4 Poets from Poetry Salzburg Review

4 Poets from Poetry Salzburg Review

Poetry Salzburg Review  was founded in 2001, and now gives a generous selection of poems (from some 50-60 poets), essays, translations and reviews.  The policy is not now as advertised:The editorial policy is catholic – David Miller, a member of our Editorial Board from No.1 to No. 18 summarised our beliefs in the following way:[We] wish to highlight and promote those poets and poetic writers whose work [we] find challenging, singular, exciting – whatever, if any, their allegiances may be.” Present-day poetry would do well to recur to poetry as rhythmic structure and patters of sound instead of chatting along amiably in what is only nominally verse. The experience of poetry as sound demands craftsmanship, a training in rhythm, metre, and phonology (the colour of Rimbaud’s vowels!), something to be recommended to young poets if they want their poems to move beyond the page. We want to do all this in a way that is accessible to the general reader, but is nevertheless not simplistic.

but more given to tough, well-articulated poems, generally from mainstream poets who have several publications to their credit. All the poems sampled here come from the Autumn 2007 Edition.

That toughness, unrelieved by any felicities of verse craft, is seen in Sue Butler’s Deconstruction at: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=28408

Ms Butler’s wide career includes works for banks, telecommunications companies, Opera North and Anglia TV. She wrote a libretto for the London Sinfonietta, made a First Take film and retold six Dickens novels for an illustrated book for children. She has several collections to her name. Why the poem is entitled Deconstruction I don’t know, as the poem adopts an almost Hemingway reportage style in what may be eastern Europe or the Soviet Union setting. The poem begins:

Like Komsomol shock-workers, twenty men
mix sand and cement, load it into barrows,
lay bricks. They saw wood, hammer nails,
don’t ask for payment. Egor and Muso
carry glass.

A fight is going on, hand to hand, only streets away, and the survivors come back in the morning to find:

It’s a tragedy, he sighs. We cross the yard
in silence, checking for mines,
pull shrapnel from the new walls.
The night watchman lies shot. A yellow dog
gnaws his thigh. Egor shouts,
throws rocks. The man calls for water.

Pat Earnshaw is a biologist, and a noted authority on antique lace. Her ‘Gothic Tales’ (Gorse Publications, 2005), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Clear Air Turbulence can be read at: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=28450

The poem is also a narrative, more lyrical than the first:

Along the rough lane leading down to the pond
the grass is on fire with sunset, the sky
slashed with streaks of primary and paint-box colours,
a chaotic fleece shot through with lightning, thunder,
solar winds and noctilucent clouds

but then turning to look a character who will take us through the next stage:

where the fat man’s mouth lost in its many chins
has swallowed his voice and is choking on it.

who then introduces us to the quiet world of plants, and in turn to an hallucinatory world of space:

But the universe – white dwarfs and supernova, planets,
paths, grass, stars and rabbit-droppings,
the twisted boles of elms lumpy and warted, the smoke
of bonfires or the burnt pizza you left in the oven
overnight, the small pond’s water-lilies
hiding the orange lights of carp not yet extinguished
by the heron’s throat – is mostly space,

In which nothing is certain.

That strangeness of the world continues in Robert Sheppard’s Third Persepolitan Writing, which can be read at: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=28500
Robert Sheppard is Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University, the author of several collections of poems, and two volumes of criticism.

The poem is a long one, and I probably transgress copyright allowances in giving just the opening section, which purports to be a scholarly exchange where one contributor is clearly overwhelmed by the physicality of the archeological remains, if not life itself:

“Major Rawlinson … is very anxiously looking for something from you
respecting the Babylonian inscriptions … You may be gratified to learn
that he says ‘Dr Hincks is in the right track and I look with much interest at
anything from him’.” (Renouard, 1846)

It is strange to think of it as immersion –
given the clay tablets, fresh from the oven,
given the sowing with saltpetre of subjugated fields,
given the reckless irrigation over centuries
and the consequent seeding of the homeland with salt –

but still it is irresistible as a metaphor
of what is needed to go down into language,
vulnerable, naked, raw, without apparatus,
time and again going under to rescue it,
each time searching for what you are searching with.

The lungs, the lips, the teeth, the tongue, the brains,
waterlogged with talk, chambers flooding with grammar,
the old wineskin of the body fit to burst.
Water is everywhere, after all, between rivers,
dry land a hyphen and mud a half-way house.

When a body is washed ashore after months
(the organs ringing, skin bright-coloured as a map,
a simple life suddenly made notable and distinct,
an object of awe as once, perhaps, of worship,
spectacular, carven, teak, the eyes still azure blue)

It’s an off-beat and deliciously humorous send-up of the academic process, into which religious issues and professional standing intrude, but obliquely something more: the sadness of life passing and the inadequate response we make to our mutability.

Charles Hobday, who died in 2005, was the distinguished author of various critical studies and of four volumes of his own poems. His Aftermath can be read here: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=28445

The poem is an extended dialogue over the death of Christ between Caiaphas, Peter, Pilate, Judas and Mary Magdalene, in enviably supple hexameters throughout: diction and tone are contemporary, and entirely believable. I give the first section of Caiaphas’ speech:

Of course I deplore the whole unfortunate incident
but one must view everything, yes, even matters
of life and death, in a strictly objective spirit.
The man was harmless, you say. Can you be certain?
He believed himself a prophet. No harm in that.
Prophets no doubt have existed, though their credentials
must always be scrutinised with infinite care,
for prophets, or those believing themselves to be prophets,
have power to influence the ignorant rabble,
who imagine they hear through them a divine voice speaking.
He was sincere, you say, and of blameless life,
meticulous in his observance of the Torah.
But that was precisely what made him dangerous.
Charlatans can be bought or terrified into silence
but when dealing with a sincere fanatic, I’ve found
neither reason, bribes or threats can influence him,
and a blameless life and observance of the Torah
confirm the mob’s belief in his vocation.

And the end of Mary Magdalene’s speech, which rounds the poem off:

I watched from a distance as Joseph and Nicodemus
took down my beloved and laid him in a tomb.
Because today is the Sabbath I can do nothing
but weep and listen to my devils jeering
but as soon as one streak of light appears in the sky
I shall go to the tomb in the garden where they’ve laid him
and for the last time I shall anoint my king.

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