"Little cybernetic queen with turquoise pompom antennas. You cross the street diagonally looking at some black motorbike. Today you’re OK because you managed to be something different..."
Poem from Bonkei by María Eugenía López. The full English translation of this poem appears in Hallucinated Horse: New Latin American Poets.
"In the mid-80s my family got a brand new gold-edged dinner service ornately decorated with flowers. We never ate together.
In those days I dressed in camouflage from my boots to my beret..."
"In the mid-80s" by Omar Pimienta. The full English translation of this poem appears in Hallucinated Horse: New Latin American Poets.
Mexican poet Yaxkin Melchy reads "This is the sound of birdsong in the digital heavens" and "The comet". The first poem is written in binary code, the second in Spanish. To read original English translations, check out Hallucinated Horse: New Latin American Poets.
Pighog Pictures have been hard at work documenting our series of poetry evenings at Redroaster Coffee House in Brighton. Here's Hugh Dunkerley reading "Magpies."
If they gave awards for books with misleading titles, Bernadette Cremin’s Loose Ends would be up there with the winners. These twenty four poems all have endings of one sort or another, but they’re anything but ‘loose’… Her endings are like the barbed hook at the end of a fishing line – you run your hands along the monofilament, everything’s smooth and running freely then suddenly there’s a sharp pain, blood on your hand, and you’re caught and can’t get away.
‘Black’, for example, opens with a woman who’s anything but competent -
‘Fumbling for keys in a black patent bag-
the only one I have with matching heels.
I bought them in the sales, a size too small,
a little too high, half price.’
which gets us a little bit exasperated at what’s obviously going to be a woman with no dress sense, but then six lines on she tells us about
‘the bouquets and wreaths
now left to death at the head of your grave.’
Ah!, so she’s newly widowed. Obviously things are all a bit much at the moment. So did she buy the black shoes for the funeral? Little domestic details are starting to concern us now, and we are given more of them as the woman clings to her dead husband’s memory in the intimate physical forms of
‘the pewter kidney-shaped lighter
that I had engraved for you with love’
and others, even more intimate, like
‘Your tobacco stained dentures,
an incisor chipped on a humbug’
This is starting to get just a tiny bit mawkish, as she finishes with
‘your stopped watch, wedding band
and the St Christopher that you drove
onto black ice.’
Damn. I didn’t see that coming. (but then neither did he …)
That last line gives us the whole story of this woman’s tragedy, jumps us back to the first lines, and completely alters our interpretation of the poem’s title. All in three words.
This is about much more than just last lines, though. The endings are often surprising, and Cremin has a confident mastery of setting and springing a trap, but the poems themselves are elegantly structured, beautifully realised portraits of people that we would like to know better. I probably mean ‘more about’ rather than ‘better’, because most of her subjects have pretty messed-up lives – they struggle against abuse, disease, even death itself – and usually they lose the battle. But the minimalist in the poet drip-feeds us details, line by line, so that we construct our own fully realised portrait of each one, and we feel that we know them well enough to be moved by their plight and to rejoice in their (occasional) victories.
All this is not to say that the collection is perfect – there are poems that don’t leave much of an impression. ‘The Morning After’ probably wasn’t the best choice for the first one. It’s full of these sort of comparisons:
‘Letterboxes twitch like expectant fathers’
‘gangs of windswept blossoms lurk
in gutters like pretty terrorists.’
that don’t really work, or take us very far. She seems to be trying too hard to look for links. The redeeming feature of ‘The Morning After’ is that it’s set in Brighton, and so it locates the poet in the city where she lives. It also gives us our first glimpse of the bus stops that seem to be one of Cremin’s obsessions
But then turn the page and you hit ‘Dead End’, and she’s on top form, with the sad musings of a middle aged man in a dull job in a dull office. Week after week
‘of feigned interest, anonymous mistakes’
‘My fat wife is fucking the butcher’
His constant, nagging memory is of a woman he met years before; presumably a holiday romance, because
‘I think of surfboards, the futility of regret but
I miss her too much on days like this.
I wonder where she lives, if she ever had kids?’
‘Futility’ is the perfect word here. A choice was made, an opportunity wasn’t taken, and the whole track of this man’s life took a different route. That was years ago, though – years in which he’s had to
‘pay off the mortgage, put my fat daughter
through college, afford a red car.’
while his wife has been constantly unfaithful with the butcher.
Interesting that the car is red. Red cars and sex – what every advertiser knows. He still feels himself to be ‘a player’, and he preens himself a little for a pretty sandwich assistant at Forfars the bakers.
