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Poetry roundup: All life is here; love, sex, death, humour

12 Feb 2022 6 minute read
Gorwelion: Shared Horizons, Dream of a Journey, Sex on Toast all published by Parthian

Caroline Bracken

Three books for review this month from the consistently excellent Parthian Books. First up, an anthology of writing about climate change Gorwelion: Shared Horizons edited by Robert Minhinnick. A selection of prose and poetry by writers from Wales, Scotland and India who were invited to write about their immediate surroundings, its history and future.

The effect of these personal witnessings is to make the climate crisis real and close rather than a massive remote event we can do nothing about. Sampurna Chattarji selected and edited the contributions of the Indian writers which are particularly stark including her own: ‘She whispered as she fingered the green bedspread that was all that remained, reminded of habitat’ (Last She Looked) and from Aditi Angiras’s That Thing with Feathers: ‘They say that before colour began to disappear, Dilli was dream-like. A disco in the trees, birdsongs in the evening light. Now all I want from the future is the past. To unearth a thousand lakes, a couple hills, a river and a beating heart.’

The Welsh landscape is well represented by many writers including Tree Tai Chi by Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch to Beyond Coal by Phil Cope and Airbrushed Fields: Newport’s Glebelands by Laura Wainwright. Maggie Haggith and Stewart Sanderson show us the view from Scotland.

If, like me, you find the enormity of the climate crisis hard to get your head around, this anthology will make sense of it, beautiful writing from beautiful places worth fighting to save.

I will leave the last word to Tishani Doshi, from her piece Keeling Towards Water: ‘Birds and gods can travel between homes, but coastal communities can’t. What happens when one home is lost? What happens when you only have one home?’

House of mirrors

Dream of a Journey by Kateřina Rudčenková is a book of poems selected from her four poetry books, translated from Czech by the editor/translator Alexandra Büchler. I spent a lot of time with this book and the more I read it the more it grew on me.

According to Charles Simic ‘To translate then is not only to experience the difference that makes each language distinct, but equally to draw close to the mystery of the relationship between word and thing, letter and spirit, self and the world. To translate is to awake and find oneself in the universal house of mirrors.’ (The Uncertain Certainty, University of Michigan Press)

I would suggest that reading poetry in translation is like walking through a house of mirrors, it can be disorienting but also exciting.

The poems from Ludwig, Rudčenková’s first collection were inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s play about two sisters waiting for their brother to return from a mental institution.

‘I know what makes leaves tremble
I know where fear comes from and sobs
I know that quiet place among the trees’ (I know where)

This direct style is evident throughout the book as is the effective use of repetition, for example in the poem To close one’s eyes where each stanza begins with a variation on We had to. There is a surrealist element in the second collection There Is No Need for You to Visit Me:

‘Purple leaves growing all over me
I’ll leave my roots underwater.’ (Nowhere)

And in I’ll fall asleep a wonderful use of metaphor: ‘Sleep is seaweed, / that slowly suffocates me.’

Relationships feature in her third collection Ashes and Pleasure:

‘His fingertips remained on the glass table surface,
ashes of burned cherry tobacco on the windowsill,
the disturbed texture of dust where he had moved.
The memory of pleasure fades first.’

Rudčenková’s poems have a way of pleasing and disturbing the reader at the same time. Most of them are short, some no more than a few lines but they linger long in the mind. Her voice comes into its own in her fourth collection Walking on Dunes.

She plays with form and the prose poem ‘The necessity of carnival’ is a rip-roaring success, as is Other people’s Aquariums:

‘I uncritically accept all aquariums belonging to other people
(as long as there is no plastic castle inside)
only I cannot come to terms with my own aquarium, it appears
dark, its dirt falls on my head’.

Emotional punch

Tôpher Mills will be no stranger to Welsh poetry readers and his book Sex on Toast is a selection of his poems written over forty years. He is self-deprecating in his introduction, and he need not be, it is quite an achievement to have been writing poetry for so long and with such flair for language.

The book is organised in nine sections in roughly chronological order and Mills’ talent was clear from the outset. Some of his early poems are affecting and accomplished, for example Pecking Order

‘Silhouette horizon
one sun glip
peeking through
a crust of trees.

His work and out of work poems are some of the strongest in the book:

‘Ploughing the wheelbarrow
full of slurping cement
through brick-dirt mud
grime polished, rust-pocked handles
not as sure as solid
straining gripping hands’ (Building Sisyphus Buildings)

And Scaffolding:

‘I love the way scaffolding goes up
with only one spanner, like adult Meccano,
Ely boys barking insults and laughing
as they swing various sized poles’

All life is here; love, sex, death, humour and the poetry ranges from robust dialect poems which are begging to be performed to quieter introspective poems that pack a more emotional punch. The poem Throttle about a grandfather’s illness and death would bring tears to a stone and there is a philosophical tone as the poet develops his craft over the years:

you don’t notice it at ground level
but when you’re on a roof
as on a mountain or at sea
you are surrounded by it
the mass that brings weather.’ (Above Us Only)

The poem Tide Memory is a love letter to Cardiff in nine parts, each one starting with the line ‘The tide is just a memory’ and it leads into the final section of the book where all the poet’s power is on display, he is in full control of every line and poem, a job well done.

These poetry collections are available from Parthian or from your local bookshop.

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