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Two Poetry Collections

9781784101244The Complete Poems by Muriel Spark ***
I have read a lot of Spark’s fiction, but none of her poetry; it seemed obvious, therefore, to pick up a copy of her Complete Poems and read it during the month of her centenary. The poems here are not chronologically ordered, which annoyed me a little; I like to see how poets evolve over time, particularly over the decades in which Spark wrote. The content here is quite varied; Spark writes extensively about writing and London, which I was expecting, but other poems deal with catching bad colds, and leaning over old walls, which I perhaps was not.

Spark’s poems are witty and clever, but the collection did not feel like a coherent one to me. Perhaps this is because of the lack of chronological ordering; had it been structured in this way, and one could see the progression of Spark’s poetic voice and the continuation of themes, it would have worked better. Sadly, some of the poems here were a little silly and juvenile for my particular taste, and I was largely indifferent to the collection as a whole; very few of these poems really stood out.

 

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur ** 9781471165825
I downloaded a copy of Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers from my library’s online catalogue, mainly to see what all the hype was about. I am one of the few, it seems, that hasn’t read her debut poetry collection, Milk and Honey, and doubt that I will seek out a copy after my experience with this, her second book.

Firstly, I wasn’t at all a fan of the illustrations, and do not feel as though they have a place within poetry anyway; they detract somewhat from the actual writing, and make it feel a bit gimmicky. The Sun and Her Flowers largely felt fragmented to me, like a series of quite random thoughts had been quickly jotted down. It felt unfinished. I found the collection quite banal at times, because the same themes are repeated over and over again; the two overriding themes are ‘woe is me’, and ‘I am strong and powerful’. Whilst I enjoyed a few of these poems, I felt indifferent to the vast majority of them. It is not the kind of poetry which grabs you and doesn’t let go; yes, it passes a couple of hours, but I do not feel as though I really got anything of worth from the collection. I perhaps would have enjoyed it more before I had discovered the likes of Sylvia Plath, or had I read it whilst in my early teens. It had an overarching ‘Tumblr’ feel to it.

Also, as far as I’m concerned, the following is not a poem (yet it is in Kaur’s book): ‘you do not just wake up and become the butterfly’.

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Translation Database: Day Five

Today marks the final instalment of my picks from the wonderful Translation Database (view it here).  I have chosen all of these books at random, but have tried to ensure that there is a real diversity between picks, both in terms of subject matter, and the original written languages the books were published in.  I hope you have found some books in this week’s showcase which have piqued your interest.

 

1. The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (translated from the Portuguese 1159038by Daniel Hahn; Simon & Schuster)
The narrator of this novel is a rather charming lizard. He lives on Felix Ventura’s living-room wall, Felix, the lizard’s friend and hero of the story, is a man who sells pasts – if you don’t like yours, he can come up with an new one for you, a new past – full of better memories, with a complete lineage, photos and all.”

 

176987392. The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal by Tytti Heikkenen (translated from the Finnish by Niina Pollari; Action Books)
Brainy, rambunctious, gross and sad, the poems of Tytti Heikkinen’s debut English collection make clear why this young poet has become a major force in contemporary Finnish poetry. By turns lyric, limpid, lightly encrusted and slightly mad, these poems knit together the language of “where we are now” until it reads like where we’ve never been and where we are always sentenced to be.

 

3. Collected Body by Valzhyna Mort (translated from the Belarusian by Elizabeth 11505557Oehlkers Wright; Copper Canyon)
Valzhyna Mort is a dynamic Belarusian poet, and Collected Body is her first collection composed in English. Whether writing about sex, relatives, violence, or fish markets as opera, Mort insists on vibrant, dark truths. “Death hands you every new day like a golden coin,” she writes, then warns that as the bribe grows “it gets harder to turn down.”

