Sunday, 30 October 2011

gellu naum

After all

After all I remember perfectly the day
when my seven mothers birthed me

(among them one, uniquely primordial,
knew the joys of conception
one who no longer knew how to read or write
her octogenarian arms rocking me
as the four-eyed cat of death
nestled on her shoulders
I worked hard to be lighter

The other six mothers sang
transfigured by labor pains
I slept serenely in each of them
slept cowering in their thighs their knees
slept purely in their maternal purity
bread, milk and honey close by
and memories of Amsterdam
the world fashioned peacefully all around

on the fourth day waters a world with fish and reeds
with the man from the Hotel Alger who lost his mouth on the sixth day

a world of suns and snows on the ninth day

but my octogenarian mother’s arms were tired
(the cat around her shoulders purring scarcely audible)
and I wanted to be lighter

Then I sat by the fire
sitting in my geomantic suit
slowly shaking a hazelnut switch
right there by the fire trying to be lighter

The other five mothers fell silent
aggrieved by my unexpected gesture
Why–I asked them–do you look at me so
My old mother’s arms exhausted
and I wanted to be lighter
would have gone to sleep in an apple
but I didn’t want to complicate your perpetual maternity

They shook their heads in remonstrance
and closed themselves off to me

Then on the tenth day
dogs started to bark
and witnesses crept into the room.

trans by martin woodside and chris tanasescu
see more of their translations here

Friday, 28 October 2011

something lazarus

it's all been a wee bit quiet on the poetry front for a wee while (hence no elvis) but that's mainly because i've been working on othe things.

today sees a lazarus out on kindle and there will be more publishing to come soon. i'd say more but i've said it already. check it out!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

ingrid jonker

The Child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga

The child is not dead
the child raises his fists against his mother
who screams Africa screams the smell
of freedom and heather
in the locations of the heart under siege

The child raises his fists against his father
in the march of the generations
who scream Africa scream the smell
of justice and blood
in the streets of his armed pride

The child is not dead
neither at Langa nor at Nyanga
nor at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
nor at the police station in Philippi
where he lies with a bullet in his head

The child is the shadow of the soldiers
on guard with guns saracens and batons
the child is present at all meetings and legislations
the child peeps through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers
the child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere
the child who became a man treks through all of Africa
the child who became a giant travels through the whole world

Without a pass

trans by antjie krog & andré brink

Sunday, 23 October 2011

michio mado

Upon Facing Death

Dear God,
I thank you
for letting me,
a scrawny spoon,
scoop from the ocean just once
The ocean
was beautiful
Carefully holding
this drop of
glorious sunset
I will come
to make an offering
to you

trans by takako lento

Thursday, 20 October 2011

snow report

in the end it wasn't quite cyclocross but the gentler gears of the mtb that triumphed. and just as well as my poor wee underused legs can't cycle for toffee! but as i went out i looked north and there, just a couple of days after moscow, the first snow of the season. it seems too early but all the same it was the first time i'd had long sleeves and long fingered gloves on - and needed them!

to be honest i still wasn't looking forward to being out - whatever weasels i've planted in my head with regard to the bike are still there - but once i got out i was reminded that there are few places more lovely to be out and about than perthshire in the autumn (when the sun's shining!). best make the most of it then as the snow is surely not far away now.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

gerður kristný


By day there’s not a peep
from Anne who lives
in widowhood overhead
– except when she dozes off
over her diary
drops it on the floor

Otherwise not a peep

It’s another matter at night
then there’s all hell of a hubbub
Anne’s friends pound up the stairs
hollering their hellos
and crack open a feast
Some with a bottle of buttermilk
others nursing eggs

Towards dawn the neighbours are fed up
of fiddles and folksongs
The guests depart in haste
melting into the walls

When the police force the door
Anne sits at the kitchen table

trans by victoria cribb

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


it's that time of year when a wee bit of controversy gets the broadsheets a-going about the booker prize. manufactured? suggest such a thing? moi? i wud neva....