He and his wife still have sex occasionally, it seems. Though
‘When I fuck her
I think of the butcher,
The pretty girl at Forfars
A two word ending this time, that takes us back almost to where we came in, with beautiful symmetry. But also, those last four lines together are a little gem of compression, summing up all we have learned about his unhappy marriage, his current fantasies, but mostly his long term (futile) regret.
For we care about this man. We feel for his hopeless regrets. Just as we were moved by the husband’s crash in ‘Black’. Cremin creates believable subjects in her poems, and breathes enough life into them to make them worthy of our concern.
I was first introduced to Bernadette Cremin’s work with ‘Altered Egos’, a one-woman performance piece where she played six individual (and very different) women – women whose lives had been damaged in one way or another. She has a sure feel for the sadness that underlies a lot of lives, and she’s demonstrated that empathy again with these poems.
She has a sure feel for language too, both alliterative and forebodingly symbolic. Who else could end (another) poem by defining a woman’s wrist with the words? -
‘the soft inch
made for a bracelet,
a button or a blade -’
Reviewed by Strat Mastoris for Sabotage, Nov 30, 2012
It will be no surprise to the many readers of his verse collections that Ciaran O’Driscoll has produced a novel. This is a work that shows considerable development in his powers as a writer. Challenged with this much more open form he has responded with an array of literacy, imaginative and scholarly resources that some of his more discursive poems had strongly hinted at. Indeed for some readers, this was always a small disappointment as there were hints of another world about to announce itself, but the muse seemed reluctant. Another muse is now in the ascendant and here we have a work that could take its place on any modern day European bookshelf. It is entertaining, contemporary, dramatic, and gives our English Language an astringent workout.
Barbara, a London art teacher, after twenty years of classrooms, is on a year’s sabbatical from her school with her son and stressed partner George, a stressed Irish writer. They have opted for Italy where she wants to become a fuller watercolourist. So while she has a clear mandate for each day, he hasn’t:
"The time he used to spend writing, revising, editing was now spent in ‘centring’, meditation, and for the most part in a state of pleasant mooning blankness, recharging the batteries that had been depleted during his breakdown.
Things between them are a little sparky; to begin with they don’t mix much, and a crisis quickly arises when Christmas arrangements involving their respective mothers are discussed. She had agreed they would be staying with hers in London and going on to visit his in Ireland. He is adamant that it’s not what he now wants:
"George covered his face with his hands and stayed silent for a long time. When he spoke again his tone had changed from annoyance and sarcasm to an awed hush. ‘Actually, it’s a serious business. A very serious business. And ironically you are right in what you just said: it is dark – darker than I ever bargained for. I can’t even explain it to myself. Maybe I’m going mad, but I have to see it through.’
She is furious; having been persuaded into a visit to Ireland she is now looking forward to it. His explanation frightens her:
‘I am going to learn something. I am going to be told something. I am going to discover something,’ George continued in his hushed tone. ‘But I have to stay or it won’t happen. That’s the long and short of it all. Call it an intuition, a beam into my head from outer space, insanity, or whatever name you want to put on it. I don’t know what it is, except that it’s certainty, a categorical imperative. And I couldn’t even leave if I tried.’
‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ Barbara moaned, and it was her turn to cover her face. But, apart from being upset and angry, she was also feeling responsible for the part she might have played in what she saw as George’s relapse… ‘You see, the truth is I don’t have to go to Ireland. My childhood is here. It is all around me. The brown paper parcels. The voices of the children at school, reciting sing-song rote. The rabbit-hunting. My grandmother’s fairy field is here, too, right beside the house. And this is where it will all be revealed. I know it will.’
And so the real action begins, as he continues to open out in this curious way. A wider cast of characters comes into focus: an Ulster landlord with a German wife, whose life together is a little mysterious, fellow tenants, local publicans and Italian neighbours, one an academic but practising psychotherapist with a daughter married to a local artisan. There is of course that nearby field and a trio of dogs who, to begin with at least, just seem incidental presences. Developments are brisk and never clichéd and a truly original story proceeds to emerge. There is a refreshing texture in how the different protagonists are woven in and the author’s preference for George to walk rather than drive as he goes back and forth helps connote a neat medieval sense of place and pace.
