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DURA's StAnza 2021 reviews: Music for the Dead

Wednesday 3 March 2021, 19:27

Valzyna Mort’s third collection Music for the Dead and Resurrected was published in November 2020 amidst ongoing protests in her native Belarus regarding the fraudulent election of Alexander Lukashenko in August of that year. The majority of these poems take place in and around Minsk, the ‘city of iron and irony’ where Mort was born. Born Valzyhna Martynava, her pen name ‘Mort’ befits a collection dedicated to the dead. In an interview with NPR, Mort describes the deaths of her family as an ‘archive of silence’, a silence representative of the failings of ‘official’ country narratives in omitting civilian tragedies. Lines like ‘As the whips of silence rises, language tucks in its tail’ indicate the submission forced by the lack of representation and its necessity, as well as showcasing Mort’s prophetic tonality.

In one poem ‘Self-Portrait with Madonna on Pravda Avenue’, Mort writes about seeing Raphael’s Madonna inside of a classroom:

            Her docile features didn’t seem beautiful.
            Like hush money,
            she was handing the child a breast.

The reference to hush money alludes to corruption, a common feature in societies of political tumult. Throughout the collection, an atmosphere of distrust acts as a bass note, keeping the lyrical melodies of her images in line. This distrust presents itself often as a linguistic unease  the search for the right words as a simultaneous search for a sense of self  significant as the poet also writes in Belarusian, a language considered vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger...

 

This is an excerpt of a review by Cheryl McGregor of Valzyna Mort’s Music for the Dead. For more information on Cambridge's workshop at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.   

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DURA's StAnza 2021 reviews: War of the Beasts and Animals

Wednesday 3 March 2021, 19:21

The forthcoming War of the Beasts and the Animals is Maria Stepanova’s first collection to be translated into English, and the second of three of her books to introduce themselves to the English-speaking world this year. In her native Russia however, she has won several prestigious awards for her poetry, essays and journalism.

The translator’s forward, in which Sasha Dugdale explains the challenge of translating something so culturally and linguistically specific, is in itself a fascinating read for anyone interested in the art of poetic translation. She describes their work together as ‘a triangulation rather than a translation. It is the result of a dance between the original poem, Maria and I’.

The collection opens with two long poems; ‘Spolia’ and ‘War of the Beasts and the Animals’. Similar in form, they are both chaotic and deeply layered. In both poems, Stepanova sifts through language, culture and identity in an attempt to make sense of them all. She reaches no conclusions, but something fascinating is revealed in the attempt. In her poetry, Russia is a country torn apart and remade line by line, a patchwork of truth, myth and dogma stitched together with shreds of memory.

 

This is an excerpt of a review by Ellie Julings of Maria Stepanova's The War of the Beasts and Animals. For more information on Cambridge's workshop at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.   

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DURA's StAnza 2021 reviews: The Tradition

Wednesday 3 March 2021, 19:16

Jericho Brown’s The Tradition is a sharp shock of a book. Daring and lyrical, this collection examines issues of identity, race and sexuality, all set in the backdrop of modern American society. Brown’s defiant ‘I’ provides an anchor for this collection, grounding it with a deep sense of intimacy. Addressing himself by name in the poem ‘Dark’, Brown shifts to second person to confront his personal struggles with illness during the writing process:

Consumed with a single
Diagnosis of health. I’m sick
Of your hurting. I see that
You’re blue. You may be ugly,
But that ain’t new.

(‘Dark’)

This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection stands as a bold testament to recovery, from both illness and violence. The poems began as an experiment to create a new form, blending sonnet, ghazal and blues to create the ‘duplex.’ Cutting up printed lines omitted from previous collections, Brown sprawled these fragments throughout his home and worked to piece them together to create something new. Innovation and breaking with tradition are thus at the heart of this collection.

Featherlight lines flutter and flow across the page, highlighting Brown’s eloquence even when depicting violence or pain. Although lithe in appearance, the collection is laden with symbolism and a richness of language. At times the poetry moves with a soothing lilt, others it is short and sharp, both exemplified in the poem ‘After Avery R. Young’:

Hooking and crooking or punching the clock,
It’s got to get done. That
Expectation. Stunning. Incantatory. Blk.

(‘After Avery R. Young.’)

 

This is an excerpt of a review by Jessica Stevenson of Jericho Brown's The Tradition. For more information on Brown at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.   

