Sunday, 24 May 2020
The second unpublished poem of mine that I wanted to share is called 'Breath'.
This poem is an old favourite of mine, and when I say old, I mean really old. I would have to look back in my notebooks to see when I actually wrote it, but I believe it was in Dublin in the early 2000s.
The image which is the genesis of the poem - the lilac and the iron sky - is from a very specific place and moment in time, in Dublin. When I moved to Dublin from Canada in 2002, I first stayed with my relatives in Dundrum for a few months, and then moved to a tiny flat on Greenmount Road in Terenure. It had a garden and I wonder why I hardly spent any time there - a combination of being busy and the unpredictable weather, probably. But my window looked out onto the garden, which was a blessing. And there was a lilac. It seemed to be a reflection of the lilac in the garden of my parents' house in Canada. The sunlight and the iron sky are very characteristic of the Dublin climate, and piercingly beautiful.
I really love this poem and have submitted it many times. Several times another poem in the submission was chosen, but not 'Breath'. I'm not sure if I have a clear view of the poem, as it's been in my life for so long. But it always calls up a very, very slow turning of the earth for me - the passage of time, but for a change, not in a painful way.
Into the sudden sunlight
springs the lilac
under an iron sky
sleek as hematite
and the air is a prickling
sharp as cold ashes
blown past velvet houses
where light recedes
into the settled darkness
beyond the earth's shoulder
Photo: "Lilac in Spring" by njtrout_2000 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Wednesday, 13 May 2020
As I've failed to blog more frequently even in the midst of more-time-than-usual-on-my-hands-quarantine (I'm sure many of you can relate), I thought something I could do would be to share one or two (or maybe a few) of my unpublished poems. These are poems which I have faith in, and have probably sent out several times, but which have failed to find a home in journal-world.
I wrote the following poem 'Leaving Basel' while travelling in Switzerland several years ago. I had been staying with a friend in Basel in December and then took the train to Geneva for a quick visit before returning to London. The same trip, which began in Luxembourg, also yielded my poem 'Carousel', which was published in Strange Horizons and which you can read here: http://strangehorizons.com/poetry/carousel/
While I say this is a poem I have faith in, it's also fair to say that I never felt as though I got the ending quite right, and that is perhaps the poem's weakness. On the other hand, I don't feel as though I will ever get any farther with it. And maybe that's ok.
I was trying to explain the snow in terms of the light
as we drove to the station. The border houses slept,
the embassies sang softly and a breath of crystals rose
from their balconies. But I stopped trying
and just looked, because the muted shatter of snow
over the quiet city was not the long slow note of light
on water, and the wild ringing of sailboats
in the wind on Lake Geneva was another way of seeing.
What I learned was this:
we cannot even explain snow in terms of snow,
nor light in terms of light. Then this:
snow stops being here, and light fades. But love goes on,
and elsewhere snow clouds gather, and elsewhere the sun rises.
Saturday, 11 April 2020
The poet and blogger Chris Edgoose has recently published a wonderful review of my pamphlet Island of Towers on his blog Wood Bee Poet.
You can read the review here: https://woodbeepoet.com/2020/04/02/small-hopes-island-of-towers-by-clarissa-aykroyd/
Chris provided some wonderful insights into the poems, in some cases as individual works, but also how they work together as a whole - "every poem in the pamphlet is a little island in itself, each with its own faint source of light".
I must say that I find it particularly reassuring when readers find that the pamphlet is effective as an entire work, given that the poems were written over several years and in a few cases are quite old. (To go on a bit of a tangent: I recently realised that my pamphlet is in good company as far as having been written over a long period of time, given that the extraordinary and popular recent collections Deaf Republic [Ilya Kaminsky] and In the Lateness of the World [Carolyn Forché] were both written over many years. Not every collection or pamphlet has to be written in a single burst of creativity, folks!)
Anyway, I was particularly struck by this insightful (and poetic) comment from the review: "[I]t feels...as though each poem exists while briefly lit by some central illuminating force (the reader's eyes? the poet's pen?) before disappearing back into the mystery of the unknown." And I was very touched by the concluding comment: "I would recommend this pamphlet above all, in these months during which we are overwhelmed by COVID-19, for the distant lights it provides, the small hopes."