but it was pleasing to see, quite by chance, the culture show's annual jaunt up the road to comrie to do their alternate take on it. i've seen these the last couple of years and found them much more amusing than the real thing, so much so sometimes i wonder why the bbc and , more pertinently, bbc scotland and their ilk, can't get it together to do more of this sort of thing, or on scottish tv's case, any of this sort of thing.

the books aside, it's just up the road from me, is full of nice wee necks of the woods and accompanying types who frequent these parts. you can watch it here

all of that should see me giving up on the bike hiatus and getting the cross bike out tomorrow for some late autumn action. what with the injury coupled with a couple of trip failures i've been proper scunnered with it of late. but with next month's yorkshire trip rapidly approaching i'm fancying a trip round the dales so a bit of fitness back in the legs will be required, esp with the look of some of the climbs!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

rati amaghlobeli

As soon as I open my eyes towards morning

As soon as I open my eyes towards morning
I shall open the balcony doors, then
Into the room will come voice and pavement
In its very own image.

I know it’s only existence. In the tap
There’s almost no water, but
Morning will come, which you drank,
Which can be drunk like water.

Morning will bring itself to the window,
Morning is a dream in reality:
The fountain, the street, avenue and square

Are touched by it every day at the appointed time.
It will flicker its eyes for a moment,
And that moment something
Dyes everything in its own colours.

trans by donald rayfield

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

valzhyna mort

Belarussian I

even our mothers have no idea how we were born
how we parted their legs and crawled out into the world
the way you crawl from the ruins after a bombing
we couldn’t tell which of us was a girl or a boy
we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread
and our future
a gymnast on a thin thread of the horizon
was performing there
at the highest pitch

we grew up in a country where
first your door is stroked with chalk
then at dark a chariot arrives
and no one sees you anymore
but riding in those cars were neither
armed men nor
a wanderer with a scythe
this is how love loved to visit us
and snatch us veiled

completely free only in public toilets
where for a little change nobody cared what we were doing
we fought the summer heat the winter snow
when we discovered we ourselves were the language
and our tongues were removed we started talking with our eyes
when our eyes were poked out we talked with our hands
when our hands were cut off we conversed with our toes
when we were shot in the legs we nodded our head for yes
and shook our heads for no and when they ate our heads alive
we crawled back into the bellies of our sleeping mothers
as if into bomb shelters
to be born again
and there on the horizon the gymnast of our future
was leaping through the fiery hoop
of the sun

trans by valzhyna mort, franz wright and elizabeth oehlkers wright

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

scottish cyclocross

the last laugh-a-minute email i got basically boiled down to - are you going to plean?

as my work continues to ensure i work every weekend it's physically possible my, somewhat caustic, answer was, no, i shall not. but, for those who may be cyclocross inclined it is indeed plean coming up this weekend. all the other scottish series dates are here

if anyone hasn't done a cyclocross race i'd absolutely recommend it. i note also that the cyclocross mob have managed to get some sponsorship from minx.girl. excellent news. even if you're not racing get along to one of these just to see some fun in the mud.

Monday, 10 October 2011

in the wake of london

i find myself lolling on the couch flicking thru my alexander mcqueen book savage beauty. if you share a house with someone who works with textiles i'd imagine it's almost impossible to see how one couldn't be fascinated with his work. and altho, to the best of my memory, neither of us paid that much attention while he was alive, certainly in the last year or so his presence has become more palpable and, weirdly, our sense of loss at his passing has only increased.

anna wintour, quoted in this month's rouleur no less, said fashion's not about looking back. it's always about looking forward. which, while sounding oldly futurist, is a statement that could easily aplied to mcqueen. except that mcqueen doesn't just take the viewer to the future but to a range of other places entirely.

for me, looking at pictures of mcqueen's work is like looking at a landscape. but while much fashion can be reduced to a procession of skinny models plodding bovinely from one end of a plank to another mcqueen is all about the work. here's an artist (and i don't use the word loosely) who genuinely transcends boundaries. for me it's all about the colour, for t all about the textile. either is breathtaking and that's before considering the almost sculptural vision that powers the collections. put altogether like this (the book was done for a retrospective at the met) it's transcendent and dazzling.

