Shadwell Smith

 

 

 

The Company

Some dropped behind sofas or hung on washing lines,
snagged in peg bags and crowded underwired bras.
Others overshot potting sheds and garden gnomes
to break as precinct suicides.

These were no pudding basin gangsters from the shires,
they were sturdy lads
from the Sunday butts who wore their Sire’s badge,
born to the smell of pig shit, with mugwort in their boots.

Carousing after dark in moonlit groves,
hidden in the withy wands,
a scattered retinue of lost men
climb the seasoned beech that vaults the sky.

Shadwell Smith has had poems appear in Snakeskin. This is his first time in Ink, Sweat and Tears. He is also a performance poet of dubious quality.

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Thomas Land reviews The Odyssey of Samuel Glass by Bernard Kops

Rooted in Poetry

Kops Returns to Russia to Assassinate the Tsar




IN 1881, the St. Petersburg cell of the notorious anarchist organization Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will) assassinates the tyrannical anti-Semite Tsar Alexander II of All Russia, the flames of murderous pogroms sweep through the abused Pale of Settlements and a Jewish boy from Muswell Hill in 21st century London is rescued by the banned Yiddish Jericho Players company of Latvia… What?

Bernard Kops, the doyen of European poetry, has issued a great new Holocaust novel steeped in rhythms and rhyme. It tells a fantastic and entirely believable tale with warmth, humour, empathy and depth reminiscent of the Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem. Its text pulsates like some pieces from the immortal pen of the Jewish-Soviet master Isaac Babel. But Kops gives us more even than his towering antecedents because he is also, quintessentially, a poet.

His story is about the present. Its characters are those among us whose forebears struggled through the great European migrations since the expulsion of Jews from Spain at the dawn modern European literature as well as the giants whose explosive imaginations came to formulate the self-image of much of the world in our own time.
Like a fateful refrain, the menacing sound of Holocaust cattle-trucks clanging through the frozen Russian terrain, and the crying of the people inside, are audible throughout the narrative. But it is also a very funny coming-of-age story.

Its hero Samuel Glass is probably the only lad in all literature who manages to shed his skateboard as well as his innocence several times in succession, because he does so in his poetic fantasy.. and then to lose a flesh-and-blood beauty next door to some lucky New Zealander.

Our adventurer turns up in 19th century Vitebsk, the town of his forebears, to confront his destiny but finds himself trapped in the wrong country and the wrong century of a confusing world. Yet the real world proves even more confusing when the sounds of the Holocaust horror follow him all the way back to the idyllic Thames Valley of London.

Kops’ universe, like that of Sholem Aleichem, the author of Fiddler on the Roof, is centred around wise, passionate and magnetic matriarchs at the peak of their power, surrounded by weaker men and whores and witches defending a place in their orbit.

One such matriarch is Lisa, Sam’s gorgeous widowed mother, who is about to embark on a love affair a year after the untimely death of her beloved husband, Sam’s father. Another is Sarah, Lisa’s equally young and desirable great-great-great grandmother who summonses our heartbroken hero back into history to assassinate the tsar. Which he does, in the company of a team of bombers.

Unsurprisingly, the tyrant is less initially loathsome to Sam than Lisa’s chosen David and Sarah’s new husband Akiva…

Many writers familiar to a budding North London poet pop up in the story unexpectedly and always on cue. Sam meets a best-selling author named Anne Frank who wonders why he had to run away from home, since “mine,” she recalls, “ran away from me.”

Lovers of freedom like Lorca and Shelly stroll through the brutalized Russian lands soon to come under the yoke of the Soviets. Sam, who has never experienced a single act of anti-Semitism on Muswell Hill Broadway, watches T. S. Eliot climb off his pedestal to seek out the Jews “underneath the piles”. Shakespeare even helps out when the protagonist must eventually sing (literally) for his supper.

The novel is Kops’ 10th. The 86-year old poet was first catapulted to world fame as an originator of Britain’s new wave, “kitchen-sink” theatre by his 1958 play The Hamlet of Stepney Green.

Kops hails from the now bygone, destitute European Jewish immigrant settlements of East London that sheltered there from the Holocaust during the Second World War. Sam’s Russian Odyssey is full of autobiographical turns.