If like me you are made curious by the Donne quote in the title, and wonder how Italy comes into this, you won’t be disappointed. Especially if note is taken of what this author is actually attempting, which is to draw a perspective on George’s being-in-the-world that allows in, amongst other things, both an Ireland of his past and an Italy of his present. To put events in this way and on this scale seems to come naturally to a writer whose keen epistemological intelligence can work well along with his fluency with and closeness to the everyday. Justice is done to an individual struggling to become for the first time in his life a functioning person. A test of how successful this is, is the extent to which, as you share one or two of George’s dark nights of the soul, you sense his wanting to break off to address you with something along the lines of:
If you would have God let you profit by
Your reading, reader, now consider for yourself
How I was able to keep my face dry
When right before me I saw the human image
So twisted, that tears coming from the eyes
Rolled down into the crack of the buttocks.
(Dante, Inferno XXM, 19-24, translated by C.H. Sisson)
Yes, there are real moments here when you too can feel how a Divine Comedy might begin to fashion itself in our times.
This review originally appeared in Cyphers no. 74.
Rose Davies reviews The Book of Invisible Bridges for Book Mark 32:
"From the hand to mouth
There is an unwritten line,
An invisible bridge
broken up into infinity
of thoughts and emotions,
of what has not been done, said,
The Book of Invisible Bridges is not just a book of the written word, it is a multimedia exhibition in which you can experience in your own space. Throughout the pages you will read texts by Xelis de Toro, which have been interpreted by 14 different artists from Spain and the UK, all of which feature on a DVD that accompanies the book. Toro’s writing career has been entwined with artistic and cultural activism, publishing magazines, founding publishing houses and organising events. He is from Galicia, the North West region of Spain and the book presents each text in Galician and then is translated in English by John Rutherford. The presentation of the different languages isn’t always precisely mirrored from the original Galician versions, and although they have the same stories they become individual pieces of writing.
Including poems, plays and stories Toro’s writing will turn the cogs in your mind and have you deconstructing his words and then returning to read them again. They grab you, at times they may confuse, but they remain with you. His texts also become abstract pieces of artwork through the visual layout, the sentence structures of the book, and also through the methodology behind the piece. In one part Toro uses dice to determine three different structures of the same story and the outcome is random. This reminded me of past Dadaist poems as well as the unconventional layouts used in many Dadaist publications including Cabaret Voltaire and Dada. Toro’s poem, The Art of Hatred is a dark and incredibly powerful piece that touches you to the core; “Your destruction is my creation” resonated within me as this simple line sums up the tone of the piece as well as Toro’s style.
The multimedia DVD to this book offers Bish’s interpretation of this with her striking illustrations. Her vision of this poem may be very different from your own but I believe that her blood red and black colour pallet depict Toro’s desired emotions well.
The book’s blurb states that ‘These covers do not enclose a book; they open a spectrum of possibilities,’ and this is exactly what you get. This collaboration of work shows how powerful the written word can be and how the same texts can evoke such a range of images and emotions, bringing together a multitude of creative disciplines."
When I saw the title of Syrad's first poem – "The Doves in green Leaves" – 'hmm…' I thought, preparing mentally for another pleasing, innocuous excursion into nature but "a nut of colour plumbed // scarlet red" soon shocked me awake, as it did the writer, who "strained for words// to carry back/ her gratefulness, but // the sky caught her, / the land stilled her."
Later we learn that "Lefebvre's Objects" "…feel, smell and hear / one another." They do indeed, in this poem and the many others where their epiphanies of strangeness and singularity are celebrated. From the "furred knees of the song thrush" ("Owl with Blue Pencil") to "water lilies, with their horizontal perspectives on authority" ("Subverting the Order of Things"), things collected, once living, still living, are given their place as active agents for change in their own environment and that of their sometimes gob-smacked beholders: "… But I know a collector who refuses to provide any details / of provenance, preferring to allow the object, the specimen / simply to resonate, evoke memory and association…". Don't imagine that this rather cool, dry analysis is the key tone of this collection. It's only one colour in a palette of sometimes shocking intensity, where analysis rubs shoulders with wild leaps of exuberant celebration of creatures, colours, objects and people. Moreover, these swags of rich description are set in verse of impeccable and often formal craft.
Craft – the poet's in the sequence of seven linked sonnets "Double Edge" and Thomas Joshua Cooper's the photographer to whom it is dedicated – is paramount. As you might expect, Cooper's 19th century techniques are detailed with a precision and flair that brings their effects to life visually. However, despite the scope and grandeur of land and seascapes depicted, I found I preferred the human scale and quirky 'thing-ness' of other equally ambitious poems like, for example, "The Gallerist", where "We… our mouths / wanton with mackerel…" meet, in witty and acerbic detail, the artist's lover.
