Bernard O’Donoghue says it is difficult to name a poetry book, because most are made up of ‘bits and pieces’. The Seasons of Cullen Church is apt. It evokes both the passage of time and the intense attention to location found in O’Donoghue’s work. Previous collections have also taken place and time as titular concerns and the book finds foreshadows, too, of its strong elegiac themes.
It is indicative of the richness of life in his childhood home of Cullen, and of O’Donoghue’s skill as an archaeologist, that he can still unearth so much from a place he left as a teenager. He returns, or tries to return, over and over. The title poem speaks of émigrés, priests, ‘returned / from California, Manchester or the Far East.’ In ‘Evacuee’ it is the poet’s ‘Manchester mother’ who yearns to go back across the Irish Sea. However, there is also a sense of displacement and isolation. We find it in ‘Connolly’s Bookshop’, with Robinson Crusoe afloat on a sea of books, and in ‘Underfoot’, with its reference to Man Friday. And any frequent traveller will recognise the dislocation in ‘First Night There’.
Quiet devastations abound. There are no ‘ta-daa’ moments – O’Donoghue prefers a gentle reveal of the complexity of lives that are, like fractals, more intricate the closer we look at them. In ‘Specific Gravity’ a brief meditation on science breaks into elegy as a man on a mountaintop hopes that the ‘sea wind / might drain all trace of fluid from the eyes’. ‘The Din Beags’ tells of the macabre burial of a horse in frozen ground. And ‘The Thaw’ inverts a familiar motif to seek a return to ‘human cold… packed in ice’ to preserve a relationship.
There is an ever-present sense of loss. The Seasons closes with a snippet of translation to acknowledge a loss that is public, professional and, perhaps for O’Donoghue, also personal. In ‘The Boat’, for Seamus Heaney, O’Donoghue recalls that the righteous man is ‘safe and sound / as long as he stays within the boat’s timbers.’ The poem is not showy but showcases what the dedicatee once described as the ‘craft’ and ‘technique’ of the poet. The metre and line breaks rock us down the page. But any attempt to rush will see the reader stumble. The poem is a reminder that balance is dynamic, that to be upright we must not be still, but in steady motion.
In ‘From Piers Plowman’ – an earlier translation from the poem behind ‘The Boat’ – O’Donoghue vaunts ‘the magical world / That I haven’t the time or the skill to describe’. But it is not so. Although O’Donoghue revels in the ordinary he also offers the extraordinary. There is the majestic beauty, most of all in ‘Swifts’, in which the poet recalls
the shearwaters who were all around us
one mystic Skellig midnight, souls returned
from their other, closed life deep out at sea.
The near-mythological imagery of this island, and the religious overtones of several of the poems, bridge any thematic gap between ordinary life in Cullen and the extraordinary found in the collection’s translations from Dante and Virgil.
The late Geoffrey Hill wrote that a poem ought to be a ‘sad and angry consolation’. If there is anger in O’Donoghue’s poetry, then it is a quiet one, a defiance of any temptation to be impulsive in the face of our losses. ‘The Boat’ can be read as a reflection on the life of the poet. This was a preoccupation of the dedicatee and can also be found elsewhere in The Seasons in ‘You Know the Way’. In a Frostian equivocation over the path chosen the poet wonders ‘how far the decision will take you from the straight and narrow’. Elsewhere, in ‘Stigma’, the poet quizzes his preoccupation with ‘Con’s shaky bike’ in Cullen amidst the ‘poverties of our present time’. Perhaps these returns to home ground keep O’Donoghue within the boat’s timbers – safe from the stormier waters of current affairs.
But for all the loss and self-doubt here there is also consolation. O’Donoghue connects the present to what has gone before to remind us that seasons return. It is his particular gift to do so with images of humanity at its most plain and in a poetry that sits amongst the gentlest music of Ireland’s lyrical tradition. These poems, and the consolation they offer, are therefore vital, both because of their necessity, and because they concern themselves with the very essence of life.