waiting for me on my return from london, coincidentally considering what went on this week, was my copy of tomas transtromer's new collected poems which i got because i knew sorlil was reading them and i felt i'd been avoiding him too long. then along came the nobel.

frustratingly it's all in english which i hadn't realised. there are great lines, such as -

The herring gull: a harpoon with a velvet back.
In close up like a snowed-in hull
with hidden pulses glittering in rhythm

(from song) that when i read them out had both us wondering what they'd sound like in swedish. that'll be a request to the relatives then!

and the opposite of london, a place i've read so much about but spent so little time in, so that while i can draw a map of the place in my head the actual lived experience of it is entirely alien to me, the opposite is true of stockholm and reading about it thru the lense of transtromer. the poeple and places here are those that i know, the names seemingly plucked out and deposited in this book so that i feel as if i'm creeping back into my own memory in order to process the images/feelings, almost like a reverse phenomenology!

sitting scanning it tho, i find myself getting tetchy, particularly with philip hensher's snidey review in the telegraph. here is a haiku, he declares waspishly, that perhaps might have more 'swing' in swedish. except that it's not presented as a haiku but part of a longer work (section 6 - the great enigma). one's forced to question if hensher has actually read it with any attention whatsoever.

speaking to t about it later i was surprised how much it reminded me of being out on the boat (i spend a fair amount of time out on the archipelago, so much so i get the english and swedish pronunciations mixed up!), especially the earlier poems. there was also a thing in the memoir section - the title menninen ser mig, memories look at me, seems rather ideal - where he goes on about his liking for drawing when he was wee. i'm into a lot of drawing these days so this struck a chord, along with his haunting of libraries. i didn't know the word tranan (crane) either , which was a bonus.

so, new collected poems then. i'm told the translations are great but without the swedish it's hard to tell. what you have got is very readable and i have to say i was pleasantly surprised. nobel material? well, now....

what we won't be getting down to london for is the bush theatre's sixty six books which is running for most of this month and is a bunch of folk getting in about their copies of the king james bible. i have to say, this looks fabulous and i am saddened to be missing it. it is worth a scan around the website tho just to see what they're up to. it's great to see the bible getting used in this way, true it's a bit of a trawl at times but always around the corner is some fabulous chunk of language which makes it all worthwhile. plus those big old narrative paintings make a lot more sense when you know the references!

so we're still a bit pining for london. would we up sticks and move? that's a bit up in the air and seems unlikely in the short term but in a couple of years who knows. in the meantime it may be that i have to go back to sweden - unless of course last year's winter makes its predicted return early and i don't have to!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

louis simpson

Carentan O Carentan

Trees in the old days used to stand
And shape a shady lane
Where lovers wandered hand in hand
Who came from Carentan.

This was the shining green canal
Where we came two by two
Walking at combat-interval.
Such trees we never knew.

The day was early June, the ground
Was soft and bright with dew.
Far away the guns did sound,
But here the sky was blue.

The sky was blue, but there a smoke
Hung still above the sea
Where the ships together spoke
To towns we could not see.

Could you have seen us through a glass
You would have said a walk
Of farmers out to turn the grass,
Each with his own hay-fork.

The watchers in their leopard suits
Waited till it was time,
And aimed between the belt and boot
And let the barrel climb.

I must lie down at once, there is
A hammer at my knee.
And call it death or cowardice,
Don't count again on me.

Everything's all right, Mother,
Everyone gets the same
At one time or another.
It's all in the game.

I never strolled, nor ever shall,
Down such a leafy lane.
I never drank in a canal,
Nor ever shall again.

There is a whistling in the leaves
And it is not the wind,
The twigs are falling from the knives
That cut men to the ground.

Tell me, Master-Sergeant,
The way to turn and shoot.
But the Sergeant's silent
That taught me how to do it.

O Captain, show us quickly
Our place upon the map.
But the Captain's sickly
And taking a long nap.

