From my Poetry Bookshelf – Tiger – Cliff Forshaw

In addition to books on my poetry bookshelf, I also have a lot of pamphlets, including this one by Cliff Forshaw, published by Happenstance Press in 2011.

Pamphlets are a great way for poets who haven’t had a collection in print to pull together an initial selection of work, or for other writers to create a smaller thematic collection of poems.

Tiger falls into the latter category. It is 22 pages long, and themed around the now-extinct Tasmanian Tiger. I ordered this, partly due to an interest in the subject, and also due to wanting to see what the Happenstance Press publications were like, since I was planning on submitting a pamphlet’s work of work myself.

This, like the other Happenstance press pamphlets I own, (I haven’t ordered any for some time, but will do at some point when funds permit), is very elegantly put together, with a crisp and clean layout.

Tiger comes out of a writer-in-residence period in Hobart in 2004, (memo to self to check whether the Tasmanian Writers Centre are still offering these!), and starts with the following poem;

Loop
62 seconds of the extinct Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger on film. 

Within the box, it growls, it twists,
scowls through its repertoire of tricks,
ignores the camera — or gurns up close, turns 
again, to flop, to gnaw that paw-trapped bone.

It paces out its trap of light; one hundred reps 
while hindquarters zither bars of sun;
claws cage’s mesh, hangs stretched
as if to take the measure of itself.

You saw. You see. And what we’ve got is what was shot:
short clips, fragments caught and stitched 
together in a loop of black and white.

Nine lives? Not quite. It’s down. It’s out. 
It’s on its feet and born again. Like a repetition 
compulsion, like… like reincarnated light.

You can watch Forshaw introducing and reading the poem on YouTube, shared by The Poetry Archive, through the following link;

There’s also a Guardian article which goes into this particular poem in detail here;

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/nov/22/poem-of-the-week-cliff-forshaw

and you can watch the clip that inspired Loop here;

It’s one of the strongest poems in the pamphlet, and the one that has been shared the most online – presumably as a result of the Guardian choosing it as one of their poems of the week.

The second poem, Barcode, brings us up to date with the Tasmanian Tiger’s contemporary relevance;

Barcode
 
Extinct, this creature’s everywhere
from CD sleeves to bottled beer.
With trademark stripes, it zebras out
between the gums’ abstracted light.
They’ve even tigered my hired Mazda’s plate.
Everything’s branded. Tasmania – your natural state.

Now you see them. Now they’re gone.
Did this tiger’s go-faster stripes
aid recognition in the loping pack?
 
Eucalypts, eucalypts at speed,
late sun flickers through those trees:
at the tarmac’s edge, off-cuts of fur, strange weeds.
 
Billboards, stores along the newly-metalled road:
ironic ads, that hide’s barcode.

I’ll not reproduce anything else from Tiger, as it is still available for sale from Happenstance Press here;

https://www.happenstancepress.com/index.php/shop/product/24-tiger-cliff-forshaw/category_pathway-14

The other poems, also mostly in the form of sonnets, expand on the themes of man’s interaction with this now mythical ghost of an animal. There are poems about museum specimens, roadkill, shadows glimpsed beyond headlights, and a jaunty final poem which connects the Tiger with another long-dead Tasmanian, actor Errol Flynn – I’m not 100% sure about this last poem – I can understand the desire to lighten the sequence, but I wonder about how it fits with the rest of the poems. But that’s a minor quibble and more a reflection on my personal taste.

Both Barcode and Loop , which have been shared elsewhere online, are also available in Vandemonian, a full length collection about the inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land, (an earlier name for Tasmania), which was published by Arc in 2013. I don’t own it yet.

For more detail on Cliff Forshaw and his work (he is both a writer and painter), go to http://www.cliff-forshaw.co.uk

As for Happenstance, you can see their current range of collections here;

https://www.happenstancepress.com

You’ll not see anything from me there – my submission was, rightly, rejected. It was disjointed and simply not good enough. Most of the poems I submitted needed serious editing, and that’s being kind. Only one, (Bird in Hand – which you can find elsewhere in this blog), made it into my first collection.

But what I did receive from Helena Nelson, who owns and runs Happenstance Press, was a very thoughtful and detailed rejection letter, with notes on most of the poems I had submitted. She summarised by saying that there ‘was something there’ with my writing, but I was ‘trying too hard’.

If you happen to stumble across my blog Helena, then thank you. Your rejection letter had a lot of influence on a writer who was still trying to find a voice, even back in 2011/12.