Cian Murphy is from Cork and lives in London where he teaches at university. Envoi will publish his poetry in October of this year.Read More
Glass is Elisabeth Sennitt Clough’s first collection and she immediately draws us into a bleak, desolate world, with open skies, dark earth, shame and secrets.
She is a new voice rising from the Fens, from a desolate murky landscape, she shines with the sharp glint of steel and glass. Sennitt Clough’s skill is to keep holding you down into her poems as you read them. Her skill displays the nature of the fen. The soil of the poetry goes deeper then you dare, takes you insistently downward and it’s effect is mesmerising, uncomfortable and powerful.
Her first poem Sightings is full with rich colours, internal rhyme and we understand this is the “rarest of gifts”, a totem of the poet, a peacock, a strange bird inside a family, trying to understand it’s own distorted reflection and escape. Be we can’t flee the horror of the “slow slow grab”. She tells us “our home was full of hooks”.
It is satisfying that Sennitt Clough keeps us located and rooted to a place. A recurrent theme in her collection is machinery. In The Yard at Waterside we find “vinegar sharpness” and a “pox of rust” and we walk with her into the machinery of the past. As we travel through sharp images, we sense we are colluding, sometimes knowingly. She has us questioning what is myth and truth. Her use of couplets is interesting – she uses them to control the flood of emotions and typically loosens them towards the end of her poems where they merge with a bigger chaos – or is it freedom?
Another theme recurrent in Glass is curiosity and how this is controlled. Green-Eyed is a great example of both the control and wildness in her poetry. She gives us lenses with a “mutation in her eyes”. One of the most moving poems of this collection (and there are many) is My Father’s Coat, where the daughter dresses in the magic of her father into a woven legend of strangeness.
The Collection is in three parts, each with a layer of distortion and revelation. She shows us the murk of the fens, the truth behind the fairy tales. In the excellent Codes of Behaviour in a Canbridgeshire Village the sagging and oozing takes on it’s own personality, you want to stop looking, stop reading – but you can’t. Her S sounds in the poem are like a hissing, this poem hurts.
She gives us motifs of water spilling into earth, machinery that tries to control by brutalising, the need to look deeper are all engineered to remarkable effect in this collection. She manages with skill to use long lines in poems such as Potato Season to echo the big Norfolk skies.
In Fidget words like “wrist flicks” have a great effect showing us anger and loss of control and the confessional Glass Collar where the poet writes that revelation can be it’s own prison.
This collection stays with you, seeps into you with all the bleakness of the Fens. It also cries out to the reader, holds us in it’s looking glass. It does what poetry is meant to do – makes you clutch it to your chest and cry while not knowing why because the poet is unsentimental, brutal, sharp and full of wild colours.
Order your copy of Glass by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough from PaperSwans Press, here: http://paperswans.co.uk/glass/
Jessica Mookherjee has a background in Biological Anthropology and public health research. She was shortlisted for the Fairacre first pamphlet competition in 2016. Her work has been published regularly and widely in publications such as The Interpreter’s House, Brittle Star, Tears in the Fence among many others. Her pamphlet – The Swell was published by Telltale this Autumn.
Three poets whose poetry contains a sense of place and being where edges, historic, water- flowed or rock faced allow us readers to engage with themes worthy of the time and effort required.
Those of us who are moved by rock’s edges will empathise with David Hughes in his posthumous collection, EX LIBRIS. Losing a friend on a rock-face, as any grief, startles and sears. Encouraging others in writing and poetry, as teacher, friend and support is a life well lived. This is the poetry that comes from this life.
Hughes’s poems are gifts to others, often dedicated to them – none more so than his climbing companion and friend, Barry Daniel, who was killed while leading an expedition of students on the Austerdalsein. His befriending of Young Dave, and the prison letters and poems composed as a response to the process of forgiveness and response to Young Dave’s attack on him are another element, and this not without the down-to-earth humour that eschews sentimentality –
Perfection, where all things are fixed and true?
