Topplin’ the Mannie /on Ben Bhraggie
Paddit benorth o' Inverness, Eastle seaboard bound
Spy the Duke on Bhaggie Ben askew o'er steenie grund
Gazing athourt to aither sea as far as teary e’e can see
Blaudit the day, bane on the brae
Nae dint o shame he'll e'er dree
The vaunty Laird a clan chief ance wud fend ilka ane o crofters
But deil he dic'd at Westminster begowk'd his sons an dochters
A Judas kiss to hielan clan, Macbeth is ev'ry noble man
knife-stickit Scots the back o' Scots, sauld the flock an left the shotts
Man owerthraw'd his countryman
Hag burns on shame-reek'd sypit land, bronze crottal haltit growin
Ling pit-past a waving hand, gurgle-burnie stoppit flowin
Daeless mist blurs o'er the moor, tears blear o'er wretch'd poor
Tae fleet or burn tae crulge or turn
Foul fa' wha sent the fog tae smoor
Twa centuries on, the sheep lang-gane replaced wi’ moor-groosed leisure
The ghillie's world itsel replaced wi’ gowfin Preppers pleisur
The real Hielands squat in repose o’ dreichit fachie bungalows
Drachie morn, dark'nin dawn
Scots wha hae wealth as their foes
The Laird cannae affard to bide when billionaires come leukin
An juist as those afore him died the Laird gets his ain hidin
Naebody drank the merrie foy o' the Chieftain's treason'd boy
Like a curling stane creepit, sloomit an sleekit
The malafousterin o' the hoi polloi
An sae the tattie howkers howk aboot the Mannie’s rimie feet
An Mannie shoutit ‘Keep the heid! I wud cantily lie and sleep
But what good is to topple me, caw canny fae ye plan's ajee
Fae efter me, there's a queue tae feed the baggity beastie's mou
Wi pow'r, pow'r wrestl'd aff a ye’
As dries the scart by outstretched wing the Duke still casts a shaidae
but whither land or o' that ilk prescribit tha' they awe ye
They awe by awning a' ye ken, they awe ye women an ye men
It gars ye grue tae see it true
Tha’ Clearances will ne'er en'
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The petals gleam the utter blue
of the welder’s flame[.] ‘The Dockyard’
Oh, the succinct and perfect use of ‘utter’ here to convey the blueness of that flame! What better word to use? Lines such as this continue to resonate long after reading John Glenday’s fourth collection of poetry, The Golden Mean.
‘The Dockyard’ works as an illustrative example of the whole collection. Careful attention is given to each word and their placing: the delicate form of the flower is aligned with something as anomolous as a welder’s torch; the prosaic is given the same weight as the pastoral. Butterflies head towards hills. Their journey bears equal witness to the dual carriageway and corner shops. All is described without judgement.
This is not to say that the collection is easy to pin down. Diverse in rhythm, structure and subject, these poems initially defy capture. A poem in Viking ballad-metre (‘The Lost Boy’) is sandwiched between a dense paragraph of youthful yearning (‘A Testament’), and a ballad voiced by a soldier on the eve of the battle of the Somme (‘The Big Push’). And yet, their composite parts touch on shared themes: transience; what it is to be alive; simultaneous pain and beauty in human experience. All is conveyed in the most measured of language. Perhaps this is the ‘golden mean’, that perfect balance of elements, to which the title alludes?
A stone and heart are compared in ‘The White Stone’. Both ‘weigh smooth and hard and cold’. However, the last lines,
before it was first
touched by the world[,]
force the reader to circle back and re-imagine that initial comparison. The world changes the surface of the heart but, without its touch, the heart would remain forever cold....
Red peppers and plantain, hibiscus and hummingbirds, saltfish and snapper, kaiso and calypso – all feature in Malika Booker’s debut collection, Pepper Seed, as its narrative slips between Guyana, Grenada, Trinidad and Brixton to tell intertwined personal and political stories. Booker’s writing is at once both searing and beautifully lyrical, the past slipping into the present, enabling her to evoke complexities which lie beyond the reach of conventional text books and biographies.
Given the context of colonialism, slavery, misogyny as well as present-day racism, Pepper Seed is not, by any means, an easy read, confronting the reader with acts and words of cruelty and brutality, their immediate effects and long-distant after-effects.
The collection opens with “Granny’s Love Poems”:
Imagine her different, a fairy-tale granny
cooking fudge for brown cinnamon girls like me.
Her pale sugar eyes twinkle.
This fantasy granny is not, however, the granny of Booker’s story. In the sequence poem, “Red Ants Bite” (1), granny speaks:
You will end up on your back, scunt spread out
feet sprawl out, whoring. Who tells a child that?