And that brings me to my final point. Poetry publishers need support. They need people to buy books, pamphlets and magazines. Without this they cease to exist. So if you haven’t bought any books for a while, or subscribed to a magazine, then please bear this in mind! Small-press independent publishers of poetry in particular need our support right now.

Poetry Recordings – Charles Causley – Eden Rock

I thought I would start delving into the marvellous poetry archive of audio recordings. Something to share regularly on a Tuesday night perhaps? If so, let me know your favourites, and I’ll share them here to this blog’s gradually widening audience.

Here’s Charles Causley reading Eden Rock. That last line. Phew.

https://poetryarchive.org/poem/eden-rock/

Charles Causley (1917-2003) was born and brought up in Launceston, Cornwall and lived there for most of his life. When he was only seven his father died from wounds sustained during the First World War. This early loss and his own experience of service in the Second World War affected Causley deeply. His work fell outside the main poetic trends of the 20th century, drawing instead on native sources of inspiration: folk songs, hymns, and above all, ballads. His poetry was recognised by the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1967 and a Cholmondeley Award in 1971. In addition to these public honours, the clarity and formality of his poetry has won Causley a popular readership, making him, in the words of Ted Hughes, one of the “best loved and most needed” poets of the last fifty years.

The above paragraph was lifted directly from the Poetry Archive website.

From my Poetry Bookshelf – The Poetry of Birds – Edited by Simon Armitage and Tim Dee

Repeat that, repeat

Repeat that, repeat,
Cuckoo, bird, and open ear wells, heart-springs, delightfully sweet,
With a ballad, with a ballad, a rebound  
Off trundled timber and scoops of the hillside ground, hollow hollow hollow ground:
The whole landscape flushes on a sudden at a sound.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I heard a cuckoo yesterday. I can’t remember how long ago it was that I last heard one. It prompted me to revisit this brilliant collection of bird poems. Repeat that, repeat sits alongside other Cuckoo poems by Auden and Wordsworth.

The Poetry of Birds is organised by bird rather than poet, which makes it easy to see different writers’ approaches to the same subject. Here’s a couple of poems about crows as an example;

The Crow 

How peaceable it seems for lonely men 
To see a crow fly in the thin blue sky 
Over the woods and fealds, o’er level fen 
It speaks of villages, or cottage nigh 
Behind the neighbouring woods — when march winds high 
Tear off the branches of the hugh old oak 
I love to see these chimney sweeps sail by 
And hear them o’er the knarled forest croak 
Then sosh askew from the hid woodmans stroke 
That in the woods their daily labours ply 
I love the sooty crow nor would provoke 
Its march day exercises of croaking joy 
I love to see it sailing to and fro 
While feelds, and woods and waters spread below

John Clare

This is followed , after a poem by Thomas Lovell Beddoes, by Ted Hughes’ Crow and the Birds, which ends with the following lines;

While the bullfinch plumped in the apple bud
And the goldfinch bulbed in the sun
And the wryneck crooked in the moon
And the dipper peered from the dewbello

Crow sprawled head-down in the beach-garbage, guzzling a dropped ice-cream.

With eighteen poems, John Clare features heavily in this collection, hardly surprising, for a poet noted for his observations of nature – his biographer called Clare “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self”.

But this book has an excellent variety of poems and descriptions of birds. I loved Paul Farley’s The Heron, which open’s with the lines;

One of the most begrudging avian take-offs
is the heron’s fucking hell, all right, all right,
I’ll go to the garage for your flaming fags

cranky departure…

or how about this two line poem by Paul Muldoon?

Plovers

The plovers come down hard, then clear again,
for they are the embodiment of rain.

Of course there are plenty of poems where the bird is an extended metaphor for something else;

The Shrike

When night comes black
Such royal dreams beckon this man
As lift him apart
From his earth-wife’s side
To wing, sleep-feathered,
The singular air,
While she, envious bride,
Cannot follow after, but lies
With her blank brown eyes starved wide,
Twisting curses in the tangled sheet
With taloned fingers,
Shaking in her skull’s cage
The stuffed shape of her flown mate
Escaped among moon-plumaged strangers;
So hungered, she must wait in rage
Until bird-racketing dawn
When her shrike-face
Leans to peck open those locked lids, to eat
Crowns, palace, all
That nightlong stole her male,
And with red beak
Spike and suck out
Last blood-drop of that truant heart.