It doesn’t sound the kind of heaven to strike
you dumb with wonder; you’d have nowt to do
You’d much prefer a heaven where gods might hike
on sponsored walks that you could organize –
to build a climbing wall, or something like.
The skill of a shorter breath-based, structured stress lines vary. Sustained line lengths also form a part, as in East of Ypres, Sanctuary Road
November night in Sanctuary Wood: the broken Old
have re-assembled in the low ridge lee, where field-gun
tears the year’s last foliage from trees that splinter, till it
seems there’ll never be
a spring sprung green again. Soldiers, sleeping shallow
and while ‘Soldiers, sleeping shallow’ may have too many sibilants the musicality of consonantal cluster and internal rhyme pressed against the length of the line catches the breath enacting a struggle fitting for it subject, Ypres. This horror at the outrage of war is all too timely now –
Seven of the players down by Armistice Day –
And even the slender boy in the Umpire’s coat,
Yes, even the Umpire lost his cheerful name
By the end of the War by being Jolly dead.
A touch of Sorley. It’s the details observed which register the value of true friendship and an evocation a reader can really engage with hearing ‘stories to tell ‘ accessible, lyrical and felt.
my own life
at the cwm’s rim
or on the steep
escarpment’s sudden edge.
Becoming competent, having the scenery mapped,
began to guide others.
I’d like to take you all the way.
Poetry Business prize-winner Jane Routh gives us an historical edge, ice-packed in THE WHITE SILENCE. Franklin’s ill-fated attempt to discover the North-West Passage was a Victorian equivalent of someone today landing on Mars. In such enterprises the apocryphal has an ineluctable place…. but each poem has its own view, like walking around a mountain and taking in a different vista. Here are thirteen pages of sustained, accessible and accomplished lyricism that goes beyond the fossilized past.
Even if there were a passage, Scoresby carped
So what? – You’d have to overwinter in the ice:
it would still be faster round the Cape.
And safer. But William Scoresby
was a whaler. Of no account.
[Franklin, in prospect]
It reaches a frozen present. A possible discovery if only the missing jigsaw piece could be found, the cold dread of how failure looms with time passing by.
Wake up, Sir John, and shape yourself.
wherever they buried you, hacking
the permafrost, break out: its soft now.
Your passage is dark and open water.
[Franklin, cryogenically preserved]
Jane Routh’s previously published collections included themes about our relationship with the environment and how we manage in it. In ‘Lancashire Life [23.10.14]’ she writes “ I have been interested in memory for a long time…. our memories do not record facts but explanations for our lives….”
What they charted was the nineteenth century’s
flatteries, friendships and obligations
– a sea for Beaufort, an island for Banks –
as if rock and ice and vastness
had no reality without their names;
as if the landscape did not know itself.
[On reaching the Arctic map]
This investigation is an explanation of confronting ‘the white silence’, ‘the grip of ice’, the ice that will not let go and questions of being itself may abound from such confrontations.
The titles give a hint – ‘Franklin, in prospect, ’’Three Photographs, 1845’, ‘On reading the Arctic map’, ’Franklin, ice-bound’, ’Franklin, in retrospect’, ‘Franklin, the evidence’, ‘Franklin, cryogenically preserved’, ’Sir John Richardson’, ‘Franklin, a postscript’, ‘And afterwards’. Only recently were the ships discovered. The mystery of ends provides such a resonance, consider Mallory, Irvine or ‘Titus’ Oates. Tackled chronologically to looking back from now provides evocations which poetry, Empsonian-like, can create.
Imagine a ship held fast all winter long.
Start again: you have to remember
its an Arctic winter: no daylight.
How to picture such darkness?
The structure varies but each poem has its place. We are gathered into this world where close observation and asides (e.g. the place of Richardson!) draws us in.
It’s a story
the local people always told: one listing
then down, in deep water off King William Island.
And that’s enough: what we want is the other
terror, something we can’t know,
Something greater that resists us –
a white silence we can’t fathom, that compels
imagination, to conceive its questions.
