Reading Archive: July – September 2016

Up-dated September 2016

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Masaya Saito’s sequences of linked haiku, just published by Isobar Press, are tender, restrained and moving. Sequences about the death of his parents book-end others where a plurality of perspectives emerge from the haikus’ black-inked deliberations against the pages’ white space. Here’s a review by Ian Brinton.

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Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain (The Canons) was written in 1945 but not published till 1977. Her prose/poetry accounts of walking in the Cairngorms are astonishingly fresh in perception and thought-provoking in reflections on nature – or rather on the nexus between the perceiving eye and the natural world. “How can I number the worlds to which the eye gives me entry?”

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Claire Dyer’s Interference Effects (Two Rivers Press) – if quoting my own blurb comment about someone else’s book is not too in-bred I’ll do it and recommend it: “Everything here is thrillingly both “itself and something other”. Like little translations or ventures into ‘as if’, using gently exploratory forms of surrealism that keep one foot on solid ground, the poems in Interference Effects draw the reader into a re-invigorated world of fishy glittering and butterfly glint. Dyer tells us the Chinese character for ‘poem’ is ‘word – temple’; her poems are themselves little temples we enter dusty and over-familiar yet exit more alert to the world around us and our inner weathers”.

Up-dated August 2016

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Long-recommended by my friend and Enitharmon poet Neil Curry, Antonio Machado’s Selected Poems – in the 1982 translation by Alan S. Trueblood have been a delight over the last few weeks. That, despite Don Paterson’s equivocal observations in his versions (The Eyes, 1999) that Trueblood’s work is “not poetry” though having “more poetry in them than most poems”.

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I’ve also been searching out the few available translations of the German poet Peter Huchel (1903-1981) as I have been working on bringing his poems into English myself. The only available selections are by Michael Hamburger and the Canadian Henry Beissel.

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Mo Gallacio’s limited edition chapbook Promises has just been published by Paekakariki Press based in Walthamstow. It’s a beautiful combination of images and text, a lot of retro-spective going on but something deeper than mere nostalgia; lots of vivid, memorable details and a real deep haul at the big themes.

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Up-dated July 2016

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For a project of my own, I have been comparing translations of the Aeneid (especially Book 6) – and how good Seamus Heaney’s posthumously published take on that Book is. His mastery of the line of verse: from the Sibyl’s agonies of Apollonian inspiration (“the more she froths at the mouth / And contorts, the more he controls her, commands her / And makes her his creature”) to the pains of Tartarus (“a huge horrendous / Vulture puddles forever with hooked beak / In his liver and entrails”). Heaney makes palatable even that test of “grim determination” (as he calls it) that is the concluding, crowing parade of Rome’s imperial future.

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Katrina Naomi’s The Way the Crocodile Taught Me operates in two modes: documentary and mythic. The documentary focuses on childhood and her mother and abusive step-father – a couple whose poems “won’t be set in couplets”. These concerns culminate with ‘Mantra’, a long-lined, prose-like, moving account of a blessing ‘taken’ by the daughter for her dead mother. The mythic poems are rooted in the daughter’s disgust that the mother’s body lies buried “beneath” the violent step-father. Via Angela Carter, via Pascale Petit, this gives rise to images of men as dogs, wolves, bears, crocodiles and though there are powerful moments, such poems can feel a bit derivative.

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In Portugal for a week recently, I took away my old 1980s Penguin copy of Fernando Pessoa (tr. Jonathan Griffin) and to my delight found some of Richard Zenith’s translations in the rental house bookshelf. ‘The Tobacco Shop’ is a marvellous ramble of modernist existentialism that never loses touch with Lisbon’s real streets nor the reality of the thinking mind. I’ve ordered Zenith’s fuller Penguin selection and look forward to that.