Sylvia Plath

There are excellent notes at the end of the book on each species described, which can add significantly to an understanding of a poem’s true meaning. For those that don’t know, a shrike is a small, unassuming-looking bird that hunts insects and rodents, often spearing them on sharp branches so as to eat them on a piecemeal basis at a later or more convenient time. I’ll let you guess who, or what, The Shrike is really about.

The Poetry of Birds contains a nice mix of famous and less well known poets and poems, and finishes with a group of more abstract / mythical bird poems. The final poem in the book is, fittingly, this one;

”Hope” is the thing with feathers’

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson

I was a bird-watcher as a child. Like most who took up this hobby, it hasn’t really left me. If you are of a similar mind, then you probably already have this book. If you don’t get hold of a copy. You won’t regret it. And if ornithology isn’t of interest? This is still an excellent collection of disparate voices that will expand your knowledge and breadth of reading. You can’t go too wrong with a book like this.

The Poetry of Birds is now perched on my virtual bookshelf at Bookshop.org

https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/my-poetry-bookshelf

Wallace Stevens – Poems Selected by John Burnside

John Burnside, of whom I have not written yet, is one of my favourite poets, which is one of the reasons I got this book. It’s one of a series of poet – to – poet series Faber collections, where a well known contemporary poets writes about, and chooses a small selection of a another poet’s work. Like most, if not all, of the other books in this series it is now out of print (so doesn’t appear on my Bookshop.org page – my attempt to cover some of the hosting costs of this blog – currently at £6.40, which really isn’t going to help that much!).

It’s a small selection – 126 pages in total – not really enough to cover more than an introduction to a poet’s work. But in some ways for an unfamiliar reader it’s a better option. Not as daunting as a collected poems, and, as in this case, a good way to see how a particular poet’s style has developed over time.

This is particularly the case for someone like Wallace Stevens, who is perhaps most remembered, at least, here in the UK, for his earlier poems, primarily those published in Harmonium, his first collection. Harmonium was published in 1923, when the poet was 44 years old.

Harmonium includes The Snow Man, The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Sunday Morning, Peter Quince at the Clavier, and perhaps most famous of all, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, which starts as follows;

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,   
The only moving thing   
Was the eye of the blackbird.   

II
I was of three minds,   
Like a tree   
In which there are three blackbirds.   

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.   
It was a small part of the pantomime.   

IV
A man and a woman   
Are one.   
A man and a woman and a blackbird   
Are one.   

The literary scholar Beverly Maeder writing for the Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens speaks of the importance the author placed upon linguistic structure in many of his poems. In this instance, Stevens is experimenting with the application of the verb ‘to be’ in its many forms and conjugations throughout the 13 cantos of the poem. As Maeder states, the poem “uses or even focuses on ‘to be’ in seven of its thirteen variations on the blackbird. The blackbird is pictured in a different situation and articulated in a different grammatical context in each fragment’ (Beverly Maeder Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens).

Another interpretation can be found here on the poem analysis website;

https://poemanalysis.com/wallace-stevens/thirteen-ways-of-looking-at-a-blackbird/

There are plenty of others. But Burnside asserts that ‘Far too many of us still see Stevens as the poet of ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird‘ and ‘The Snow Man‘ but, as fine as these are, he was much more than that’. This selected collection includes some of the longer sequence poems written towards the end of his life, and shorter poems from his final collection. One of the most well known of the former is An Ordinary Evening in New England, which in thirty-one cantos of six three line stanzas is an extraordinary piece of writing, an extended meditation on what is imagined and what is real. A lot of Stevens’ poetry is about poetry itself (usually a turn-off for me), and is challenging and difficult to fully understand, but then isn’t that the point? Not just with Stevens’ poetry, but with poetry, and life generally? The Twelfth stanza reads as follows;

XII

The poem is the cry of its occasion,
Part of the res itself and not about it.
The poet speaks the poem as it is,

Not as it was: part of the reverberation
Of a windy night as it is, when the marble statues
Are like newspapers blown by the wind. He speaks

By sight and insight as they are. There is no
Tomorrow for him. The wind will have passed by,
The statues will have gone back to be things about.

The mobile and immobile flickering
In the area between is and was are leaves,
Leaves burnished in autumnal burnished trees

And leaves in whirlings in the gutters, whirlings
Around and away, resembiling the presence of thought
Resembling the presences of thoughts, as if,

In the end, in the whole psychology, the self,
the town, the weather, in a casual litter,
Together, said words of the world are the life of the world.