Yet I loved her. She was my granny,
and I wanted her to love me back,
but everyday her words
put this hard thing deep inside me.
Towards the end of the sequence, we learn just what grandmother has endured:
I was a slave baby mixed with plantation white.
This creamy skin draw buckman, blackman,
coolieman, like prize…
Tim Liardet’s The World Before Snow, his second collection to be nominated for the T. S. Eliot Prize, is described by Carcanet as “a book of passionate extremes.” Inspired by the poet's chance meeting (and subsequent love affair with) an American poet after the two were trapped in a Boston museum during a snow-storm, the collection showcases the transformation and self-exploration Liardet underwent following this encounter. This is a collection of contradictions: of loose and tight images, long and short stanzas.
Even the cover prepares the reader for these binaries. René Magritte’s The Musings of a Solitary Walker (1926) is painted in incandescent whites and matte blacks, illustrating the collection’s achromatic and opposing dualities. Completed fully eighty-seven years before Liardet’s book, the image perfectly encapsulates the notion of the self being composed of multiple personas: the cover's “solitary walker” depicts one man naked, horizontal and white, while the other clothed, dark and upright, faces away. Throughout, Liardet suggests these opposing versions of the “self”, which he explores in his numerous “Self-Portrait” poems, are themselves constructed through conflicting notions of love, which in turn he describes as “the havoc at which you cannot balk.”...
This is an excerpt of a review by Kate McAuliffe of Tim Liardet's The World Before Snow. For more information on Liardet at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.
As its title suggests, Jacqueline Saphra’s latest collection, All My Mad Mothers, is about women and family. Saphra’s poems examine the multifaceted nature of femininity, individual and universal, moving within, between and beyond the roles designated to women. This applies particularly to familial roles she inhabits – mother, daughter, stepdaughter – but also examined is the woman as guardian, friend, witch and – the other half of the title – madwoman.
The collection grabs us from the beginning with the short and intense “In the Winter of 1962 My Mother…”. This is written in free verse – a paragraph made up of a single, sparsely punctuated sentence that carries with it a sense of panic and lack of control – as the persona’s mother appears tries to run from her life:
until she found herself on Hyde Park Corner
traveling round and round in shrinking circles
not sure how to execute the move outwards
into another lane never having been
properly taught how to make an exit.
Here we have a woman trying to escape not the role of motherhood (she carries her infant daughter as she flees), but rather seeking “another lane”, another life as it were, for her and her child. All throughout the collection, the bond between parent and child is emphasised. Though the first poem is raw and gripping, other poems address this relationship more tenderly, like “When I think of you”, a mantra dedicated to Saphra’s son, reminiscing his childhood. It is a simple list poem which is nevertheless imbued with a feeling of intimacy and longing, with its references to old arguments about the practicality of shoes that no doubt recall for us similar, past discussions with our own mothers (or children)...
This is an excerpt of a review by Kai Durkin of Jacqueline Saphra’s All My Mad Mothers. Saphra will be giving the StAnza lecture; for more information on Saphra at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.
There’s an unexplained comfort in reading Luck is the Hook despite many of the poems dealing with pain and, often, discomfort. Each one contains a space devoid of explanation, a sacred place of intimacy for both the poet and the reader.
Awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014, Luck is the Hook is Imtiaz Dharker’s seventh collection of poetry illustrated with 23 of her own drawings. These are black and white, each image relating to particular poems, and in their stylistic simplicity create a sense of unity within the collection. All drawings share a common sense of mystery, conveying emotions and allowing the reader to fully immerse himself (or herself) in the book and poet’s thinking.
Dharker’s use of metaphorical language has the exquisite capability of turning poems on their head and challenging preconceptions. In ‘Six pomegranate seeds’, both the title and the first stanza, which describes how the seeds burst on the tongue, suggest a descriptive, naturalistic poem. However, the second stanza brings an unexpected shift in tone, transcending what the pomegranate seeds are into:
the taste of the world I remembered,
the colour of gardens
before I threw away the sun.
Dharker brings these lines to life, creating a tonal intimacy, but still preserves its universal, impersonal reach, taking the world and the way people interact to a mystical, surreal level. There are poems where elephants walk across the frozen Thames and where pieces of broken china shift to create a new, wise, patient entity. Here swearing and praying is difficult to distinguish and only the rain can tell them apart. Not only her themes, but also her language contribute to the otherworldly effect. Dharker’s descriptions are clever, vivid and evocative....
This is an excerpt of a review by Dominik Szczepaniak of Imtiaz Dharker Ilya Kaminsky's Deaf Republic. For more information on Kaminsky at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.