(O Lord, give us back our ice.)
[Franklin, a postscript]
Matthew Clegg’s THE NAVIGATORS sense of place – as magnetic as north – connects through time, flows as water. Forms vary from sonnet to free verse, tidal undulations that have observations life affords us. An aggregate of ‘minute particulars’ that being alive may be seen as extraordinary.
I get so close
to thinking I’m locked
out of this life,
off the sheen
of the highest
and the miracle
is a lake, a sea,
lifted into the arms
of the trees
by a faith
that can only
in this light.
[The Lake in the Trees]
The three sections of the book lead us, perhaps, to the last songs Orpheus sang, a lost paradigm, – of the resilience that place allows us. The lost song is not just of remembrance, but of clear and astonishing presence – across time.
If there were stars
I can’t remember –
only that you sat
behind me, close,
your arms pillion
around my chest
as we rode
There is an Odyssey here that starts in Lakeland and ends towards Ravenscar.
The Trig Points sequence is a set of 27 haikus that Clegg describes as ‘triangulations’ – to a loved one, a loved place and time in all its tenses. When successful, the nuance of phrasing, of rhythm in short-breath (sometimes single word) lines married with the accumulation of particulars build a striking and felt image such as Phineus:
When a blind man panics
He can’t flail his arms.
He must haul his breath
From the well of his gut
Until the harpies in his ribs
Stop flapping and clawing
And his fingers unfurl
Spiders from his fists
The second section, ‘The Navigators’, has the accent of ordinary folk and the (The Sink Hole) memories of Matthew’s grandfather’s boat, ‘Jasmine’. How Grandad was loved, built ‘Jasmine’, the journeys upon it, and the transformative learning and mixed emotions on mortality and growing when it had to be sold.
Clock-tick, birdsong, cars.
my palate wakes from last night:
whisky, wood, smoke, stars…..
A leaf turns over
its green days on the stem, leaps –
pioneers the air…
Where mud is deepest
the traces of man and beast
are one and the same
Matthew Clegg is “interested in the drama of the human heart in time”. We need to forage the path beset by the laws of change and mutability, as the realization of what different phases of life requires of us infuses these poems. For there are times when we must each of us dwell on such things.
You may think of your life
poised at the steer of a barge
where canal steps down to the Don
and lock gates unlatch and infold.
Imagine the trip in your blood:
As you gaze at river ahead
And the cautious nose of your barge
Sniffs then drifts into the flow
You feel the current take grip.
The barge is plugged into a mains
So all you can from this point
Is solder your fist to the steer
And amp up your savvy to match.
[When They Next Make You Redundant]
Finally, to a place beyond the Whalebone and Staithes to a rich edgeland. The compass points and prompts reflection. Matthew Clegg has not held back as a poet, nor should the reader in engaging with ‘The Navigators’. Appreciation should also be extended to Longbarrow. Wayleave and Valley Presses who are excellent examples of publishers with an increasingly impressive catalogue focusing on high quality productions.
You can order the books here:
Ex Libris David Hughes: http://www.valleypressuk.com/book/2/ex_libris
The Navigators Matthew Clegg: https://longbarrowpress.com/current-publications/matthew-clegg/
The White Silence Jane Routh: http://www.wayleavepress.co.uk/?page_id=324&doing_wp_cron=1474647811.9356279373168945312500Read More
in the dark
it is night now
and will be
because a friend
to live here
and I must learn
to see him
in this light
before the dawn
Nick Carding is an Englishman now living in Croatia. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in print and online in Europe, USA and Australasia.Read More
Reading Di Slaney’s first full collection from Valley Press, I’m taken straight to where the smell and taste of outdoors makes time pass differently.
‘Every dawn she looks up, sucks on doing words
to break her fast, breathes in the day. So many
to roll around a mouth starved of soil’
But there’s work to do. How to Knit a Sheep (also the title of this first part of the collection) initiates us plainly.