 

254892154. Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson (translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death; Other Press)
Ester Nilsson is a sensible person in a sensible relationship. She knows what she thinks and she acts according to her principles.  Until the day she is asked to give a lecture on renowned artist Hugo Rask. The man himself sits in the audience, spellbound, and when the two meet afterwards, he has the same effect on her. From then on Ester’s existence is intrinsically linked to that day, and the events that follow change her life forever.  Bitingly funny and darkly fascinating, Willful Disregard is a story about total and desperate devotion and about how willingly we betray ourselves in the pursuit of love.

 

5. Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin (translated from the Estonian by Ilmar Lehtpere; 21918964Unnamed Press)
A woman cultivates a knack for walking on water, but is undermined by her husband’s brain, which he removes each night when he returns home from work; a couple overcomes the irksome mischief of the gods; a skeptical dragon wonders what sex is all about: this is the world of Kristiina Ehin. From the 2007 British Poetry Society Popescu prize winner for European poetry in translation: a series of comic, surreal adventures. Kristiina Ehin’s quirky voice takes each story directly from the dream state, at times stubborn and resistant, at other times masochistically compliant. Ehin offers up modern folktales in which the very nature of our human identity is at stake-rampant with images and archetypes both new and old, and mediated by the abrupt changes we can only experience in dreams.

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Translation Database: Day Two

We have reached the second day of my picks from the wonderful Translation Database (view it here).  I have chosen all of these books at random, but have tried to ensure that there is a real diversity between picks, both in terms of subject matter, and the original written languages the books were published in.  However, I could not help but include both Serbian books, which sound wonderful.

 

74040421. Assembly by Novica Tadic (translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and Maja Teref; Host Publications)
A dynamic artist at the height of his poetic powers, Tadic presents to the reader a world that is at once surreal and hauntingly familiar, a world of outlandish encounters and uncanny creatures. His poetry addresses the challenges of surviving as an artist in a Communist society, and themes of victimization, oppression and spiritual pollution permeate much of his work.  Assembly is a gently subversive and mischievous collection, a harrowing yet humanizing work that is a stunning testimony to Tadic’s outstanding abilities as an artist.’

 

2. Microfictions by Ana Maria Shua (translated from the Spanish by Steven Stewart; 6319086University of Nebraska)
Cinderella’s sisters surgically modify their feet to win the prince’s love. A werewolf gathers up enough courage to visit a dentist. A medium trying to reach the afterworld gets a recorded message. A fox and a badger compete to out-fool each other. Whether writing of insomnia from a mosquito’s point of view or showing us what happens after the princess kisses the frog, Ana María Shua, in these fleet and incandescent stories, is nothing if not pithy—except, of course, wildly entertaining. Some as short as a sentence, these microfictions have been selected and translated from four different books. Flashes of insight, cracks of wit, twists of logic, and quirks of language: these are fictions in the distinguished Argentinean tradition of Borges and Cortázar and Denevi, as powerful as they are brief. One of Argentina’s most prolific and distinguished writers, and acclaimed worldwide, Shua displays in these microfictions the epitome of her humor, riddling logic, and mastery over our imagination. Now, for the first time in English, the fox transforms itself into a fable, and “the reader is invited to find the tail.

 

86984833. The Calligrapher’s Secret by Rafik Schami (translated from the German by Anthea Bell; Interlink)
A new international bestseller from the award-winning author of The Dark Side of Love. Even as a young man, Hamid Farsi is acclaimed as a master of the art of calligraphy. But as time goes by, he sees that weaknesses in the Arabic language and its script limit its uses in the modern world. In a secret society, he works out schemes for radical reform, never guessing what risks he is running. His beautiful wife, Nura, is ignorant of her husband’s ambitions, knowing only his cold, avaricious side. So its no wonder she feels flattered by the attentions of his young apprentice. And so begins a passionate love story, the love of a Muslim woman and a Christian man.