"Archive" is a poem which slant-wise tells us a good deal about the writer, without being overtly self-referential. She often spends time in the library and moves from a reverie about light in churches to the particularity of the 'archive box itself' and the samples of fabric
placed there by a man in 1924 – Perkins, a man so pure and sweetly serious, so skilled and knowing, that my pleasure in reading about dyes and silks, cottons and serge was such that I would rather read about them forever than look at them directly.
It's that kinship with the archivist and his passion, together with the reverence for the archive itself, that endears. Tenderness also infuses the spare, small poem "Tatiana's Visit", where the imprisoned Italian communist, Gramsci, is visited by his sister, a catholic who says bleakly "… you don't pray – ever – each of us standing / on our high, stony ground, our hearts starving" and there are many other examples of understated but deeply felt compassion. This is a sophisticated and accomplished first collection where knowledge is never merely knowing but lit with unexpected insights and human sympathy.
Review by Kate Foley, Artemis Poetry, Issue 9 November 2012
Extracted from Natalie Pollard, "On your Marks", The London Magazine.
The touch of the printed page is coupled with violence in the inky subject matter of Charlotte Gann's The Long Woman, from Pighog Press. In 'Love Poem' a 'murder /of plump crows hangs suspended from black /branches: charcoal thumbed into thick white fog'. A line like 'Stabs his nib deep in the ink well' puts one in mind of the aggressive birds of Ted Hughes's Crow: From the Life and Times of the Crow. Hughes's slender 1972 book contained drawings by Leonard Baskin that emphasised their shared fascination with the inky processes of bookmaking. Gann's pamphlet is comparably well-wrought: a labour with materials which will not keep one's hands clean. In 'Lotus' paper, skin and vellum become peculiarly akin, linking pliable foldings with coercive artistry: 'your gift of touch,/ ply your cool art, like origami...', 'women ... your invisible hands all over them ...' The association of skin and paper merges tactile skill and manipulative force. Gann's uncanny associations between ink, paper and persons are alert to disturbing aspects of our encounters with printed pages.
A Year's Midnight by Ciaran O'Driscoll
CELEBRATED POET, ex-monk and member of Aosdóna, Ciaran O'Driscoll's new novel A Year's Midnight (the first novel to be published by Pighog Press) is a witty, disturbing evocation of a man's quest to centre himself,while on a sabbatical in rural Italy, looking at the idea of escaping reality, relationship problems and a haunted field. For an Italophile like myself (it would seem O'Driscoll shares my passion – considering the dual language edition in Italian and English of his fourth collection of poems, The Old Women of Magione), the backdrop - vivid evocations of rural Italy which include descriptions of its beautiful villages, landscape and language, I was hooked from the outset.
But Kilkenny-born O'Driscoll delivers on the important stuff, too. In a life-changing winter in which everything connected to him – including his already questionable sanity - seems to be slowly falling apart at the seams, protagonistGeorge, an Irishman who has fled with his partner to rural Italy for a year (in the hope of boosting both his flagging sex life and abysmal writing career) is troubled – on the main, by a portentous field which he can see from his house.
This field seems to be trying to tell him something. As the person he loves falls out of his life and his affections turn towards someone new, George drinks his way through the days, despondently mumbling quotes from poems and plays to the landlord in the local pub, who is more interested in his body than what's left of his intellect.
He finds himself reconnecting with a dark chapter of abuse in his childhood that had never found its way into his consciousness so sharply before. Disturbing, heart-warming and with generous amounts of darkly funny moments,O'Driscoll's despair has a witty and lyrical edge that means you never get sucked so far into the darkness that you stop enjoying the journey. Buon viaggio...
Shelley Marsden, The Irish World Review, 23 June 2012
A Year's Midnight by Ciaran O'Driscoll (Pighog Press, £9.99)
Ciaran O'Driscoll's dark comedy A Year's Midnight invites readers on a surreal and supernatural exploration of madness. Just the man to venture there is anti-hero George, author to a bleakly unsuccessful first novel and all-round unfulfilled guy. The setting is George's very own Dante's Hell: a relaxing post-breakdown year away from writing in picturesque, rural Italy. Instead, the getaway forces him to acknowledge the skeletons lodged particularly deep within his aggressive and unhappy mind. He's accompanied by girlfriend Barbara, a teacher trying to artistically break free from her usual watercolours, and her young son, Alan.
