Thursday, 27 August 2020

Victoria Kennefick: 'Cork Schoolgirl Considers the GPO, Dublin 2016'


 

I recall first reading Victoria Kennefick's poem 'Cork Schoolgirl Considers the GPO, Dublin 2016' at least a couple of years ago. The poet is from County Cork, Ireland, and the poem was first published in Poetry Ireland Review in 2016, around the 100th anniversary of the Easter 1916 Rising. (The GPO, or General Post Office, is one of the most famous buildings not only in Dublin but in all of Ireland, because it was the headquarters of the Easter Rising.) Now, you can both read and listen to a reading of the poem here, on the iamb website: https://www.iambapoet.com/victoria-kennefick 

This is absolutely one of my favourite poems of the past several years. In 20 lines, Kennefick captures humour, pathos, history, and the total insanity of being a teenager - the latter being possibly the most difficult accomplishment of all. 

The poem pays tribute to "those boys in uniform" but it also captures the problematic ways in which our countries teach us history: "all the men of history sacrificing/themselves for Ireland, for me, these rebel Jesuses." This obviously isn't a particularly healthy perspective, but what brings me close to tears in these lines is also how true it is to how teenage girls think, or at least some teenage girls. Falling in love with dead heroes is just the kind of thing a lot of us did at 16. At the end of the poem, when the speaker says "I put my lips/to the pillar...I kiss all those boys goodbye", we understand that some day she'll look back at this as a crazy, sentimental, teenage moment. And yet, we also kiss those boys goodbye along with her and we feel the poet's empathy for those in history who were lost to war, and her equal empathy for the wild emotions of the teenage years. 


Image: The shell of the GPO on Sackville Street (later O'Connell Street), Dublin in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising. Date: May ? 1916 NLI Ref: KE 121


Sunday, 16 August 2020

New poems up on Anthropocene

 Once again, distraction takes charge: I think I was pretty convinced that I had already written a blog post about the following.

I've had a couple of poems published on the Anthropocene website, another excellent online journal published by Charlie Baylis (who is also Chief Editorial Advisor with my publishers Broken Sleep Books. Yes, I love saying "my publishers".) You can read them here: https://www.anthropocenepoetry.org/post/2-poems-by-clarissa-aykroyd

Anthropocene is a very impressive journal which has also published the likes of Vahni Capildeo and Mark Waldron, among others. As for my poems 'Brush Pass, Royal Albert Hall' and 'Scarlet', it will come as a surprise to hardly anyone that the first one is inspired by spies and the second by Sherlock Holmes. Especially in the case of 'Scarlet', though, I think you could read them outside of those contexts and still find a way in. 

Rereading 'Brush Pass, Royal Albert Hall', which I wrote a while ago, made me miss the Proms terribly in this pandemic year. In a "normal" year I always go at least a couple of times and usually feel as though I should have gone more. The Gallery, in particular, with people wandering up and down and behaving mildly oddly, is an excellent location for the discreet exchange of secrets. 



Friday, 31 July 2020

Dear readers...all my recent poetry updates




It's hard to believe that it's over two months since I last posted, but also not hard to believe. I've moved house and returned to work (though soon again to be not working, for a while), which technically are my excuses but I think that a lot of us have found it difficult to concentrate enough to write much during the pandemic, even though (in some cases) we have more time than usual.

I also feel that a lot of my blog posts have been very self-focused lately, and this one will be no exception. I'm not entirely happy about that and really feel that I need to start making more of an effort again to write about poems, rather than just what I've published lately.

That said...here we are with my updates, all of which happily do concern other poets and publishers as well.

Colin Bancroft has recently set up a new website called The Poets' Directory, where he generously and usefully posts information about journals, publishers, events and so forth in the UK and Ireland. There is also an extensive list of Collections, Pamphlets and Chapbooks by poets in the UK and Ireland, which includes my Island of Towers.  And there is a showcase of poems from these collections, which now includes my poem 'As though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul'. This website is really a remarkable resource and is well worth your time.

I've just had a new poem, 'Open Ocean', published in the latest issue of Black Bough Poetry. This special issue is Volume 1 of a theme around Deep Time, inspired by the work of Robert Macfarlane in his acclaimed book Underland, and it will soon be appearing online but for now is only available in print. You can find all the details on this website, including several wonderful reviews (one of which specifically mentions my poem!) and information on how to buy the print edition: https://www.blackboughpoetry.com/deep-time-project
I highly recommend buying the printed version, partly because of the wonderful poetry by so many poets including Paul Brookes, Ankh Spice, Matthew M.C. Smith (also the publisher of Black Bough), Jenny Mitchell and Robert Minhinnick, among others. But the artwork by Rebecca Wainwright is absolutely stunning and beautifully reproduced in this edition.

The superb iamb website, which features poetry read by the poets and which included a few of my poems in its 'wave one', has gone from strength to strength. It was shortlisted in the prestigious Saboteur Awards, and its 'wave three' is just about to appear - you can already see which poets are featured, including the likes of Aaron Kent (my publisher at Broken Sleep Books!), Jorie Graham and Victoria Kennefick. iamb's publisher Mark Antony Owen was also kind enough to nominate my poem 'I dream the perfect ride', which appears on the website, for Sundress Publications' Best of the Net 2020.

Finally, I had an acceptance which won't appear for a while but which I'm excited about. My publishers Broken Sleep Books are preparing an anthology to be published in 2021, featuring poems based on vintage video games, and I'll have a poem about a classic role-playing game in the anthology. We've already been informed that the anthology will appear in two slightly different versions/editions, with covers in Mario Red and Luigi Green...

I hope that you and yours are staying as well and safe as possible.



Sunday, 24 May 2020

Previously unpublished poem: 'Breath'




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.


BREATH


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

Previously unpublished poem: 'Leaving Basel'




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.



LEAVING BASEL


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.




Photo by Clarissa Aykroyd: Sailboats on Lake Geneva, 2014.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Another review of Island of Towers


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

My translations of Benjamin Fondane in Modern Poetry in Translation




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

These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS




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/