This author is extraordinarily prolific and, at long last, commercially successful. The 2010 publication of his collected poetry This Room in the Sunlight (David Paul Publishing, London, £9.99p., Paperback, 132pp.) was a major event for English literature. He has also issued more than 40 plays, two autobiographies and six previous volumes of verse.

All of Kops’ writing is rooted in poetry, which may perhaps explain his ability to make his prose throb with passion, as famously done by the short story writer Isaac Babel in his classic 1920s Russian collection Red Calvary. How does Kops do that in English? Let us enter his workshop.

English poets know that in any copy prepared for public recital, the language demands a pause or at least one unstressed syllable, and does not tolerate more than two unstressed syllables, between two stressed ones.

A writer ignoring this may expose the text to awkward stresses of pronunciation or unintended pauses in the performance. But properly used, this formula gives us something like blank verse, the most versatile metre in the language favoured by Shakespeare and many others. Its commonly employed five-footed line easily lends itself, depending on the mood of the text, to the expression of anything from light musings to cutting satire or pulsating tension.

In the following example chosen almost at random, I have edited only very slightly a passage of Kops’ prose about the spread of panic at Vitebsk railway station to turn it into vibrant descriptive poetry:

A long queue of ragged, silent and lifeless humans

were shuffling forward, one shoe at a time,

everyone trying to get away from Vitebsk.

The Red Rabbi sniffed… checking the atmosphere:

“I fear there is pogrom in the air.”

“There is always a pogrom in the air and more often

a pogrom on the ground,” Akiva retorted.

The creatures in the queue seemed barely able

to rub two kopeks together. Where were they off to,

and why? As they approached the ticket hatch

some urgent whispers started to circulate.

The voices of the lumpen stragglers were

morose and suddenly fearful. “Did someone say pogrom?”

An old hag cackled: “I see it with my own ears…”

A toothless man muttered: “I’ve heard it with my own eyes…”

“When, WHEN?…” “Anytime you like… Tonight! Tomorrow

or yesterday!…” But, “It is all a tall story,”

uttered a heavily pregnant Jewish dwarf.


Now consider Kops’ unedited prose below, describing a real pogrom raging amidst a theatrical performance: Chaos was smiling on his rostrum, conducting the scene. The hall was alight and the crowds from outside rushed in with burning torches. The cast huddled together on stage. The audience was a tangled, screaming, unbelieving crowd.

And the mob went in amongst them. “Death to the Yids. Pogrom! Pogrom! You bastard Jews. Christ murderers. You’re finished in this country.” And daggers and breadknives were doing their job, a flashing flood; and blood was fountaining, pouring down and hammers were crashing, and smashing and nightmare was king.

The hall ignited and the slavering flames licked at the bundle of actors upon the stage…

And down in the hall, peasants cried and fought each other and tore at each other desperate to get outside.

“Death to the Yids! Death to the Yids.” The chorus continued outside.

“We’re finished. We’re finished. God help us. They are burning us. They are turning us into smoke.”

They cried and a vacuum of silence rushed in from the world; and the woman with her baby was sliding in the blood where the dead lay, gushing their innards; the baby still sucking the breast, and as she sang softly a lullaby. “Sleep my baby sleep. Roshinkers mit mundelan, almonds and raisons, sweet and bitter, sleep my baby sleep.”

As a boy, Sam had slipped into the past to get away from home; as a man, he must seek his future on board an immigrant ship with the touring Jericho Players dreaming of their own, permanent Yiddish theatre on the old Commercial Road of London. In real life, several Jewish theatrical companies from the Pale of Settlements were badly received in19th century England, but they travelled on to set up the American film industry in Hollywood. The British film industry was created only during Kops’ childhood by the poets, actors and directors brought together by the famous Jewish-Hungarian Korda brothers.

Before he is allowed to return to his prosperous, modern reality, Sam must still experience the poverty of Kops’ native East End of London. Despite the squalor and degradation, Sam feels almost comfortable there. In a moving nod to his own, deprived childhood, Kops observes that “compassion and caring was still alive in the shtetl (a Yiddish-speaking East European village) that was the old East End”.


THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing from London and his native Budapest. His next book will be The Survivors: Holocaust Poetry for Our Time (Smokestack/England) to be published in 2014.

 

 

The Odyssey of Samuel Glass  by Bernard Kops is published by David Paul books.  Order your copy here

 

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Rich Fox

 

 

The Collar

It was dark and he pointed at the street. ‘There is frozen?’, the guy said in an accent. Hungarian or something. I said yes, the street was probably frozen.
‘But I cannot see ice’ he said, ‘How can you know there is ice?’
I said that you just had to expect it, in this cold. You had to expect ice this time of year. The dog pulled at the lead, my husband’s dog. If the dog was pulling at the lead it must have been cold.
‘I need to be careful, right?’ the guy added, smiling and pulling his collar to his throat, ‘The ice cannot always be seen here.’

 

 

 

Rich Fox is from Shropshire. He has had poems published in several collections for Poetry Now, commentary published in layoutmagazine.net , and self-published ghost stories. Some of his work can be found at theuprightman.blogspot.co.uk . He is currently doing an MA in European Literature at University of Bristol.

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C. Albert

Goddess Topia,

 

first of all round trees,

was beloved farther than time flung seeds.

 

Atop ladders, the master gardeners hand-snipped

and shaped leaves and twigs,

while chit-chatting about

a recipe to make rose petal beads

that won’t turn black,

how to keep melon balls from melting

and whatever else mattered at the moment.

 

The silence of Goddess Topia

was like blank strips of bark

awaiting to be written on.

Her rotund and buxom bush

swayed in the breeze

while leaves and twigs

entwined orotund.

 

 

C. Albert is based in Seattle, Washington she is our resident artist and we are pleased to welcome her back after a long break. She can be contacted through inksweatandtears@aol.com.

 

 

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Poetry as a Lifeline: Jacqueline Saphra and Charles Lauder

 

 

 

The 2012 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival runs for the 2nd-4th November, and this week, Ink Sweat & Tears is featuring poems on the theme ‘Poetry as a Lifeline’ which is the subject of the IS&T-supported Discussions and Short Takes this year.   Find out more about the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival here

 

 
Geometry

 

Remember how, one night not long ago

you told our daughter what you’d read

about infinity? I couldn’t understand,

although you drew a diagram

to show that two parallel lines,

if left to run forever, will eventually meet.

Remember when she came home

crying the next day covered in shame.

In front of everyone her teacher

had dismissed her father’s proof.

But I believe you. If you and I had never met

that rainy night in Camden Town,

if that night had never been,

that’s where we’d be, each walking the line

towards infinity, searching for the place

where the impossible can happen

and two parallel lines collide.

 

 

Jacqueline Saphra‘s first collection, The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions (flipped eye), developed with the support of The Arts Council of England, was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize 2011.  ‘Geometry’ appears in The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions.

 

 

 

Ring of Fire

 

She’s lost track of her many hiding places

winter coat pocket   trunk of summer outfits

under the stairs   behind the royal wedding plate

television or sofa cushions   amidst tins

of tomatoes and chicken soup   school pleats

and towels waiting to be washed and ironed.

 

She has tucked a poem into each bottle

like a cry for rescue washing up on shore

explaining why the house is mottled

in pink and green   why she’s pilfered

pocket money   why her man needs throttling

for all the promises he’s never delivered.

 

In hopes of quitting she tries weekly meetings

but each time leaves high off the fumes

the others have breathed. Back home she opens

another   the rhymes coming fast and furious

how the black ducks strut out of the pen

like a gaggle of aunties on their way to a funeral

 

how foxes prey upon the guinea fowl

each night while the cock keeps his hens

in line   fields are allowed to lie fallow

ponies unable to bear the children

are sold on   like a paper boat caught in the flow

of the stream to the canal and beyond            .

 

Giddy as a schoolgirl bouncing off walls

she has the sudden strength to muck out stables

and silage the grain  to write a poem that will

sell so well she can put aside this terrible

habit and live a peaceful life   no delay

to having dinner ready and waiting on the table.

 

Home from school the children find her

passed out on the floor encircled in an array

of bottles like a protective ring of fire.