Downstairs in the barn conversion rental live their landlords, lecherous university lecturer Rogero and his melancholy wife, Mathilde. And don't forget the dogs. Three pooches of varying breeds, that abruptly begin conversing with George. Picture Alsatians drawing deeply on a self-rolled cigarette, pondering their views on abortion. Sound a little strange? Well yes, it is – considerably so. Then there are the poltergeists, a mystical paddock and a considerable dose of sexual confusion and guilt.
If alarm bells are ringing at this point, then no doubt the 200-page novel will prove all together too weird. But if you're going to give it a miss, then you'll also lose out on some seriously good writing. O'Driscoll captures his characters' failures with poignant and pitiful accuracy. His offbeat humor, and there's plenty of it, never detracts from their feelings and, thankfully, the morbid landscape never lacks for laughs either. Above all he's a masterful writer and no matter how absurd the scenario, O'Driscoll encases them with description that is concise and thoughtful. This book isn't for everyone, but really what story is? Whether you're able to find a little sanity in George's madness, there's only one way to find out.
Alice Johnson, The Brighton Argus, Saturday June 16 2012
Pighog Press £6
Charlotte Gann's debut pamphlet "bristles with beautiful menace" says Abi Curtis. And she's not wrong. From the start Gann lures you into a world rich with half-hidden threat, where
of plump crows hands suspended from black
branches: charcoal thumbed into thick white fog
and a young girl stares up at a house in which a figure "licks dry lips, lamp at the window. / Stabs his nib deep in the inkwell" ("Love Poem").
This uncanny strain in Gann's writing is all the more effective for being set against a domestic background. In "Round Yours," for example, an empty house with its flock wallpaper and dresser "bowelful with half-full / bottles," conceals hordes of spectral children:
It's only now I see. Whole seas of them.
Small smudged faces loom from unlit stair.
Start the long walk along the long dark hall.
Elsewhere, Gann demonstrates a knack of distilling individuals and situations to one perfectly crafted line. In "Drinks," for example, the first of two brilliant, tragic poems, set appropriately in pubs, her father forms part of a sad tableau. We picture the drinkers as they bump against standard lamps "then apologise." "He keeps his jacket on. They all do," she concludes. And we are there, among them, with the pork scratchings and halves of tepid beer.
Gann's native Sussex forms the backdrop to many of these poems. But it too is strangely transfigured, perhaps to the "long brown coastline [...] like a finger" in "On the Tide," or the "low chalk path climbing skyward" above the "lip / of our small red town" in "Full Moon Over the Fair."
This is wonderful writing: rich but economical; expansive but precise; subtle and powerful. Gann has a feeling for the music of words and the mystery infusing the everyday. We will be seeing a lot more of her.
Ross Cogan South no. 45.
Clare Best performs three poems from her sequence 'Self-portrait without Breasts'. The performance at Brighton & Sussex Medical School marked the launch of Breastless - a pamphlet from Pighog Press featuring a number of the poems as well as an essay by cancer consultant Gareth Evans, a memoir by Clare and photographs by Laura Stevens.
With a strong family history of breast cancer, Clare decided to have preventive surgery. But going against fashion, she chose not to have reconstructive surgery - or implants.
Through her decisions and her poetry, Clare is helping to open up discussions around options for women in similar situations.
"Today I've been reading EXCISIONS by Clare Best (Waterloo Press, 2011). I'd already read Clare's chapbook Treasure Ground some time ago, and admired its careful attention to observed detail; its attentiveness to landscape and stewardship (it came out of a writer's residency on an organic farm), and its equally careful attention to phrasing, poetic devices and a great way with imagery. But EXCISIONS is an altogether more extraordinary book of poems, wholeheartedly recommended...
"The second group, "Self-Portrait Without Breasts", is truly remarkable. As a teenager in the 1970s, Clare had nursed her mother through the trauma of two radical mastectomies. Her aunt and first cousin both developed breast cancer in subsequent decades. Following all of this, she was told that she also had a high risk of breast cancer herself and so chose preventative bilateral mastectomy. This radical reformulating of her mature body has not only reshaped her life, but resulted in a body of poems that equally shows radical poetic reformulations that are more than equal to handling this mind-boggling subject matter. As she writes ‘I have an ear for truth' and that is unquestionably so. I don't want to ‘excise' bits of it myself, so will just say "read it". This is precise, inventive, often witty and sometimes erotic, and at all times powerfully truthful writing – I don't think any other group of poems has made me feel so aware of my body. There's not a shred of sentiment or maudlin self-indulgence here: this is the real thing. Formally it is varied and rich, assured in its handling of music and image, and conclusively powerful in tone, range and subject matter."
A selection from "Self-Portrait Without Breasts" appears in Pighog's Breastless.