Baudelaire and Birthdays

On Baudelaire’s two-hundredth Birthday I am with my mother-in-law for our weekly French lesson. It is her birthday too, today.  As the occasion demands, we read a few passages from ‘Spleen’, which was first published in Fleurs de Mal [Flowers of Evil] in 1857.

Charles Baudelaire by Étienne Carjat, 1862 (Wiki Commons)

Baudelaire wrote on the cusp of literary modernism—one hand in velvet-strewn Gothic Romanticism infused with Poe’s influence and symbolism, and the other in realist naturalism: documenting life as it really was in almost medical detail.  His use of form too is caught between two movements.  Baudelaire, the inventor of the prose poem, evolved his use of long lines from the alexandrine; the alexandrine was to French literature what iambic pentameter was to English verse—ubiquitous poetic signature of a nation, but also the prosodic status quo: the old poetry of an old world.

The blending of Gothic and Naturalist imagery can be observed on the following passage, from the third part of ‘Spleen’:


—Je suis un cimetière abhorré de la lune,
Où comme plus de morts se traînent de longs vers
Qui s’acharnent toujours sur me morts les plus chers.

—I am a graveyard by the moon abhorred,
where, creeping, like remorse, the long worms spread
their train to feast upon my dearest dead.


Here, the symbolic moon and the graveyard set the gothic scene followed by the bathetic realism of the corpse-eating worms below. But reading this in French drew my attention to something new—something I had never noticed in translation.   The phrase ‘longs vers’ first read to me as ‘vers’ as in ‘vers libre’ and not ‘vers’ as in worms. Could it be that the poem metatextually reflects on its own composition on this double-sensed ‘vers’?  In this metaphor for poetics itself, the persona becomes the landscape, the graveyard (I am a graveyard/ Je suis un cimetière) and the long lines(verses)  feast upon the dead which all together divulge a cryptic allusion to a self-conscious shift from the Gothic Romanticism (the graveyard, the dead) via Baudelaire’s innovative ‘long lines’ freed from their alexandrine constraint, and towards a new poetics–towards modernism.

Queering the Curriculum

LGBTQ+ History month promotes equality and diversity by “increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT+”) people, their history, lives and their experiences in the curriculum and culture of educational and other institutions, and the wider community.” Some institutions represent this diversity in programs and modules such as Queer Studies, and while it is important to highlight this field of study as a distinct discourse of significance, at Staffordshire we promote inclusivity of diversity and teach the literature of LGBTQ+ writers all the way through our curriculum.

Here are some of the novels, stories and poems English and Creative Writing staff have been reading, researching and teaching at Staffordshire University.

John Cage (1912-1992)
Dr Lisa Mansell

John Cage (1988)
Bogaerts, Rob / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most people know John Cage as the somewhat cheeky, avant-garde composer of 4’33”, but fewer people know the significant contribution he made to poetry and poetics, recorded over several collections including M: Writings ’67–’72 (1973), Empty Words: Writings ’73–’78 (1979), and X: Writings ’79–’82 (1983).

Cage was a pioneer of procedural, constraint-based and algorithmically generated poetics: a kind of poetry which is composed within a strict confine of rules. One of these algorithmic techniques, called ‘writing through’, entailed a process of selecting the letters which spell out the name of an author then using them as a ‘code’ for selecting words from a novel written by that author, according to strict rules. Cage deployed this procedure for his five ‘write-throughs’ of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, (Cage mischievously said of this novel, “it’s my favourite book I’ve never read.”) Taking the letters ‘J’ ‘A’ ‘M’ ‘E’ ‘S ‘J’ ‘O’ ‘Y’ ‘C’ ‘E’ as the code, he then applied the process of ‘writing-through’ to Finnegans Wake. The poems were then presented via a reinvention of the ancient mesostich form (pronounced MESS-oh-stick), which Cage called ‘mesostic’. Readers may be already familiar with the acrostic poem, where the beginning letters of each line in a poem form a message or spell out a name; a mesostic does the same thing but with the spelled-out message in the middle of the line. (In case you’re curious, if the code letters are at the end of the line, it is called a telestich).