Lieutenant, what's my duty,
My place in the platoon?
He too's a sleeping beauty,
Charmed by that strange tune.

Carentan O Carentan
Before we met with you
We never yet had lost a man
Or known what death could do.

Friday, 7 October 2011

the poetry thing

two things come thumping into my inbox on national poetry day that remind me why i won't be putting anything up for national poetry day. aside from the fact i'm not fussed for the numbing compulsory nature of these 'days', a bit too contrived, a bit too generic. even burn's night, at least in scotland, seems too much of an excuse to wallow in nationalist sentiment and generally get shit faced.

so, one of the things i got was a poetry give away. the publisher doing this has done it before so i was pleased to see them doing it again. free stuff is free stuff after all! what bothered me more was that they were having a big sale of their other material all available at a mere £2.99. now that's a decent price to buy a bunch of books any day of the week but looking at it i wondered what exactly was happening with their margins when they are to all intents and purposes giving their product away. which leads to that old saw, that people like reading poetry far more than they like buying it. or perhaps i'm wrong and just missing how it's possible to get something printed and sold and still cover your costs for that price!

another thing that arrived was some announcement about something or other, couched in that language that can best be described as poetspeak, complimenting the poet on his or her 'admirable risk taking'. now maybe it's just me but i'm struggling to think of any activity that's more risk free than poetry. even reading such reviews it seems carries inherently more risk as your hold on the book might loosen as you drift into slumber and then hit you in the face. or perhaps there's a movement, of which i'm as yet unaware, of extreme poetry writing, that maybe i can find on the extreme channel, that famously obscure collection 'haiku written while doing a double back flip over a gnarly tabletop'. yes, i'd read that. or maybe there's an as yet unappreciated risk that one can become so absorbed in the poetry world that it's actually possible to absorb oneself. who knows? it could be true. i have an notion to do something like the bad sex prize for bad writing about poetry/literature. i think that could fly....?

talking of which today's the day after the welcome news that tomas transtromer has won the nobel prize for literature. now i kind of like transtromer but i wouldn't claim to be super familiar with his work, beyond an annoying desire to write his name as tomas transformer and evoking an image of the old poet turning into some of sort of mechanised killer robot laying waste and destruction in the streets of central stockholm. and maybe it's just me but i kind of like the idea that transtromer has managed to keep working in the face of really quite disabling ill health. it occurs to me - last time a writer with significant physical disability won a prize?

which is the sort of thinking you can only get from some of the critical response to transtromer's win, as if certain writers have entirely forgotten that any judging process is entirely subjective and will always leave at least some people a bit stunned (i still can't read elfriede jelinek but i'm not, and i'm sure she isn't, losing any sleep over it). this infighting and general cattiness (which really, is nothing compared to the recent poetry shenanigans) seems to cleave to a rather negative image of poetry types and oddly at cross purposes with an activity that seems to me to sublimely engaging and really rather pleasant. whether it's reading or writing it i really rather recommend it!

goodness me, a post about poetry. and here's me who wud neva...!!!! i must get myself a soothing cup of tea. and much while i'd like to claim it for me maybe i'll just set it as a poetry challenge for those who like that sort of thing. tomas transformer, alien giant robot, wins nobel. can you do anything with that? too risky?

halyna petrosanyak

A tiny town that once was the center of the universe, right now is clinging
to the very corner of the map, and its streets
full of holes like certain souls are out of favor in space time,
they bump into the mountains as through into absolute helplessness.
And they end up there, even the one called Freedom Street.
It’s just the river, as always, carrying off its green waters in the winter,
avoiding obstructions.

The grayness even oppresses the colors of fall. In the center
of the town a monument not for the person for whom it was once designated.
His facial expression confirms when one’s on the battlefield alone one’s
not a great warrior.

In the park the benches are painted blue and yellow.
In the mornings, especially on Sunday, the highlanders descend downtown
(most of them are Marijkas and Ivans, or Vasyls and Hannas).
They’re heading to the bazaar, less often — to church, to light a candle
for a departed soul.

