... The Perseverance takes its title from a pub on Broadway Market, where Antrobus’s father used to drink, and from a fine sestina structured around the end-words: perseverance, minute, before, father, disappear, laughter. With the shuffling of these words, time is also shuffled, rendered irrelevant, or terribly relevant, but nevertheless an artefact. In the final tercet, before is carefully placed;
I still hear popping in for a minute, see him disappear.
We lose our fathers before we know it.
I am still outside THE PERSERVERANCE, listening for the laughter.
The phrase ‘listening for the laughter’ has power and nuance. Is there laughter, or not? Can Antrobus hear it? Is he listening for the ghostly laughter of the past? Is he ready to join in the bodily laughter that comes from joy? Is it ‘mirth [that] can laugh and talk, but cannot sing’ (James Thompson, quoted at the start of ‘Sound Machine’)? Both joy and grief are integral to this collection. A wild patience keeps Antrobus waiting outside The Perseverance, and the results are joyful, hospitable, generous and forgiving. He perhaps has even forgiven Ted Hughes, having blocked out the text of ‘Deaf School’ in a cathartic statement (‘Deaf School by Ted Hughes’), having written ‘After Reading ‘Deaf School’ by the Mississippi River’ (‘No one calls the river unaware or simple pools;’) and having won the 2018 Ted Hughes Award. Ultimately, Antrobus transcends his subject matter and the hearing world with engaging wisdom:
There is such a thing as a key confidently cut
that accepts the locks it doesn’t fit.
Call it a boy busking on the canal path singing
to no one but the bridges
and the black water under them.
(‘I Want the Confidence of’)
... Anaxagorou is British of Cypriot descent; a complicated position, as Cyprus is a place that is often ‘omitted’ from a ‘list[s of] Britain’s ex-colonies’; a name that, upon hearing it, his ‘Mates would say where?’ (‘Ecumene’). It is lonely to be placed at the fringe of the fringe of an Empire’s history, where one might only ‘[find] myself a murmur’, even in corrective post-colonial histories (‘Four Small Indiscretions’). Again and again, Anaxagorou recounts being asked about where he is really from, and such is the relentlessness of this line of inquiry that it sometimes seems he is asking himself the question.
But he knows the answer, even as a racist outside a KFC drives ‘his skull into [the narrator’s] like a belief’ (‘After the Formalities’). Indeed, this is the answer: a story of inter-generational trauma, tumbling from his grandparents down to him, that he maps out quite expertly. But is there healing in this? Possibly, possibly not. Put another way: does an untold story of survival, once told, become ‘myth or ganglion’? (‘Ecumene’)
This is an excerpt of a review by Nick Mulgrew of Anthony Anaxagorou's After the Formalities. For more information on Anaxagorou at StAnza21, please click HERE. To read the whole review, go to the DURA webpage.
Deaf Republic begins with a gunshot. As an innocent deaf boy falls to the ground, the townspeople choose silence over the sound of a child’s body hitting the street, a sound that would be filled with pain and injustice: ‘The sound we do not hear lifts the gulls off the water’. The rest of the collection tells the events unfolding in an occupied town, Vasenka, in the midst of a political conflict; Vasenka engulfed in silence. A town where people communicate using sign language, yearning for freedom.
Born in the Ukraine Ilya Kaminsky is a hard-of-hearing translator, professor, critic and a poet. After Musica Humana and Dancing in Odessa, Deaf Republic is his third poetry collection published in English. The collection feels more like a script split into poems than a poetry collection. Every poem follows directly from the previous one, all of them connecting to tell a story that is so cinematic and engaging that at times I had to remind myself I am reading a book, not watching a play or a movie. Split into two acts, the collection first follows the dramatic relationship of Alfonso and Sonya, where happiness of a newlywed couple is overshadowed by the pain of premature loss. The second act revolves around Momma Galya and her puppet theatre leading a silent revolution, luring the soldiers with sexual pleasures, making them disappear behind the curtain.
In this exceptionally written collection, poems that would be powerful enough to stand on their own reach new heights when put together. Brutal and uncomfortable, the imagery reverberates page after page and long after the end. Kaminsky shows the despair on a personal scale masterfully, focusing on the details that evoke deeply rooted emotions despite not naming them:
For our child I fold the newspaper, make a hat
and pretend to Sonya that I am the greatest poet
and she pretends to be alive-
If pain was the defining feature of a great poetry collection there would be too many great poetry collections; Kaminsky understands that he has to avoid making Deaf Republic shallow by only leaving his characters in despair. Again focusing on small details, he shows the beauty in Sonya’s and Alfonso’s marriage, the naive mutual fascination of the newlyweds:
You step out of the shower and the entire nation calms-
a drop of lemon-egg shampoo,
you smell like bees,
a brief kiss,
I don’t know anything about you-except the spray of freckles on your shoulders!
This is an excerpt of a review by Dominik Szczepaniak of 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.
In his marvellous essay on writing about 9/11, ‘Can poetry console a grieving public?’, Mark Doty sets out the difficulties of writing about public tragedy. Can one bear witness to ‘the inchoate stuff of experience’ ─ intensely felt private pain or even anger ─ and yet also keep faith with ‘language’s project of discovering and articulating meaning’ which is, of course, the poet’s task as writer?
A Portable Paradise is one robust response. Divided into five sections, book’s first section comprises eleven poems on the Grenfell Disaster which circles around the burning tower and its traumatic legacy. In a mixture of prose and poetry, ‘Haibun for Lookers’, there are searing images of confusion, chaos and desperation as Grenfell inhabitants are trapped by the destructive flame racing up the building like a malevolent giant snake, its light ironically mirrored by light of mobile phones from spectators below. In the days after, little gestures and small rituals that the living use to shore up against deep despair are particularly poignant. A daughter brings breakfast, ‘combs her mother’s hair and lays clothes on the bed’; she reads while hearing ‘Umm Kulthum singing about her heart on the radio’. In ‘The Portrait Museum’ makeshift posters capture portrait snapshots from ordinary life; these are ‘flimsy faces of hope for the living’ who ‘refuse this first day of mourning’ ─ but they are gradually blown away. ‘The Missing’ is heart-breaking; the dead are imagined to float,
a conveyor belt of pure air,
slow as a funeral cortege,
past the congregants…
mutter[ing], What about me Lord,
why not me?
But such an ‘airborne pageantry of faith’ is not abstract but built up from a small range of individuals, imagined in all their quotidian diversity. Two simple lines at the poem’s end bring home the mythic power of the Biblical Rapture but reimagined as anguish:
They are the city of the missing.
We, now, the city of the stayed.
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.
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.