One poem that, unsurprisingly isn’t included in this book, and also seems to be overlooked by others is ‘Like Decorations in a N….. Cemetery’ – a long poem about death and disintegration into nothingness. Apparently it should be read as an ellipsis, as in (My Poetry is) Like…., and it’s been described as a modernist masterpiece. But I can’t get beyond the vile title, which compounds the use of the N word, (I originally wrote the poem title here in full, but am uncomfortable in having it anywhere on my blog), with a negative appropriation of what is, (or was when it was written in the 1930s), an African-American tradition of grave adornment.

Of course Stevens was a product of his time, something that those commentators who acknowledge this racist language are quick to point out, but does that mean we can give a free pass to someone whose response upon learning of Gwendolyn Brook’s winning the Pulitzer Prize: was to say, apparently to a shocked reaction from those others in attendance, “Who let the coon in?”

Apart from the aforementioned title, (the poem itself doesn’t appear to be as discriminatory although I’ve only read it the once, so I may be missing something), his poetry is generally seen to be ambivalent towards those of other ethnic backgrounds, as opposed to being openly hostile. His upbringing and non-poetic life as a highly successful insurance businessman meant he had little interaction with non-whites.

Of course racism was commonplace in America at that time, (and still is of course, as recent events clearly illustrate), but where do we draw the line with poet’s beliefs and attitudes to others? What about Eliot and Pound’s anti-semitism? Or Pound’s (and for a short time Stevens’) support for Mussolini?

Outside poetry, do we discount Miles Davis’ music because of his violent misogyny? Or what of contemporary musicians such as Morrissey, Ian Brown or Noel Gallagher, and their comments on Covid, or politics (or in Ian Brown’s case pretty much anything!).

Then there’s the allegations of transphobia against JK Rowling and the reaction from fans who said they couldn’t read the books any more – there are, as you’d expect, a lot of articles on that particular controversy online. If you want to find out more then try this summary from the Scotsman website as a starting point;

https://www.scotsman.com/arts-and-culture/books/jk-rowling-twitter-why-harry-potter-author-has-been-accused-transphobia-social-media-platforms-2877977

So where do we go from here? Can we separate the person from their art? Should we? Even with contemporary artists it’s difficult – adding the prism of time makes it even harder.

There’s a good article on Miles Davis here – and how the author tries to deal with their conflict over loving the music and hating the actions of the person who made it

https://music.avclub.com/miles-davis-beat-his-wives-and-made-beautiful-music-1798242163

Or perhaps we should acknowledge the flaws of the individual as a way to have a deeper understanding of their art, as this article on Picasso, who like Davis had, by all accounts, a deeply unpleasant attitude to many of the women in his life;

https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/art-politics/the_picasso_problem_why_we_shouldnt_separate_the_art_from_the_artists_misogyny-55120

I keep going round in circles on this – ultimately we all have our own lines beyond which we won’t go, (I’m old enough to have seen Gary Glitter in concert and quite enjoyed it in a mock-ironic way, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near his music now), but I think we have to try, where possible, to separate the person from their art, whilst acknowledging the reality of the creator of the work and try and help, in our own small way, towards the dismantling of abhorrent views and attitudes in current and future generations.

You can admire Guernica, A Kind of Blue and An Ordinary Evening in New England without admiring their creator as an individual.

As for Stevens, it’s instructive to bear in mind that following her award of the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks was on the awards panel for the award in 1955. When the other two votes were split between e.e. cummings and Wallace Stevens, she gave her casting vote to Stevens. If she was able to separate the man from his work, perhaps we should be able to do so (see this following article and comments on the poetry foundation website for details).

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet-books/2008/02/wallace-stevens-after-lunch

What do you think? Let me know.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Apparently it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. I say apparently because I’ve been avoiding much of social media for the duration. All the influencer posts. All the one size fits all advice from people who aren’t trained in the area or are just repeating glib suggestions. I’m being harsh. I am sure the posters concerned are trying to do good. And maybe they do reach out and help someone. Fair enough.

But those of us with closer, lived experience in this area maybe don’t need reminding every single time we scroll through Facebook or LinkedIn, (and yes, I know I’m potentially being hypocritical here, but at least if you’ve got this far you have done so by choice ).

For a lot of us every week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Something we deal with. Every. Single. Day. It’s exhausting. Looking out for signs, trigger points, anything that might lead to some kind of relapse. And along comes a well-meaning mental health awareness post to brighten our day. And then another, and then the first post again, shared by someone else we follow.