This is the second published review that Island of Towers has received. If you didn't see it before, poet and blogger David Green published a review here: http://davidgreenbooks.blogspot.com/2019/10/clarissa-aykroyd-island-of-towers.html
One of my favourite comments in this review was: "As a translator as much as a poet in English, Clarissa is internationalist in outlook. The world doesn't end at the border of a country and poetry doesn't stop at the borders of language."
A reminder: you can purchase Island of Towers directly from the publishers, Broken Sleep Books, here: https://www.brokensleepbooks.com/product-page/clarissa-aykroyd-island-of-towers
I also have copies for sale myself, which can be inscribed. Please get in touch if you'd like one of those - through this blog, or another good way to do so is on Twitter, where my handle is @stoneandthestar
Monday, 30 March 2020
In a very uncertain and disturbing moment worldwide, literature can only do so much, but there is no doubt that it can cross borders even where physical borders have closed.
Modern Poetry in Translation is one of the best examples of this, and I'm so pleased that I have finally placed a couple of translations there. The new issue features my translations from the original French of Benjamin Fondane's poems 'All at once' and 'When the shipwrecked traveller'.
I am really honoured that I can do something to bring Fondane to a wider audience. I think he is still not well known except somewhat in Romania (his country of origin) and France (where he did most of his mature work, and his philosophy is more famous than his poetry). From the moment I first read Fondane a few years ago, I knew that I wanted to try translating his work. Modern Poetry in Translation also published my review, about a year and half ago, of a new translation by Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody of Fondane's long work Ulysses.
The focus for this issue of Modern Poetry in Translation is Japan (obviously my translations are among those which sit outside the focus). As always, the whole issue is wonderful and worth your time. A full table of contents is here, and a few poems from the issue, although my translations appear only in the print version: https://modernpoetryintranslation.com/magazine/dream-colours-2020-number-1/
Saturday, 28 March 2020
I don't really plan to write about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its worldwide consequences - or I won't be doing so until I have something I really want to say.
However, UK readers of my blog will agree that the NHS needs support, especially right now. And to offer your support in a poetry-relevant way, you could buy the new anthology These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS (Fair Acre Press).
This anthology was published just a few days ago and was planned for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Rather sadly, right now, it is all too relevant and important - even more so than usual. It was edited by Deborah Alma (who you may also know as the Emergency Poet and proprietor of the Poetry Pharmacy) and Dr Katie Amiel, and the foreword is by Michael Rosen. The poems themselves are by NHS employees, along with contributions from well-known poets.
Profits from the anthology go to the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Emergency Fund. I hear it's selling really well.
Again, you can buy it here: https://fairacrepress.co.uk/shop/these-are-the-hands-poems-from-the-heart-of-the-nhs/
Saturday, 21 March 2020
Carmine Starnino has written a fascinating essay on the important Canadian poet AM Klein, for The New Criterion, which you can read here: https://newcriterion.com/issues/2020/4/the-silence-of-a-m-klein
The essay is also extremely interesting for its exploration of the role of a poet in society and how this affected Klein and his work. Also, I must admit I was delighted to learn that Klein authored a spy thriller (apparently called That Walks Like a Man, about the Gouzenko affair in Ottawa which helped to start the Cold War) but saddened that it was never published.
AM Klein (1909-1972) was one of the Montreal Group of modernist writers whose literary innovations created radical change in Canadian literature from the 1920s on. He was an associate of poets such as FR Scott and PK Page. (My Montreal grandparents had some connections to FR Scott, while PK Page is one of my most important influences all the way back to my teenage years. She lived in Sidney, BC, near where I grew up in Victoria, and I was privileged to go to one of her readings and meet her some years before she died. I like to think that these slight connections give me a cool "degrees of separation" angle on AM Klein...)
More significant than those degrees of separation was the Canadian poetry class I took at UVic at the end of the 1990s, taught by another Canadian poet, Doug Beardsley. I have mentioned this class before on the blog; I took it rather reluctantly with much eye-rolling over a Canadian literature requirement. It turned out to be absolutely life-altering for me in a literary sense, particularly (but not only) in my discovery of PK Page. The great Al Purdy also came to speak and read to us, once. I loved AM Klein's poetry too.