Start with the legs. It helps to
grab a hoof before casting on, or
he might kick you off.
In this playful poem, which re-makes the shearing of a sheep, there’s so much accurate physicality and joy.
Tie the ends off tight
before you let him go, your nose to his
in thanks only eskimos understand.
It’s a poem about sheep, and it’s a poem about grace.
In 2005, Di Slaney left urban living for smallholding in Nottinghamshire, populating her acres with some 150 mostly rescued animals. ‘Reward for Winter’ is made in three parts, opening with How to Knit a Sheep – where vivid and finely crafted poems reflect the smallholder’s labours and discoveries. In Diptych, the poet delves into a sense of tenancy, of house and field inherited – ‘Fitting that this field/ returns, unharmed/ now that the deal is sealed,/ to where they farmed.’
There is sentiment, but no sense of sentimentality. This poem ends with a very 21st century acknowledgement of acquisition: ‘my greedy eyes fill up with green/ buying it back, borrowing a dream’.
Time is long, and cyclical in these poems, but slides between generations. In Doubtful Words, a beautifully made poem, one generation offers advice to another ‘counting down days till the hay is all/ gathered’. That almost forgotten sense of the year’s labour, and its contract with luck, health and weather is all here.
…Then we lie
fallow, cut off by the dark with nights slamming
like sashes, saving our tallow for Midwinter Eve,
the rut that restocks us, God willing, she said.
Yet modern woman’s urban norms do not escape Slaney’s forensic eye (title poem Reward for Winter). ‘For the first time in her adult life/ she allowed herself to sweat, to leave/ dust under her fingernails, to be/ imprecise.’
These poems sit well together, leading us back into the layers of the past and the labours of previous workers on this land, but all the while keeping one wary eye on who we are now, and the process of our becoming.
The second section of the book is a kind of biography of hen, divided again into neat egg boxes of poems which explore all the grit and parasites of henkeeping. With their often tight rhymes and specific vocabulary (augmented by notes in the back of the book) these poems are deceptively straightforward -based on Haynes’ ‘Chicken Manual’ – but can often be read into, as in the word-weaving Gular Flutter:
Stay and breathe. Fine to remember.
Calm will. Be everything just.
Perhaps my personal favourite part of this collection is the third – Bildr’s Thorpe. Here Slaney immerses the reader in the slippage between worlds, showing us the layers beneath the present day in this one particular place. In the poem Bildr’s Thorpe (like ‘a half-remembered hearth tale’), she viscerally inhabits the moment of a young man leaving home (later, her home):
He ran from the softness of straw and the comfort
of cattle. He ran because his mother called him
darling, kept him closer than the hounds…
Much research as well as feeling has gone into the making of these poems – Slaney’s preoccupation with a place and its different times is ingrained in them. I particularly enjoyed Their Letters, based on a Jacobean trial for adultery. As with some of the work in this collection, these are prose poems, tightly written, erotic, internally rhyming.
Her letter 1st May 1610
is pressed from flour-damp breast to Judas-hand Joanna,
hides in spinster folds to pass the Hall, makes its way first
to lips then nose, Peter eager for the hard-worked scent of
her, his Rose with lush, wide petals and soft sticky buds…
For all those who enjoy finely crafted poetry with a rural flavour, and a sense of history, this is a collection to savour and revisit. If you like hens as well, then you’ve really struck gold. And it’s also good to be able to say that Valley Press have created in ‘Reward for Winter’ a most handsome volume, with spacious layout and lushly wrap-around design and flapped cover.
This fine collection from Di Slaney introduces a skilful voice that is strong and flexible, with a fine ear for sound and a great capacity for imagery. And she is exploring something which has been mostly lost: our own intuitive connection to earth in this century, in this country.