Not only this, but these articles are so full of sweeping generalisations – just because I’ve suffered from depression it doesn’t mean I know anything about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any of the other myriad conditions that people have to find a way of living with. It’s as if someone who once had a broken leg can automatically be an expert on mitigating the effects of varicose veins.

Although as Gillian McKeith managed to build a career as a ‘nutritionist’ from not much more than an intense interest in the contents of someone’s bowels, it isn’t that surprising. Anyone can be an expert on anything if enough people are listening. Being full of shit can be highly profitable.

Back to Mental Health Awareness Week itself. It’s 2021. Surely we’ve had enough focus on developing awareness of these issue by now for this to be unnecessary? But then I hear a colleague in the office moaning because someone won’t go to work because they are ‘a bit sad’. Yes maybe I should have said something. Maybe I should have snapped. But perhaps they were just covering their own insecurities, their own issues, their own illness. Many of us are just trying to find a way to deal with our own crap (unless we’re Gillian McKeith of course).

Despite my colleague’s comment, I do think attitudes are changing – I only have to think back to what it was like in the 80s and 90s to see how far we have come, and initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week have probably played a part, despite my ambivalence and curmudgeonly annoyance. Just don’t expect me to share any chain mail social media posts on this subject (or any other for that matter).

There is so much that still needs to be done. I could rant and rage about the government’s woeful attitude an funding cuts to mental health provision in the name of austerity, but I’m not going to bother. They aren’t listening and they certainly don’t care.

On a personal level I’m not at the stage where I am willing to divulge everything that I went through. Sorry to disappoint, but you won’t see some badge of honour confessional from me in this post.

One thing I will say is that in my case there were times that I felt as if the treatment was as bad as the illness it was treating (it wasn’t). The prose piece which follows at the end of this post, (at this stage part of a much larger sequence I am writing – though it might not make the final cut), is an attempt to give an insight into one aspect of my own treatment through the use of (in my case a relatively low dose) anti-depressant medication.

Having started by criticising advice being given out during Mental Health Awareness Week, I am going to give two pieces of advice of my own.

Firstly, from personal experience and what I’ve read, I don’t think you can properly begin to deal with depression in someone until that person realises or accepts that they have a problem. Secondly, if you are struggling with depression and getting to the point of thinking that those you love will be better off without you being around, then you are wrong. The void you will leave behind is far greater than anything anyone who cares about you will be feeling right now.

Anyway, before this ends up as one of those self help articles I pilloried at the start of this article, here’s the poem / flash / hybrid writing piece. It hasn’t appeared anywhere else before. It’s entitled Sertraline (the anti-depressant I was taking for some time). To misquote The Verve, sometimes the drugs do work, even if we don’t always think they are at the time. They helped, and alongside the support of health professionals and my wonderful family and friends I was able to find my way back from the dark.

Sertraline

A comfort you said it was being unable to feel. You’d paid for the fog with your own credit card. It came in a box of bitter-white pills. Slip one from its pod and sleep not needing to dream. 

Numbness is a blanket. Tuck in the edges. The gaps where light might grow. It’s a fair price to pay for a few hours of peace.

A bus-stop shelter in a nondescript town, where stormwater guttering sluices with despair. Been waiting for years for a way out of this place. For a discourse of traffic through a diaspora of spray.

Walking the centre in a figure of eight. Stanchions of concrete stained with rain. Shopping precinct garlanded with for sale signs. The acrid scent of alleyway piss. Playing chicken with passing cars. The thrill of knee brushing steel.

Or finding a feather in the park. Look how it shimmers in the sheen of a summer moon. Remembering a smile, the whiteness of teeth, the shape of a laugh. But there is no iridescence here. I like it that way. 

I’m not the man I thought I’d become.

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Moniza Alvi

I own two of Moniza Alvi’s seven collections, Europa and At the Time of Partition.

Many of the poems in Europa, (published in 2008), relate to ancient and modern traumas, including enforced exile, alienation, rape and honour killing. It’s centre-piece is a re-imagining of the story of the rape of Europa by Jupiter as a bull, whereas At The Time of Partition (2013) is a book length poem set at the time of partition between India and Pakistan. These are obviously weighty and serious subjects, but there is a lightness of touch and clarity of language which makes them both accessible and readable.

Not all of her poems are about such issues. One of her most well-known earlier pieces is as follows;

I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.

