more effective than many other formal innovations). The deification of such women is part of Ante’s point. The costs of such migration are repeatedly made clear in this book, but the admiration for those who leave home to earn money for the benefit of those left at home is also clear. These invisible women (and as often men) are heroic in their determination, their sacrifices and their hard work.

A poem that returns the reader to the individual is ‘Ode to a Pot Noodle’. Owing something to Neruda’s Odas elementales (1954), the narrator is taking a short break from “fast-paced” hospital duties – a Pot Noodle is all there is time for. In the daze of night and fatigue, images arise (of course) of her distant home, her grandfather, of Philippine food and conversations that, in the time it takes to boil a kettle, vanish as quickly. She addresses those distant people: “this should have been an ode to you. / Forgive me, forgive me”. But the Ode has already been written in the course of Antiemetic for Homesickness. The collection is a testament to the presence of the absent, the persistence of memory, the heroism and suffering of those who we hold at arms’ length, invisible but without whom our modern society – our NHS – would fail to function. In the time of Covid – and after it too – Romalyn Ante’s book is reminding us of debts and inequalities too long unacknowledged.