Order your copy of Di Slaney’s Reward for Winter here: http://www.valleypressuk.com/book/15/reward_for_winterRead More
Every town begins in the imagination. Every town is a continuous, sustained act of belief which exists as an entity because, collectively, we all agree that it is so. A group of people settle someplace, probably near water. They build their houses, stake their farms. Merchants come, after a while, to service them. Then come priests, then the lawyers, then bookshops, cafes, record-stores. And then, inevitably, as the old imaginations pass into the earth and new ones arise and swivel their focus off to newer, brighter loci, the town begins to fade. Towns are physical things, built by brains and calluses. Even the smallest town is layered and complex because it is the product of more than one mind. You can’t drop in on a train, spend a day wandering around the centre, and expect to know the place intimately. You have to inhabit it, become part of it. You have to add your own layer of paint, build your own wall, and watch the things you’ve added interact with all the others that arose before it. It takes a lifetime to really know a town, and it would take an ambitious imagination to attempt to distil the essence of centuries down into an hour’s worth of poetry, images, and sound so that a stranger could build a model of that town behind the ridge of their skull. Adam Horovitz and Josef Reeve have very ambitious imaginations, and Little Metropolis, their latest project, is an incredible success.
Little Metropolis is a multi-layered, multimedia project composed of local histories, poetry, original music, photography, and a series of charming illustrations that are designed to mimic the effect of existing enmeshed within the fabric of the town. The subject is Stroud, a small market town in Gloucestershire. During the Industrial Revolution it became known for its woollen mills (some of the chimneys still stand) and it remains a bustling centre whose edges are just the slightest bit faded. When you order a copy of this project you receive a beautifully presented pamphlet containing images and poetry, along with a CD composed of those same poems presented against the background of electronic music, local voices, and the cacophony of street-sounds. Taken all at once, the effect is immersive; engulfing. If you do not know what you are getting into, it can be a little much. But soon enough your disorientation passes and the reader is lovingly swept up.
It is difficult for me to effectively review the technicalities of music composition, but I can review its effect. Track nine on the CD is called ‘Ghosts’ and it deals with an odd sort of unsentimental nostalgia. In it, gentle electronica slowly morphs into passionate chaos while stanzas of poetry (focused on the slow erosion of the past) are interspersed with fragments from on-the-street interviews with locals who remember their favourite memories acquired while they were growing up. Music stores feature. So do bookstores and libraries.
The poetry ties it all together. Opening the pamphlet to page 26 you find the poem which the accompanying aural-landscape is based upon:
Ghosts wherever you tread.
Ghosts in the cinema.
In the pubs. Café ghosts. Small town ghosts.
The fallen, the crazed, the angry
and the lost. Ghosts of the dead,
of the missing-living – those friends whose paths
have turned aside from yours,
fizzing in the half-light of shift work
of altered priorities, of babies or of moving
beyond the glistening bubble of the town.
In the pamphlet, this poem is accompanied by a minimalistic line-drawing of a pair of bare feet, moving across a stark, white background, leaving a bright-red trail of blood. On the CD, Horovitz reads with a rhythmic, musical cadence against a background of city-sounds. These effects may seem contradictory; the busy soundscape, the isolated blood, but reality reflects this contradiction. In a town, one can be utterly surrounded by noise, by hustle, by crowds, and still be absolutely isolated, trapped in the white-room of memory.
Some of the poems focus on the distant past. ‘A House Built From Cloth’ describes the ways in which the industrial revolution shaped the heart and form of the town, along with the soul of the narrator:
I grew up watching the past
pulling the weight of the future
along the canal’s linear thread.
Others, like ‘Farmers’ Market’, focus on specific local places and highlight the ways in which these landscapes alter and influence the stories of the people who inhabit them:
Sad Robbie met a woman
who wore other people’s hearts on her sleeve,
reopened the conversational wounds on his tongue.
Clutterbuck stood by the donut stall
for hours, unmoving. He woke up in the Heavens,
a constellation of sugar laced across his lips.
This project is full of glimpses. Small, furtive sights that are nevertheless enough to draw you in. It would be very easy to dismiss this project as something made only for the locals of the town which it describes, but that would be a mistake. By focusing so specifically on the psychology of one individual town, Horovitz and company have opened a window into an aspect of human psychology that is universal and collective. At times, the execution might come on a little strong, but that is not a fatal flaw. This is an ambitious project, beautifully executed. I strongly recommend it.
