Wednesday, June 27, 2007


By instinct
I understand
your untranslatable soul

and your heart
that you wear
in your eyes.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

India - a book and a film

I'm currently reading The Age of Kali - William Dalrymple's collection of essays about India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It is full of information about issues that are often unknown to those of us who have never visited these countries, covering topics including political corruption, the Portuguese in Goa and the clashes between tradition and globalisation. The book is engaging and the reader can immediately tell that Dalrymple has researched his topics very carefully and in fact he has spent many years living in and travelling around India. However it is still an outsider's view, which some people may object to, after all only an Indian can understand India? I find though that often outsiders can see things with a clear sight that is denied to people who have been born and brought up in a country.

Deepa Mehta is Indian born, though now lives in Canada. Her beautifully made and heartbreakingly sad film Water focuses on one of the issues touched on in Dalrymple's book. That is the status of widows in India. The film is set in 1938, just around the time when it became legal for widows to remarry, though it was still considered culturally unacceptable.

Friday, June 22, 2007


In Love's Shadow is a short bilingual collection by Canadian poet Jay Black with translation into French by Sandra Chiancone. As the title suggests the poetry here is dark love poetry, as in this extract from WILDWOOD DARK:

Thus with insatiate thirst we supped
from one another's gaping cuts,
then kissed with lips that dripped
our bittersweet commingled blood.

Many of the poems set love firmly within the natural environment as in GENEVIEVE:

You are fallen yellow leaves
carried on quiet streams of tears

You are an evening breeze
whispering disconsolate dreams.

You are the ebbing ocean
washing over a naked beach

Continue reading my review here. If you would like this book, please leave a comment below. Names will be drawn out of a hat in about two weeks and the winner will receive this book along with a copy of my own miniscule haiku collection. The book is quite thin and I'm happy to post it anywhere! It's also registered with Bookcrossing and it would be great if whoever wins the giveaway could leave their thoughts about it on the Bookcrossing site (this is not compulsory though!).

Sunris - Grace Nichols

Grace Nichols was born and educated in Guyana and has lived in the UK since 1977. Her poetry collection Sunris was published in 1996. It's a vibrant collection of poetry about identity and belonging, womanhood and spirituality. She is a poet who loves language and shows a real understanding of rhythm and rhyme. Her poems are clear and passionate and drenched in colour, as in this extract from The Dance:

Even the white packed sands
darkened by the shadows
of their dance
is rinsed in blue.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sex and the Poet

Over on Poefrika, Rethabile has been talking about poetry and sex and asks us all to join in the discussion. So here are three of my favourite poets on sex.

Sharon Olds for me is famous for her straightforward approach to sex: 'after we had made love for the third day' for example.

Rebecca Elson explored sex through mathematics: 'the body aches/.... (to) Express in its own algebra' (from Carnal Knowledge) and astronomy: 'dancers/practising their slow seductions on the manifolds of space' (from Constellations) always searching for the ultimate black hole experience.

Ruth Padel is all passion, tight reined most of the time, but you get the feeling that it would be all fireworks when it happens, if only the two would be lovers could allow their magnetism to draw them to each other. This is the ending of her long poem Casablanca and the Children of Storm from her collection Voodoo Shop:

But somewhere in another galaxy,
Some parallel universe,

We'll still be what we were,
St Peter's birds,

Doing the impossible, walking on sea,
The outriders of storm.

Off course maybe, blown,
fragile but together. Drawn

To their one and only mate
by magnetism, a cry

You recognise in the dark above all others,
And by faith.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Spoken Word Revolution Redux - ed Mark Eleveld

In true Poetry Slam style, this CD and book set starts out by putting Poet Laureate head to head with Slam Champion. Ted Kooser (former USA Poet Laureate) vs Anis Mojgani (twice National Poetry Slam Individual Champion); Andrew Motion (current UK Poet Laureate) vs Sonya Renee (former National Poetry Slam Individual Champion). I'm not a fan of Motion's poetry, but even if I were, his polite reading of Anne Frank Huis (one of his best poems) would still be totally blown out of the water by Renee's electrifying, music backed performance of Thick. The comparison is of course, unfair, Motion writes for the page, Renee is a performer. However any literary poet who is presenting their poetry in front of an audience could learn lessons from performance poets. Lessons about how to bring poetry alive and to engage an audience.