The men, as a rule, go to the Smerichka Café.
You would never even come back here, if you knew no guilt
But something holds you firmly — evidently it’s a navel-string.
You suddenly make a powerful jerking movement — and behind you
your own innards will stretch, the way they do behind a wood nymph.

trans by michael m. naydan

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


one has to ask on occasion do we do things that only serve to make us irate, in my case this seeming to be almost anything to do with watching or reading the news, in particular the guardian. now just to make it clear this doesn't mean i'm off cruising the pages of the express or the mail, papers which easily succeed in making the likes of the guardian look like the complete works of tolstoy but just because something can look like something else it doesn't mean it is. and the guardian's lazy. complacent journalism certainly isn't.

today's offender was what looked like a fairly innocuous article about archery. now that's as maybe but the subtext of reading that article is that yours truly, once upon a time, was an archer of some repute and, in both athens and beijing, was fascinated by the archery competitions. not so for the guardian, for whom archery is posh darts, apparently favoured mainly by koreans. even schools can't be bothered watching it they tell us. because it's just not good viewing.

well of course not, especially if you don;t know what you're looking at. t, who is long inured to my liking for tv's minority sport, is these days, a big fan of the cycling when she has time to actually watch it. it was not always thus but the curiousity of seeing the person you live with engaged with a bunch of blokes seemingly doing nothing but cycling along a road had her looking for explanation.

maybe i wasn't quite as successful with the archery it's true but t was in no doubt as to the majestic performance of the koreans last time around. watching them shoot was transcendent. total stillness, total focus, if ever there was a zen sport it's this one.

in athens you could go along to the archery for nothing. beautiful venue, totally atmospheric. maybe lords isn't quite that but sports fields are where you do your archery in britain for the most part so as venues go, it's a good one. empty stands? archery isn't a jumping up and down sport! of course given the pricing for london you could buy yourself a set of cheap kit and join an archery club for the price of their tickets. i would recommend the latter.

archery is a beautiful sport that, once it's got a hold of you, is difficult to let go. it also, if you're going to do it at national level and beyond, requires massive commitment for very little outward gain. if the guardian and their ilk really want to be writing about olympic sport they should maybe start asking people who actually participate in them what it's all about.

me, i gave it all up years ago. i did have a brief return a while back but the club structure did nothing for me. i used to shoot every day, get coaching input every day so the notion of social shooting was completely alien to me. back then i could put three arrows in a milk bottle top at 20m seven times out of ten. that was good for juniors but nowhere near where i needed to be. back at the archery club they were about hitting the target, any notion of grouping was beyond them. whatever i did there it was never going to get me back to competition level.

but, that was me. everyone else there seemed to love it. and it was great to be back among the targets and nets, to listen to the quiet of shooting, to try and blank the mind so there is only draw and release.

watch the archery. be puzzled over what it's about. don't read lazy british journalism but get down to a club and give it a go. don't worry about hitting the centre of the target (tho please hit the target!). take three arrows, try and get all three within the space of the palm of your hand. achieve this. now do it again. and again. becoming a bit obsessive about that? now you understand....

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

what do you call it

when you lose fifteen degrees and get a bucket of rain in return? that'll be scotland. only two days before i found myself lying in t's mum's back garden in the blazing sunshine listening to old school reggae so loud it'd blister paint. true there was a bit of interchange from the originator of the music and his dad but that just added to the local colour,

it's been years since i was down in london town and prior to going i heard all the usual stories of crowdedness, poor air quality and general unfriendliness. the first two can be debated about but the last has never been my experience and certainly wasn't again this time. not only were the people lovely but there were so many of them and from so many places, it's been ages since i lived in a proper city and returning i saw exactly why i miss it, as if some part of myself had magically been coloured in.

