in the rain
all the lost pieces of her life
line the alleyway in Bercy:
a slot machine rocking horse, barrels of beer
square planters with shrubs
she shakes her head. this isn’t right.
above her, unholy clouds threaten
to let loose their wares.
a river of urine trickles past her feet and she turns
to see a man
he walks away
she wrinkles her nose, and follows him
under the arch
of a spray-painted loving cow
and a toad
a splot of paint on the pavement
makes an insect, wearing a bishop’s mitre
riding a rocking horse
without paying a penny
is this fair? no.
she re-treads her steps
down the Bercy alleyway
stopping beneath a poster
of naked people embracing each other
in the rain, in the pouring rain.
* Catherine Edmunds is a novelist, poet and artist. She says her literary style is encapsulated in the title of her poetry collection wormwood, earth and honey while her artwork veers between delicate portraiture, exploding dogs and decomposing toads.
I once knew a woman who was Houdini’s opposite.
No hands, unaided, she had taught herself to gag
her wants with masking tape, shackle her feet,
bind her own wrists in the manner of famous sadists.
She was a smouldering starlet, a five pointed miracle
artfully arranged on the crispness of linen.
She’d brand the mattress with her hourglass
of flesh while she waited for her man to save her
and sure enough he’d always turn up just in time
ready to rip the tape from her lips, slit the knots,
turn the key and set her free to perform her act
over and over, each time with more of that slick,
irresistible conviction. What pleasure was there.
She called it love. He called it getting a grip.
* Jacqueline Saphra’s poetry has been widely published and her plays performed on stage and television. She has won several awards including first prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition. Her pamphlet, Rock’n’Roll Mamma (Flarestack) will be followed this year by her first collection The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions (flipped eye – supported by The Arts Council of England.)
Ink Sweat & Tears editor is on the roads at the moment with internet connections few and far between, so here's a short poem from Michael Estabrook that neatly sums up one aspect of communications…
“Hi Mom, Patti,” she’d say
whenever she’d call home
from college forgetting
that she was
* Mike Estabrook lives in New England and is a regular IS&T
So you’re a military brat?
Yes, I replied, each time, quizzically obedient,
though today wondering what the hell that meant.
We moved every two to three years,
moved in the middle of the year,
managed one Christmas eve in a Holiday Inn,
Christmas day on a plane,
entered a new school midway through.
Learned to scrap, not get squashed,
always an outsider. Support groups for military kids?
Not for us, kids from nowhere. I learned to ask, Which year? when people asked me
Where are you from?
She has VD, one girl shouted about me in front of my seventh
grade class in Hawaii while we played softball outside during gym.
Like a swimmer, small breasted and big shouldered,
she was Hawaiian. Diversity? Sisterhood? She was a bitch.
The teachers were silent.
A twelve year old virgin, my guilt – I was haole, white.
It was a military school.
My father, a Captain. Her father, civilian.
And the branches of each state I had lived staked into, adding to, the weight of me,
my optimism as graceful as a logging truck crashing into a rusted guardrail.
* Author of the novel When the Ugly Comes, Carmen Eichman is an Assistant Professor of English and author of three poetry collections, living in North Carolina. Eichman’s poetry has appeared in A Little Poetry, All Things Girl, The Argotist Online, Subtle Tea, Invisible Ink, The Dan River Review, Borderline, Thick with Conviction, Ink, Sweat and Tears (UK), and Contemporary American Voices to name a few. She is currently at work on her fourth novel and fourth collection of poetry.