You can read some of Klein's poetry here: https://canpoetry.library.utoronto.ca/klein/index.htm
Photo: AM Klein in the 1940s. Library and Archives Canada. Public domain
Tuesday, 4 February 2020
Over the weekend, an excellent new poetry endeavour was launched online. 'iamb' is a website of poets reading their own work, and (at least so far) features 20 poets with three poems each - you can both read, and listen to, the poems.
I was delighted to be part of this first wave of poets, with representation not only from the UK but around the world. The website is the brainchild of Mark Antony Owen, an English poet who is also the author of the Subruria poetry website, featuring small, lyrical, incisive poems about the suburbs, family life and more. Mark is also a talented web designer, and both of these websites are beautifully presented.
I happen to know that there are some really exciting plans for 'iamb' later this year, so while there's plenty to listen to and read right now, keep watching this space.
My own contribution can be found on this link: https://www.iambapoet.com/clarissa-aykroyd
The first poem, 'I dream the perfect ride', is previously unpublished and is a sort of idealised memory of my riding days (when I was a teenager, so not recently, except a trail ride every few years or so.) I do know that the physicality of the memory is quite specific and quite real.
'Amrum' first appeared in my Broken Sleep Books pamphlet Island of Towers, but this is its first appearance online. It was inspired by a visit to the North Friesian Islands.
'Watson on Dartmoor' is pretty self-explanatory (a Sherlock Holmes poem which is actually a Watson poem), but is a personal favourite. It first appeared in Ink Sweat & Tears.
Wednesday, 29 January 2020
In the past couple of weeks I went to two events which were either poetry, or poetry-adjacent ("adjacent" is my current overused word) and wanted to write a little about them here.
Alice Oswald, who is definitely "the great Alice Oswald" and is also now the first woman Oxford Professor of Poetry (though not the first to be elected - that was Ruth Padel), performed at Kings Place on 17 January with live music by Ansuman Biswas. Oswald does specifically "perform" rather than "recite" or "read" - even her more conventional appearances involve her almost chanting her poems off by heart, unforgettable performances unlike anyone else's. I have written about seeing her a couple of times before, and this was one of the less conventional appearances. It started with a "sound calendar" or seascape by Chris Watson, and the actual performance was mostly in total darkness, although there was partial lighting for sections of it.
Oswald was performing Nobody, her most recent book, based on stories of water, humans and gods from Greek mythology. I'm only superficially knowledgeable about the Odyssey and related works, so I appreciated Nobody more from a sea-perspective, but the tales that washed in and out sometimes had an odd familiarity. Ansuman Biswas performed on the aquaphone, which reminded me of sea sounds washing into a cave, and also an enormous gong, which was overwhelming to the point of being almost distressing at certain points. The whole performance was mesmerising, thrilling and absolutely haunting.
Last weekend I went to Anselm Kiefer's new exhibition Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot at White Cube in Bermondsey. I got in just under the wire - the exhibition had been on for a few months but was in its final hours when I went. I was very glad that I did make it, as I've found that Anselm Kiefer is one of the very few contemporary artists who I really connect with. I've written about him on this blog before, as my way into his work was through the poetry of Paul Celan, one of his greatest inspirations (and mine...)
The tangled, broken, cascading canvases and masses of wires weren't quite as enthralling to me as Kiefer's exhibition Walhalla, also at White Cube a few years ago, or the retrospective at the Royal Academy which introduced me to his work - although this was still excellent. This exhibition also seemed a little less poetry-influenced. But poetry was still there: one canvas took inspiration from Georg Trakl, another from the Kalevala, a work which brings together traditional poetry about Finnish mythology. In one of the books accompanying the exhibition, Kiefer referred to Ingeborg Bachmann's poem 'Bohemia Lies By the Sea'.
The painting below, one of the Gordian Knot series which featured axes, seemed slightly more optimistic than most of the other works in the exhibition (which probably tells you something about how "optimistic" it was overall: Kiefer is pretty shattering, almost literally.) I don't quite know what it was - perhaps the colours. I just knew that I felt a slight lifting of the heart. But it also reminded me of Paul Celan's poem 'I hear the axe has flowered'. You can read this poem in full, along with a few others, in translation by Ian Fairley on this link: https://www.guernicamag.com/four_new_translations_of_paul/