naturally doing the family thing it meant it was three whole days before t hinted strongly that i should maybe have a day on my own, using the not unreasonable gambit of saying 'i think it's better that you have a day on your own' and it was great. i love that feeling in a city of being set adrift, set free, just wandering about and seeing where you wash up, eating different foods, listening to different languages (languages murdered by me = spanish, french. italian. i drew the line at mandarin but it was great to hear so much of it spoken)

we saw a load of stuff. from tate modern to a rather excellent craft exhibition at the v&a (this last contributing to a bit of an ongoing rant about the attitude to craft in this country some of which may appear on here if i can tone down the inflammatory content!) and everything in between. we dropped in at the british library on the way to see thomas heather wick's bleigiessen and this, as is the way of such things, was a bit of a highlight, even if we only managed to see a couple of things these being a rather excellent mervyn peak exhibit that had originals drawings and text for gormenghast and the like and then one of their larger exhibits that had the originals of, among others, the manuscript for mrs dalloway and jane eyre (yes, i've now seen the actual handwritten copy of reader, i married him). we both got proper excited about this and got a few bemused stares from servitors and punters alike. no bother tho - being scotch in london town has a few advantages!

it was the wee things that caught up with us tho. why, we wondered, when island communities up here are doing such consistent bitching about the price of fuel is petrol only 8p cheaper along the length of the a1 and, more astonishingly, diesel a full 20p dearer than where we live. this compared to the food prices which, across the board, were stupidly cheaper. and then wandering around other things started to emerge.

black guys on bikes. which might sound a bit odd but there's a discussion in the cycling world about the whitey nature of the sport. not in london town tho. put enough folk together and no matter what ethnicity they'll soon all be on their bikes. i passed thru herne hill a few times but,as is the way, no time to go to the velodrome. there seems tho, amongst pedestrians and car drivers as well as cyclists a wilful ignorance of other people. folk wander into the street, bikes, jump thru lights, cars seem to assume people walking and cycling are mad of oxygen. it was a bit mad. but equally i didn't see anyone i couldn't have taken in a spot of commuter racing. i was dying for my bike!

and the cultural melting pot that i'm such a fan of wasn't so shiny, shiny. where t's mum lives is where the riots were happening and the reverberations of that are still very evident if not worthy of the attention of the media anymore. and while me and my 'funny accent' might have drawn a few odd looks there when i made it over to the more well to do area of town it was fairly obvious that if you look like me then you're most likely in the back of a van or up some scaffolding. and if you've got any colour you'll be making a delivery. it felt weird and schizophrenic, to me vibrant and alive, but speaking to the folk in the local area made for a level of tension, esp if they had kids. talking about the differences between here and there made me much more aware of my outsiderness and the difficulty, if not foolishness, of drawing any conclusions based on such a short visit. that said, i'd have paid money to put a couple of shifts in at some salty local hospital!

but it was brilliant. given only slightly different circumstances i'd move there in a flat second. true it's dirty, a bit stinky, the public transport is possibly the most oddly set up (outside scotland - see edinburgh trams - and yes how i laughed when we in croydon and the joke that never got old for t was - what's that thing on the rails, moving, with folk inside? what is that?) i've seen in a major city and there's no countryside but the inglese themselves are just a pleasure with their funny accents, red buses and omnipresent politeness and definitely eased a certain part of my scotch wolfishness (t's phrase, not mine!)

next time i want to do one of those bus tours, go to a football match (or at least watch one with next doors serbian chelsea fans), have a posh cup of english tea, take the train down to brighton. and yet for all of that when i got back up the road and came down into the valley, seeing all the trees and hills again, the river curving round like glass, just waiting for us to stick the boat in it, clouds rolling over the landscape in strange and wonderful wave forms, despite the cold and the rain, it was good to be back.

Monday, 3 October 2011

anne carson


She lives on a moor in the north.
She lives alone.
Spring opens like a blade there.
I travel all day on trains and bring a lot of books—

some for my mother, some for me
including The Collected Works Of Emily Brontë.
This is my favourite author.

Also my main fear, which I mean to confront.
Whenever I visit my mother
I feel I am turning into Emily Brontë,

my lonely life around me like a moor,
my ungainly body stumping over the mud flats with a look of transformation
that dies when I come in the kitchen door.
What meat is it, Emily, we need?

read the rest of this poem here