 

4. Autopsy of a Father by Pascal Kramer (translated from the French by Tamsin Black; 31945214Bellevue Literary Press)
When a young woman returns to her childhood home after her estranged father’s death, she begins to piece together the final years of his life. What changed him from a prominent left-wing journalist to a bitter racist who defended the murder of a defenseless African immigrant? Kramer exposes a country gripped by intolerance and violence to unearth the source of a family’s fall from grace.  Set in Paris and its suburbs, and inspired by the real-life scandal of a French author and intellectual, Autopsy of a Father blends sharp observations about familial dynamics with resonant political and philosophical questions, taking a scalpel to the racism and anti-immigrant sentiment spreading just beneath the skin of modern society.

 

223442105. Learning Cyrillic: Selected Stories by David Albahari (translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursac; Dalkey Archive Press)
Learning Cyrillic presents a selection of fiction by Serbian master David Albahari written since his departure from Europe. In these twenty short stories, written and published in their original language over the past twenty years, Albahari addresses immigrant life–the need to fit into one’s adopted homeland–as well as the joys and terrors of refusing to give up one’s essential “strangeness” in the face of an alien culture.

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A Month of Favourites: ‘The World’s Wife’ by Carol Ann Duffy

‘The World’s Wife’ by Carol Ann Duffy

I was so excited when I opened this most beautiful of books on Christmas morning.  The entirety is so well presented, from its beautiful silver-foiled cover, to the fact that it comes complete with a contents page.

The blurb of The World’s Wife is so enticing: ‘That saying?  “Behind every famous man…?”  From Mrs Midas to Queen Kong, from Elvis’ twin sister to Pygmalion’s bride, they’re all here, in The World’s Wife.  Witty and thought-provoking, this tongue-in-cheek, no-holds-barred look at the real movers and shakers across history, myth and legend…  the wives of the great, the good, the not so good, and the legendary are given a voice in Carol Ann Duffy’s sparkling and inventive collection’.

Each and every poem within the book’s pages is so clever.  Duffy tells tales which we all know, and which form great parts of our human consciousness, from the perspectives of the women who appear within them.  ‘Little Red Cap’ is narrated by Red Riding Hood, and ‘Queen Herod’ from the viewpoint of Herod’s wife, who states that it was her idea to ‘kill each mother’s son’ so that no man would be able to make her baby daughter cry, for example.

The World’s Wife is absolutely beautiful in terms of the writing within each poem, and each syllable has clearly been so carefully thought out.  Duffy has a marvellous way with words, able to craft such vivid images in just a single line or two.

(From ‘Thetis):
‘I was wind, I was gas,
I was all hot air, trailed
clouds for hair.
I scrawled my name with a hurricane
when out of the blue
roared a fighter plane’

I love the different techniques which have been used throughout.  This causes each and every poem to stand out within the collection.  Each voice which has been crafted is distinctive.  In The World’s Wife, Duffy has demonstrated that she is the creme de la creme of contemporary poetry.

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Christmas, the Carol Ann Duffy Way

Last Christmas, I read the majority of Carol Ann Duffy’s annual Christmas poems, all of which I very much enjoyed.  To get us in the mood for the current festive season, I thought that I would amalgamate my short reviews of them all into one post.

Another Night Before Christmas (2010) 9780330523936
This extended poem, about a young girl’s longing to find out whether Santa is real, is just as lovely as ever.  The artwork here is gorgeous; minimalist and lovely.  A delightful volume.

The Christmas Truce (2011)
9781447206408This was the first of Duffy’s Christmas poems which I read after finding a lovely little copy for fifty pence in a Notting Hill bookshop, and it evokes one of my favourite historic Christmas stories, that of the 1914 truce between German and English soldiers in the trenches, when they played the famous football match and sang carols.  There is such humanity and sensitivity packed into these pages, and it is a true delight to settle down with each winter.

Wenceslas (2012) 9781447212027
A beautifully illustrated and rather sumptuous poem; perfect for making one think of Christmas past, and the true message of the season – good will to all men.

