Three books to review this month from the always excellent Parthian Books. First, an anthology of writings on climate change Gorwelion: Shared Horizons edited by Robert Minhinnick. A selection of prose and poetry from writers from Wales, Scotland and India who have been invited to write about their immediate environment, its history and its future.
The effect of these personal testimonies is to make the climate crisis real and near rather than a massive event at a distance that we cannot do anything about. Sampurna Chattarji has selected and edited the contributions of Indian writers who are particularly austere, including her own: “She whispered as she touched the green bedspread that was all that was left, reminded of the habitat” (The last time she looked) and Aditi Angiras That thing with feathers: ‘They say that before the color started to fade, Dilli was dreamlike. A disco in the trees, birdsong in the evening light. Now all I want from the future is the past. Unearthing a thousand lakes, a few hills, a river and a beating heart.
The Welsh landscape is well represented by many writers including Tai Chi Tree by Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch in Beyond Coal by Phil Cope and Airbrushed Fields: Glebelands of Newport by Laura Wainwright. Maggie Haggith and Stewart Sanderson show us the view from Scotland.
If, like me, you are struggling to comprehend the enormity of the climate crisis, this anthology will give you meaning, beautiful writing of beautiful places worth saving.
I will leave the last word to Tishani Doshi, from his play heading for the water: ‘Birds and gods can travel between houses, but coastal communities cannot. What happens when a house is lost? What happens when you only have one house?
house of mirrors
Dream about a trip by Kateřina Rudčenková is a collection of poems selected from her four collections of poetry, translated from Czech by editor/translator Alexandra Büchler. I spent a lot of time with this book and the more I read it, the more it grew in me.
According to Charles Simic “Translating is therefore not only experiencing the difference that distinguishes each language, but also approaching the mystery of the relationship between the word and the thing, the letter and the spirit, oneself and the world. To translate is to wake up and find oneself in the universal house of mirrors. (The uncertain certaintyUniversity of Michigan Press)
I would say reading translated poetry is like walking through a house of mirrors, it can be disorienting but also exciting.
The poems of LouisRudčenková’s first collection was inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s play about two sisters waiting for their brother to return from a mental institution.
‘I know what makes the leaves shake
I know where the fear and the sobs come from
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 Close eyes where each stanza begins with a variation on We had. There is a surreal element in the second collection You don’t need to visit me:
‘Purple leaves are growing all over me
I will leave my roots under water. (Nowhere)
And in I’m going to sleep a marvelous use of the metaphor: “Sleep is an algae, / which slowly suffocates me.
Relationships feature in his third collection Ashes and Pleasure:
‘His fingers remained on the surface of the glass table,
ashes of burnt cherry tobacco on the windowsill,
the troubled texture of the dust where he had moved.
The memory of pleasure fades first.
Rudčenková’s poems have a way of both pleasing and disturbing the reader. Most of them are short, some not longer than a few lines, but they stay in the mind for a long time. His voice takes on its full meaning in his fourth collection Walk on the dunes.
She plays with form and the prose poem “The Necessity of Carnival” is a resounding success, as is Other people’s aquariums:
‘I unreservedly accept all aquariums belonging to other people
(as long as there is no plastic castle inside)
only I can’t come to terms with my own aquarium, it seems
dark, its filth falls on my head”.
Topher 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 self-depreciates in his introduction, and he doesn’t need to be, it’s quite an achievement to have written poetry for so long and with such a flair for language.
The book is organized into nine sections in roughly chronological order, and Mills’ talent was evident from the outset. Some of his early poems are touching and accomplished, for example Hierarchical order
a crust of trees.
His work and his non-work poems are among the strongest in the book:
‘Plow the wheelbarrow
full of dripping cement
through the mud of bricks
polished and rusted handles
not as safe as solid
holding out gripping hands” (Build Sisyphean buildings)
‘I like the way the scaffolding goes up
with a single key, like the adult Meccano,
Ely boys barking insults and laughing
as they swing poles of different sizes’
All life is here; love, sex, death, humor and poetry range from robust dialect poems that beg to be interpreted to calmer introspective poems that pack a more emotional punch. The poem Throttle Lever about the illness and death of a grandfather would make a stone cry 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
like in the mountains or at sea
you are surrounded
the mass that brings time.’ (above us only)
The poem Memory of the tides is a love letter to Cardiff in nine parts, each beginning with the line “The tide is but a memory” and it leads to the last section of the book where all the power of the poet is on display, he totally controls every line and poem, a job well done.
These poetry collections are available from Parthian or your local bookstore.
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