Order your copy of Little Metropolis here: http://littlemetropolis.bandcamp.com/album/little-metropolisRead More
Bernard Kops, Poetry & Peril:
PEACE WILL COME, ANNE FRANK INSISTS, YOU WILL SEE
Bernard Kops, the doyen of Anglo-Jewish letters, has responded to a global resurgence of violent anti-Semitism by issuing a new collection of verse called Anne Frank’s Fragments from Nowhere. This is his second major work exploring the legacy of the teenage diarist. Anne was murdered in Bergen-Belsen after hiding with her family for two exhausting years in a secret annex at the back of an Amsterdam building.
She returns in Bernard’s poetry to assure worried Jews everywhere:
… peace will come.
And the tired will lie down and sleep.
And the dreamers will awake
and embrace the beauty
of world, of existence, of love.
And peace will come,
and love and lovers will transcend
the wars of earth.
And they will plant their love.
And the tree of love will grow forever.
And you’ll see. Peace will come. And peace will come.
And people will come and go and live.
And live again and again.
And peace will come. You’ll see!
You’ll see. And peace will come!
And peace will come!
And peace must come.
Bernard, a poet and playwright at last basking in world fame at the age of 89, is slightly older than Anne would be if she had been allowed to live. He is a descendant of working-class Dutch immigrants to Britain, whose entire extended family back in Europe perished during the Holocaust. He is, like all Jews alive today, a survivor acutely aware of a looming, ubiquitous presence of racist intolerance.
Seven decades after the Holocaust and a year after the horrendous Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris replicated worldwide, Jewish institutions in hundreds of population centres survive under armed guard. France, the home of Europe’s biggest Jewish community and the third biggest in the world, has declared a permanent state of emergency. It deploys troops in combat fatigues and wielding automatic weapons to control the wrath of Islamist fanatics encouraging the racist rampage of the native far-right and far-left rabble.
A wide range of xenophobic hate crimes has substantially increased throughout the West. Jewish community leaders perceive a level of existential threat that they have not experienced since the wartime deportation trains transporting the Kops and the Frank families and millions of other civilian captives across Europe to industrially organized slaughter. Jewish emigration to Israel has now also reached record levels.
Anne Frank’s Fragments from Nowhere confronts a crisis that may well intensify following the Great Powers’ dubious new nuclear power development accord with the theocracy of Baghdad. Its immediate effect will be to fuel the perilous conflagrations already engulfing the Middle East and extending to the European Union and Russia. For the compromise agreement has released an estimated $150bn in direct and indirect investment in the terrorist states of Iran and its client Syria, and also in numerous terrorist states within states like Hezbollah and Hamas.
The first German feature film based on the teenager’s Holocaust testimony is titled Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank (The Diary of Anne Frank), released at the 66th Berlin Film Festival during February. A Hollywood adaptation in 1959 won three Oscars.
Bernard’s collection addresses the future by insisting on recording the past. In the poem For the Record, he recalls:
They came for him in Amsterdam, my grandfather David,
and with minimum force removed him from his home.
He surrendered to the entire German army,
and that was that.
It is of little consequence now;
so many die alone in foreign lands.
But for the record I must say
they gave him a number, helped him
aboard an eastbound train.
It was a little overcrowded,
but then they had so many to dispatch…
The poet grew up in deep poverty in the East End of London “as a committed witness for the lost community of Amsterdam,” he recounts, “including my family and Anne’s. Her fate could so easily have been mine…”
He all but met her. He explains: “My first play, The Hamlet of Stepney Green” first performed at the Oxford Playhouse in 1957, “was translated into Dutch by Rosie Pool, an author who joined the Dutch Resistance during the war. She had escaped from the Nazi transit camp at Westbork,” a collection point from which the Jews were being dispatched to mass murder, “and her first task was to smuggle herself back and organize others.