Bethlehem (2013)
9781447226123Alice Stevenson’s art is lovely and fitting, particularly with regard to scenery and still lives, and Duffy is on form with the originality of her wordplay throughout.  I particularly enjoyed the use of sibilants, and think that this would be a great volume to read aloud: ‘The moon rose; the shepherd’s sprawled, / shawled, / a rough ring on sparse grass, passing / a leather flask’, for instance.  On the whole, it is a really sweet poem which promotes a nice message, but I think it would have been better had it been extended slightly.  Still, it is a lovely contemplative Christmas read.

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday (2014)
9781447271505I put off reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday when it was first released as Carol Ann Duffy’s annual Christmas poem, but couldn’t resist ordering a secondhand copy to read over Christmas 2016.  It’s not that festive, but it is a lovely little volume.  The art style is gorgeous, and I loved the use of just a few colours, an effective and evocative choice on the part of the illustrator.  The poem itself was sweet; not my favourite Duffy, but a simple and vivid story nonetheless.  It is not as playful as a lot of her other work; the vocabulary used is not unusual, and was even a little simplistic in places.  Still, I feel that I will probably indefinitely reread this once a year as the festive season rolls around.

The King of Christmas (2016)
9781509834570I love the fact that The King of Christmas is based upon tradition from the Middle Ages, in which a Lord of Misrule could be appointed to take charge if the original ruler was in need of a break, or some light relief.  The art here is very appealing, and Duffy’s rhyme scheme and wordplay worked perfectly.  Thoughtful and mischievous, The King of Christmas evokes winters past in rather a magical way.  It is a perfect addition to the set.

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‘Bone’ by Yrsa Daley-Ward ****

I rarely review poetry here on The Literary Sisters, despite the fact that I adore to read it.  I thought, therefore, that I would leave some comments upon a wonderful collection which I have read recently, Yrsa Daley-Ward’s Bone.

9781846149665Fantastic; startling, rich, and admirable. Daley-Ward’s writing is stark, vulnerable, and musing, and she balances her prose so well. She also deals with some incredibly important themes, from sexuality to being taken advantage of; from love to loss; from parenthood to grieving. Her writing is clever, and the collection comes together seamlessly; it is a singular unit, made up of small stories. She melds together cultures in a really interesting manner. There is a brutal honesty about Daley-Ward’s varied and immensely readable collection, and I for one cannot wait for her next book.

I shall leave you with an extract from ‘What is now will soon be past’:

‘Just because you do it
doesn’t mean you always will. Whether you’re
dancing dust or breathing light
you’re never exactly the same, twice.’

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‘Selected Poems’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner ***

9780856355851I was delighted when I spotted Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Selected Poems on the shelves of my University library. I adore her prose, but had not previously ventured into her poetry, and was thus very excited to check the red-jacketed tome out. Claire Harman, Townsend Warner’s biographer, writes in her afterword that the poems here have been arranged thematically rather than chronologically, and span a fifty-year period.

There are many miniature stories to be found within the pages of Selected Poems. Whilst a nice enough collection, Selected Poems was nowhere near as varied as I was expecting it to be. I found that it lacked the sparkle and playful wit which I have come to expect from Townsend Warner’s books. There were no stanzas here which I liked enough to copy down, and there was a little too much written about religion for my personal liking. I shall have to sum up by saying that I found Selected Poems a little disappointing, and would have liked to see more about mythology and Medievalism in the collection.

I was thrilled, therefore, when I read about the New Collected Poems of Sylvia Townsend Warner whilst typing the above.  Its blurb reads as follows, and it is a tome which I certainly want to get my hands on to see how it compares:

The first “Collected Poems” of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) was published by Carcanet in 1982. Since then, more of her work has come to light, including some of the most moving and personal poems she ever wrote. Claire Harman, the original editor and author of the prize-winning biography of the poet, has substantially revised the earlier edition, including over ninety previously uncollected and unpublished poems, with expanded notes, a chronology and an authoritative new introduction. When Harman’s Life was published, it restored Warner, one critic said, to her real place as ‘second only to Virginia Woolf among the women writers of our century’. With this collection, the extent of Warner’s achievement as a poet can be appreciated.

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