Questions, asked by Ted Kooser in his introduction to the book, about whether performance poetry will endure as literature, are in my mind irrelevant. Each performance is unique and will live on in the mind of the audience who may well memorise the words (as proven by the audience participation in the recording of David Lerner's Mein Kampf!). Dare I ask the question: is literary poetry in fact the sign of a failure in poetics? That it needs to be written down because no one can remember it otherwise? The first poets performed their work, they didn't write it down. Performance poetry today continues this tradition, Kevin Coval in his article Towards a hip hop poetica describes hip hop poets as 'modern griots, indigenous keepers and tellers of his/her/stories.' Hip Hop poetry revels in rhyme and rhythm, as demonstrated here by Invincible, in this excerpt from Detroit Winter:

The city streets are bitter sweet
I pound pavement
While I'm kicking litter at my feet
Under the snow, the ground's blanket
These heavy hitter beats.

Dana Gioia in his article The New Oral Poetry notes that "(t)he nearly universal critical bias against rhyme and meter as recently as ten years ago, especially in University writing programmes, indicates how distant the poets in a print culture have become from the orality of verse''.

Many literary poets also seem to be afraid of emotion and humour and often appear to be engaging with a select gathering of fellow literary poets, rather than reaching out to a wider audience. Performance poets however are not afraid of emotion, whether raw anger in Mayda del Valle's poem about Puerto Rican Spanish speakers Tongue Tactics or more controlled as in Patricia Smith's rambling poem of love for her father When the Burning Begins:

....... I'm telling you it's the first thing
I ever cooked, that my daddy was laughing
and breathing and no bullet in his head.

Nor are performance poets afraid to connect with the audience's points of reference, as in this line from Lebron James, by Nate Marshall one of the many young poets featured in this book:

I'll be the first spoken word brotha with a shoe

Performance poetry also is unafraid to engage with politics, which can seem confrontational, but it is hard not to at least see where Nikki Giovanni is coming from in his angry poem All Eyez on U:

if those who lived by the sword died by the sword there would be no
white men on earth.

There are some performance poets who I find too confrontational as much as there are some literary poets who bore me; at the same time there are literary poets who stun me with their distillations of powerful emotion and there are performance poets who move me with their subtlety. Both sides can learn from each other. This book is a perfect starting point for literary minded poets (or anyone else) to start learning from performance poets.

Spoken Word Revolution Redux can be ordered from Source Books.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Pigeon continued

As some readers of this blog may know, I recently read The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind and planned to leave it at the pigeon statues in Leith Walk in Edinburgh. I finally got round to doing this yesterday and caused a stir, with this result:

City's bronze pigeons are novel attraction

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Lost in Translation

(on hearing poetry in Finnish)

Language takes me to
a land of lakes



cold beauty

soundscape it’s own meaning
translation can only betray.

Friday, June 01, 2007

one haiku, two haiku.....

Haiku is a Japanese word and in Japanese it remains the same in the plural. It's tempting to judge people's commitment to the form by whether they refer to two haiku or two haikus. I always refer to haiku as haiku in the plural and haikus as a plural annoys me, but as someone who speaks Italian, these also annoy me, yet are accepted without comment:

two pizzas - no! - the plural of pizza is pizze!
two paninis - no! - panini is already plural, panino is the singular!
two cappuccinos - no! the plural of cappuccino is cappuccini!

You get the idea. So why do some poets, who happily probably drink several cappuccinos every week and probably at least a couple of paninis a month, get so upset about anglicising the plural of haiku?