 

 

 

Charles Lauder Jr’s poems have appeared internationally, including such journals as Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review, The SHOp, California Quarterly, Texas Observer, Agenda, Poetry Nottingham International, Hearing Voices, and Under the Radar. His pamphlet, Bleeds, was published in 2012 (Crystal Clear Creators).  ‘Ring of Fire’ has previously appeared in Stand

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Poetry as a Lifeline: Ghassan Zaqtan

 

 

The 2012 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival runs for the 2nd-4th November, and for the next week, Ink Sweat & Tears is featuring poems on the theme ‘Poetry as a Lifeline’ which is the subject of the IS&T-supported Discussions and Short Takes this year.  Today’s poem is from Ghassan Zaqtan who is appearing at the Festival.  Find out more about the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival here

 

 

Wolves

 

The birds’ departure from his heart

leaves the plains white

where the story is white

and sleep is white

and silence is the caller’s icon.

 

A laugh of sand will sprout when the door is opened

from fear’s angle, a hymn

for the grand winter, and the voices

of those who left long ago will jump like grasshoppers

when the door is opened.

 

Wait, wait a moment

for us to dry a moment

there’s in our trace

a reckless lament

and a ceramic bird…

and watch for the necklaces on the ceiling…

 

Why don’t you turn the lights on

or be happy with sitting

 

and watch for the fruits on the ground…

 

Your voice in my room exhausts the silence

the silence of pots

the silence of shelves

the silence of writing

the silence of lighting

and the silence of survival

which I have been gathering for years

with the patience of one who’s alone with the garden in summer

or one who retrieves absence

the absence

that never stops.

 

 

 

Ghassan Zaqtan is a novelist, editor and poet and is Director of Literature at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture.  Of his ten collections Like a Straw Bird it Follows Me (2012) is the first in English, translated by Fady Joudah who appeared on this site on 30th October.

 

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Poetry as a Lifeline: Carole Bromley and Sibyl Ruth

 

 

 

The 2012 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival runs for the 2nd-4th November,  and this week  Ink Sweat & Tears will be featuring poems on the theme ‘Poetry as a Lifeline’ which is the subject of the IS&T-supported Discussions and Short Takes this year.    Find out more about the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival here

 

Reading James Schuyler

 

Silver day, how shall I polish you?

or rather ‘Silver day/ how shall I polish you?’,

the line break clicks in but if you start

 

thinking about it, the poetry

bursts like a soap bubble. You can buy

a machine to blow bubbles now;

 

the kids all walk straight past it,

bored. But the whole world

was reflected in that bubble, the whole

 

wobbling, fragile world. Polish.

My dad was a polisher. Saturdays

were Cardinal days. He’d get a blob

 

of pink wax out of the tin and rub it in.

Even at the end, the ingrained skill

was there. You’d have thought

 

they were just sharing the chores

but she’d given him that to do because

he was one of those ducks

 

that follows you for life.

Now she’s older than he ever knew

and someone else is paid to do the cleaning.

 

I’ve got no duster

but I’m going to buff this silver day

till I can see my face in it.

 

 

 

Carole Bromley teaches Creative Writing at York University and writes a poetry blog for the local What’s On guide  <http://www.yorkmix.com>  Her first full-length collection, A Guided Tour of the Ice House, was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2011.  ‘Reading James Schuyler’ appears in A Guided Tour of the Ice House.

 

 

 

Encounter with Baba Yaga

 

Having learned to ignore false names

and go between maps

I found a path under the forest

taking care

to arrive at the proper hour.

 

A choice of three doors.

Right. Left.

(It is never the one in the middle.)

 

Here!

The woman lets down a river of hair

then waits

a spectator.

My arms are brittle

but I cling on

hoik myself up

drop back,

a bad swimmer

hold my breath

draw near.

 

She is not like her picture.

 

We’re in the high cabin.

Heat blazes

though there is no fireplace.

l try not to see

those silver teeth

her bird’s feet

that bone doll on a hook

the unfilled spaces.

 

My task now

is to say what I came for

in one plain sentence.

 

Sibyl Ruth is a former winner of the Mslexia Poetry Competition. Encounter with Baba Yaga was inspired by a visit to Oldbury.

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