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DURA's StAnza 2021 reviews: A Map Towards Fluency

Wednesday 3 March 2021, 19:10

While A Map Towards Fluency might be Kelly’s first poetry collection, it shows an impressive imagination and originality. The poet is both partly deaf and partly Danish, though entirely unable to understand her mother’s native tongue, and she has incorporated both of these aspects of her life into her poetry, which focuses on the power of words and the idea of fluency.

As a Dane myself, I am particularly fascinated with her use of my mother tongue. A Map Towards Fluency includes everything from Danish insults ‘Se, en anden giraf!’ (look at that giraffe!) to declarations of love ‘Jeg elsker dig.’ (I love you). Kelly’s fascination with the Danish language can be observed in the poem ‘Ø’, despite it only incorporating a single Danish word. In ‘Ø’, Kelly talks about her yearning to be able to speak her mother’s native tongue.

I dream of Ø, wishing
it in my blood
as the English sound
that comes so easily, it is thoughtless [.]

The poem also dwells upon Kelly’s difficulties with the pronunciation of the Danish language. It is an emotionally charged poem, full of frustration and dissatisfaction.

Surrounded by a sea of white
Ø is what it means
but I can’t possess
even this small word [...]

 

This is an excerpt of a review by Maria Sjostrand of Lisa Kelly's A Map Towards FluencyFor more information on Lyall at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.   

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DURA's StAnza 2021 reviews: The Light Acknowledgers

Thursday 25 February 2021, 12:17

Gerry Cambridge, nature photographer, essayist, editor and award-winning poet, journeys the shifting landscapes of life from Arbroath to Glasgow, youth to middle-age, natural and domestic, in this, his eighth poetry collection. His meditations on regret, loss and acceptance (among others), are captured with his characteristic photographic precision, and rendered sharply by the elegance of his own typography.

Cambridge alludes to the influence of Walt Whitman in The Light Acknowledgers. Light, as enlightenment, is the metaphysical conceit at the heart of this collection, which is paced in six sections, the first of which is entitled ‘a box of light’, and directly resembles the design of the book. Poems riff on poems, while some are companion pieces to Cambridge’s debut collection, The Shell House.

The opening poem ‘From A Stopped Train Outside Arbroath’ sets the tone with the ‘astonishing’ observations of the speaker (Cambridge) during a moment of pause, juxtaposed with the movement of light:

beamed across the world
and built again by photons with minute precision

on every attentive
or uninterested eye.

On the following page ‘The Nature Photographer’, elegantly contained (as many of the pieces are) in two stanzas, remembers the narrow focus of youthful self-absorption:

obsessional eighteen[…]
neck-cricked for the perfect angle, […]
in the small bright rectangle.

 

This is an excerpt of a review by Wanda Macgregor of Gerry Cambridge's The Light AcknowledgersFor more information on Cambridge's workshop at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.   

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DURA's StAnza 2021 reviews: Gen

Thursday 25 February 2021, 12:09

Jonathan Edwards’ first full poetry collection, My Family and Other Superheroes, was met with critical acclaim. It won the Costa Poetry Award and was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.... Gen is full of the same warmth, good humour and originality that characterises his debut collection. The poetry collection is a testament to Edwards’ fascination with the quotidian. Rather than focusing exclusively on its author, the collection includes poems on the poet’s mother and father, famous strangers, people from the past, animals, and even inanimate objects. Edwards focuses not only on what he might know – for example that his mother cut her arm in 1955 – but also on what he can only imagine. After all, we can only imagine what it would be like to be a tree in a retail park. Gen is not limiting itself to Edwards’ own life experiences.

The poems in Gen are characterised by the poet’s imagination and mastery of imagery. Rather than telling us how his characters feel, Edwards chooses to present us with little moments from their lives. Reading his poetry is, in many ways, a visual experience as we get to see the scenes unfold before us.

These scenes are often nothing more than a quick glimpse, as the poems in Gen share a certain swiftness of character. Reading the poems out loud, words tumble over one another; an effect created by carefully chosen periods, length of sentences, and line breaks. An example can be found in the very first stanza of the very first poem, ‘Spring Song Sing Song’, which musical and childlike title only adds to the provisional feel of the poem....


This is an excerpt of a review by Maria Sjostrand of Jonathan Edwards' Gen. For more information on Edwards at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.  

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