“There she met and tutored Anne. Rosie talked to me endlessly about Anne’s character, personality, dreams and nightmares. All this has fed my imagination, and Anne became my close relative.”
The experience eventually led to Bernard’s play, the Dreams of Anne Frank, which opened in the Polka Theatre, London, in 1992. The play (Methuen Drama, England, 1997) has been touring the world ever since. The Hungarian version performed in 1998 at the Mahatma Gandhi School, Pécs, employed a cast of teenage Romany actors, perhaps a quarter million of whose people had been murdered during the Holocaust. The atmosphere was electric.
In Act One, Anne holds up a star on an empty stage as she turns to the audience. (The following text of her song is not included in the new collection.)
Fate gave me a yellow star.
A badge to tell them who I am.
I’m Anne from Amsterdam.
I’m Anne Frank and I’m a Jew.
And I’m the same as you and you.
Or you and you and you.
But fate gave me a yellow star.
The star to put me in my place,
To wear it as a badge of shame,
But I’m Anne from Amsterdam.
I’m proud of who I am.
We have to hide away from light
Because they come for us at night.
And pack us off to God knows where,
And all we have is where we are.
But fate gave me a yellow star.
Like Bernard, the real-life Anne had consciously prepared for a writing career, and she spectacularly succeeded. Her diary describing the fears as well as the tensions, loves, dreams and irritations of people hiding away from death in a terrorized city was published posthumously in1947 as Het Achterhuis (The Annex). Subsequent editions were titled The Diary of Anne Frank and Diary of a Young Girl. The book has been sold in more than 30m copies.
A fierce controversy is now raging over an extension of its copyright protection that would normally expire 70 years after the death of its author. Another book of the same period controversially just reissued on entering the public domain is Mein Kampf (My Struggle) by Adolf Hitler, a screed campaigning for the annihilation of the Jewish people.
Bernard is one of the best known writers of our time. All his writing is steeped in poetry. He is extraordinarily creative, prolific, fearless and compassionate, the author of some nine collections of verse, more than 40 plays for stage and television, 11 novels and two autobiographies.
Many of his books are constantly in print and his plays in production. His range of concerns is enormous, embracing Jewish identity, the many shades of love, family relationships, aging, fear, passion and mental illness. The Hamlet of Stepney Green, whose roots reach back to the tradition of Yiddish theatre, is widely recognized as an originator of Britain’s revolutionary, new wave, “kitchen-sink” theatre.
A seminal, book-length critical analysis of his growing corpus (Bernard Kops: Fantasist, London Jew, Apocalyptic Humorist, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014, 168pp.) has been issued by Professor William Baker of Northern Illinois University and Prof. Jeanette Roberts Shumaker at San Diego State University. The monograph describes him as an influential innovator of British drama, an important social critic and a careful chronicler of the Anglo-Jewish society as well as the London Bohemian subculture of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, of which he was a part.
He is also a stubborn optimist convinced that well chosen words are mightier even than fleets of nuclear warheads. With a comradely wink towards Anna, Bernard includes in the new collection one of his best loved, old poems, Shalom Bomb. Here is one timely passage:
…I want a one-man-band-bomb. My own bomb!
My live long and die happy bomb.
My die peacefully of old age bomb;
in my own bed bomb.
My Om Mane Padme Aum Bomb.
My Tiddly Om Pom Bomb.
My goodnight bomb, my sleeptight bomb,
my see you in the morning bomb.
I want my bomb. My own private bomb.
My Shalom bomb.
Thomas Ország-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His last book was Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust (Smokestack/England, 2014). His work also appears in the new anthologies Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves) and Random Red Candles grouping the best of Candelabrum Poetry Magazine, 1970-2010 (Spinnaker), both in England in 2015.
Anne Frank’s Fragments from Nowhere by Bernard Kops is published by Indigo Dreams Publishing and is available here: http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/bernard-kops/4589983997Read More