Barely distinguishable from other dots, 
it’s true, but quite uniquely placed. 
And from my dark centre 

I’d survey the beauty of the linescape 
and wonder — would it be worthwhile 
to roll myself towards the lemon stripe, 
Centrally poised, and push my curves 
against its edge, to give myself 
a little attention? 

But it’s fine where I am. 
I’ll never make out what’s going on 
around me, and that’s the joy of it. 

The fact that I’m not a perfect circle 
makes me more interesting in this world.People will stare forever — 

Even the most unemotional get excited. 
So here I am, on the edge of animation, 
a dream, a dance,a fantastic construction, 

A child’s adventure. 
And nothing in this tawny sky 
can get too close, or move too far away.

Born in Pakistan, Alvi grew up in Hertfordshire. She is a freelance tutor and writer living in London, who often runs courses for the Poetry School. I’ve never taken one of them, though perhaps with my current rate of poetry acceptances I should!. I have only heard excellent things about them. Follow the below link for details.

https://poetryschool.com

As for her own poetry, in the Poetry Book Society bulletin, Kathleen Jamie and Hugo Williams stated that…Alvi’s voice has achieved a relaxed naturalness, a fluidity which allows her to present these delicious, extraordinary poems as though it were easy.

The central poem in Europa , in 25 different segments is superbly written. There is an excellent article on this particular sequence from the Guardian, published back in 2009

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/aug/03/poem-of-the-week-moniza-alvi

The Guardian article shares a few of the segments. It’s a powerful poem that builds with significant narrative pace. Alvi’s use of line breaks and the segmentation of the poem is particularly effective in both separating each element and building the tension and momentum.

As for At The Time of Partition, it uses a similar fragmentary approach, as in this sequence which I have taken from the Poem Hunter website – I hope it is OK to reproduce here (I only share poems or significant parts of poems that have previously been shared online).

Take notice of the precise language, imagery and line-breaks. None of this is showy, none of it is overwrought;

Part 4: Ever After 

Ever after 
she heard it as an echo 

in her inner ear, disembodied, 
as, in a sense, all voices are – 

We’ll take him, Shakira.He can travel with us. 

You’ve enough on your hands 
with the other four. 

There are places still 
on the second bus, inshallah! 

At that swollen moment 
there was a shadowy unburdening
because at that time, perhaps 
any child was a burden. 

How she would wish 
as the weeks and the months 

and the lifetimes churned on 
to undo Take him, 

to force back the heavy, rusted 
hands of the clock – 

God’s clock held by God’s hands 
in permanent view. 

Say your goodbyes, ticked the clock. 
No time to lose. 

But who was left for goodbyes – 
her Hindu friends, the friends of friends? 

A stream drying up. 

How to say it? 

It was hard to sit on a cane-seated chair 
on her old verandah and sip tea, 

the conversation curdling 
like milk for the weekly paneer. 

Tomorrow we will be gone. 

The risk of departing 
and the risk of remaining 

weighing much the same. 

Was the worst goodbye to the house? 

The house was her second skin, 
hardier than her first, 

an island in the deafening, tumultuous sea. 

She was married to its daily rhythms – 
the kneading, the sweeping, the praying . . . 

Under duress, 
it was dauntingly calm. 

And Ludhiana itself, the Old City 
and the New – 

the Civil Lines with their flowering trees. 
The Christian Medical Hospital. 

The cloth factories and the temples. 
The neighbourliness of the lanes. Her lanes. 

Bleeding internally, the city 
tried to appear whole 

for a final goodbye – 

as, they would gather and wait 
appear whole 

under Hindu sun and Moslem rain 
Hindu rain and Moslem sun. 

Nothing was wrong with the clock. 
The clock ticked on.

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/from-at-the-time-of-partition-2/

There’s an audio recording also available at the above link.

You can also hear Alvi read her poems here;

https://sounds.bl.uk/Arts-literature-and-performance/Between-two-worlds-poetry-and-translation/024M-C1340X0013XX-0000V0

This is a 48 minute reading, which includes a recital of the first poem I have shared in this post, I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.

What more is there to say? This is beautiful written poetry that speaks of fragmentations of society and disparate connections, of loss and despair, but also of redemption, of finding a way. It’s not surprising that both Europa and At the Time of Partition were nominated for the TS Eliot prize.

Both these books are as relevant in subject matter now as they were when they were written, and both repay repeat readings. Highly recommended.

You can buy them direct from the publisher, (Bloodeaxe), or of course from my Poetry Bookshelf at Bookshop.org here: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/my-poetry-bookshelf