** Haole pronounced Howlee is an Hawaiian term for white person.
Snow Calling by Agnieszka Studzinska
Salt Publishing 2010
ISBN:978 – 1 – 84471 – 559 – 6 Hardback: £12.99 45pp
“I was going to say something, / and stopped”. Polish-born Agnieszka Studzinska’s choice, for the epigraph to her interesting and intriguing first collection, of these deceptively straightforward words from Irish poet Thomas Kinsella’s poem 'Ancestor', provides an early indicator as to how the entire collection may best be read. In common with Kinsella’s New Poems 1973, from which 'Ancestor' comes, Snow Calling also contains poems concerned with sharply focused, clear-eyed recollections of the past and, as in Holding, Studzinska’s preoccupation with what commentators on Kinsella’s work have described as “blood and family”: “I look at your hands / your tiny fingers gripping my thumb, / hard to imagine them touching / someone else rather than me / or holding the way I held / your father that night – ”. The notion of being about to say something and then stopping, however, suggests rather more than simple tact or reticence about sex, a sense, perhaps, of the need to hesitate or pause and think again before committing to words, a conviction that too much clarity over-simplifies, or that words, in the final analysis, “can’t help but pull apart / the very thing in front of me / as if to punish.” Clearly, for Studzinska, poetry is neither entertainment nor a beautiful alternative to living:
“I don’t miss home, just the mountains,
in the beginning I could see the mountains
in rows of chimneys, that was enough –
I still consider myself a visitor.”
Despite a degree of apparent clarity, then, Studzinska’s poems remain in other ways challengingly elusive and enigmatic. They are sparse, offer little by way of context, plunge straight into seriousness without preamble, are sometimes structurally demanding for the reader in terms of the arrangement of words and lines on the page and leave much either unsaid or in the hands of imagery that ranges with great precision from the delicate “snow light at an angle saying more than we can” to the brutally direct “people shredded like wood”. Throughout, it is hard to avoid the sense that this is a poet for whom every word matters, who mistrusts easy revelation and struggles against it, a quality found also, it seems to me, in the writing of the fine Belgian poet Miriam Van hee, with whose work Studzinska’s may well bear comparison. The closing line of her seven-part poem 'Haunting', quoted from the work of Joe Bousquet, a French writer and poet badly injured during World War 1 and left paralysed for life, serves to make the point well: “I am my own hiding place”. Yes indeed. To borrow poet and critic Dennis O’Driscoll’s comment on Kinsella, reading your way towards an understanding of the complex interior of Studzinska’s poetic life as explored in Snow Calling is like letting your eyes adjust to the dark in a cinema.
That said, however, and despite W. H. Auden’s view that poetry derives from the human instinct to play, serious poems, as Studzinska’s most certainly are, do make something happen, something that matters to the reader’s (and the writer’s) heart, to their consciousness of being human. We are, after all, the only creatures in our world possessed of self-knowledge, the capacity to meditate upon our own predicament and the courage to live with what we learn:
“A stopping at an edge –
sensing a world of minerals, mistakes, the molecules of air,
water, the width and breadth of love, a vacancy –
this singular moment in its spectrum of sadness,
where are we in this immeasurable opening?”
* Stevie Strang is a native Californian finally doing
something with her photography and the million or so words that she has
collected on bits of scrap paper ever since she learned how to write
…not including grocery lists.
We mentioned the launch for Martin Figura's new collection Whistle in the previous posting – now here's another poem from that collection…
Suddenly June catches her breath,
wakes reeling from the vertiginous
blurred curvature of the earth,
its unappeasable distance
where she hangs, voiceless.
Below, lines of silver
slowly pull into focus,
she sees three rivers.
These rivers are survivors
coursing through canyons
of beasts and wild flowers,
like blood through veins.
They carry her with them.
This isn’t a dream.
* Martin Figura left school at 15 to
join the Army. He left in 1997 after 25 years to become a photographer.
His first poetry collection The Little Book of Harm (Firewater
Press) was published in 2000 and reprinted in 2001,2002 & 2003. Ahem (Eggbox) his second collection
was published in 2005. He begins a touring show of Whistle,
produced by Apples and Snakes, at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in July.
** Whistle is available from to www.arrowheadpress.co.uk/books/whistle.html and also from the Book Hive in Norwich.