Cage was also interested in algorithmic process as chance procedures. This time, ‘writing-through’ Thoreau’s Journals. Cage divided the text up into five kinds of material: letters, syllables, words, phrases, and sentences:

“A text can be a vocalise: just letters. Can be just syllables, just words; just a string of phrases; sentences. Or combinations of letters and syllables (for example), letters and words, et. Cetera. There are 25 possible combinations.”

‘Empty Words’, p. 11. (1975)

The next stage in this process, after assigning numerical values to these lexical parts, was to use the I Ching, to produce aleatoric combinations of these words, syllables, letters, and phrases. This results in some of the most strikingly avant-garde and beautiful (in my view) poetry which challenges the way we think about language structures, meaning, and representation.

Aiden Thomas, Cemetery Boys (2020)
Amy Blaney

Book cover, Cemetery Boys

“I’m currently reading Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys as part of a buddy read with some friends. It’s a YA fantasy novel that follows a trans boy – Yadriel – as he attempts to prove himself to his traditional Latinx family. Yadriel’s family are involved in an unusual line of business – the brujos look after the Latinx cemetery and ensure that the souls of the dead pass over and don’t turn maligno, whilst the bruja use the powers gifted to them by Lady Death to heal. Determined to prove himself a brujo, Yadriel sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set him free – although things don’t go to plan when he instead summons the spirit of local bad boy Julian Diaz – who then refuses to depart this earthly plain until his own unfinished business has been dealt with. Cue the two boys having to learn to work together to defeat an evil that threatens both the world of the living and the dead, all set against the backdrop of a vibrant Latinx culture and featuring heaps of excellent LGBTQIA+ representation. The book is a brilliant mosaic of culture, acceptance, and personal identity (although trigger warnings for instances of dead-naming and misgendering) and I’d strongly recommend it, even to those who don’t normally read YA. 

I’d also recommend a visual novel called If Found. It’s available on Steam and Nintendo Switch which focuses upon the experience of a trans woman – Kasio – and her return to her family in rural Ireland. Again, trigger warnings for instances of dead-naming, transphobia, and misgendering – things get very rough for Kasio before they get better – but personally I found this a deeply moving and emotive story that touches on several important LGBTQIA+ issues and examines identity, cultural acceptance, found family, and family relationships in a moving and sensitive way. It also has some gorgeous artwork and a wonderful soundtrack. If you want to find out more about it, you can watch Aoife from Eurogamer conduct a chilled playthrough of the full game at https://youtu.be/nfJLXoGG5PI.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (1996)
Dr. Mark Brown

FightClub CleanieClub
Lunadabayboys, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fight Club was published in 1996, with the film catapulting Chuck Palahniuk and the novel into the cultural spotlight in 1999. Once the film was released, there were many media reports of men taking the fight club – and its famous rules of secrecy – as a blueprint for a version of masculinity constructed around male companionship, violence and heteronormativity which functions as a visceral and authentic contrast to the artificiality of the intense commodity culture in which the IKEA catalogue (remember them?) has become the new pornography. This interpretation of the novel and the film, based on a surface reading of the first section of the narrative, was problematised by Palahniuk ‘outing’ himself as gay on his own website to prevent an interviewer doing it for him in the press.

In the novel, an anonymous narrator unconsciously escapes into the alter-ego of Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt in the film), a figure who embarks on a passionate relationship with Marla (played by Helena Bonham-Carter) and establishes the fight club where men punch each other in basements, which then morphs into Project Mayhem; a carnivalesque anti-capitalism and counter-cultural movement.

In the introduction to the American edition of the novel, Palahniuk explains that he constructs a homo-social space because women find this easier, with ‘quilting and mah-jong societies’, but men are limited to sports. While we should be wary of using the author’s biography to interpret a text, there is clearly a willful misreading of the novel by those men who interpret it as a manifesto of physical and sexual dominance, for the establishment of ‘real fight clubs’ and for the ‘pick-up’ culture of the 2000s.

Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties (2017)
Dr. Melanie Ebdon

Dr. Melanie Ebdon has been reading Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties (2017), which depicts several lesbian relationships which are ‘just normalised—there’s no big deal made—they’re just relationships”. Dr Ebdon reads a section from “Mothers” in which the protagonist imagines an idealised future with her new partner. Listen here.

Staff and students at Staffordshire can read the full collection in an ebook, online here.

A Tribute to Storm Constantine

The English and Creative Writing Department were saddened to learn of the recent passing of the author, Storm Constantine.

Over the years, Storm was a ceaseless supporter of our students and offered meaningful and transformative work experience to our young writers at Immanion Press leading to, for many, publications of their own, further postgraduate study and careers in creative writing.

Storm was a frequent visiting lecturer at the department and her no-nonsense ‘warts and all’ insight into publishing, both large-scale, commercial and independent was of immense value to students learning their craft.  She encouraged our students to see the options available to them in modern publishing—an ever-changing industry.

In 2016, Storm Constantine published and co-edited (alongside Paul Houghton) a collection of stories called Dark in the Day:

“The idea for this anthology originated during one of my regular sessions as a guest lecturer in Creative Writing at Staffordshire University. I often speak about the day to day running of an independent press, explaining to students how books are created and all the work that goes into them once the actual writing is done. I thought it would be an interesting idea to involve the students in the creation of a book and what better way than to publish a short story collection that included some of their work?” (Constantine, 2016, p. 7)

And so a beautiful collaboration was born. Professional and polished stories composed by our own students nestle seamlessly alongside more seasoned hands like Rosie Garland, Tanith Lee, and Nicholas Royle. Storm never treated our students quite like students, but as professional writers, and Dark in the Day stands as a testimony to the hard work, care and compassion she generously extended to them—and to us as colleagues.   

Storm will be very greatly missed by us and by our writers past and present, and long may she live in the work she leaves behind—in over thirty novels and nonfiction books.  She is perhaps best-known for her Wraeththu trilogy (1987-1989)—influenced by Birmingham’s ‘Goth scene’ in the ‘80s—and in words ever-resonant today:

“Wraeththu. I shiver to say the word. Something has happened to them. Where did they come from? How did it happen? Why is it spreading like a plague? I have seen what they do. I have seen their faces. They always take their dead with them, always. There is a secret. Don’t you understand? A secret. Wraeththu are not what they seem. They are more than they seem.” (Constantine, 1987)

“With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one”: Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem.

Rarely does a poet capture the interest of the world’s press amid the inauguration of an American president—as the Guardian put it: Amanda Gorman “stole the inauguration show”.

Gorman addresses the president, then the first lady, Dr. Biden—with a palpable emphasis on ‘doctor’: an acknowledging doff, woman to woman—before her narrative leans seamlessly from formal address to poetry.  In this swaying shift between narrative modes, Gorman presents a complex, hybrid, blended space of art and activism, politics and poetics, logos, ethos and pathos.

The seemingly natural spontaneity in a poem written both for the inaugural moment and in the moment through Gorman’s august performativity inaugurates a new power for poetry. Gorman reminds us what poetry is for; we are reminded of its rhetorical, oral roots as a form and any former schisms between worlds of high politics and of art, poetry and aesthetics seem now so slight in this new poetry for new politics—we hope.

The lexical texture of the poem is astonishing in its intricacy, as though the meshing of political and poetic fibres is somehow reflected in the consonantal weaving of the following line:

With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. (Gorman, 2021)

The linguistic sonority of the line pivots both accentually and alliteratively around the plangent semi-vowel ‘w’ like a plainchant—and ‘w’, being somewhat liminal in phonetic quality embodies the blended space Gorman creates in almost gospel gravitas.  Her 2017 poem “In this Place: An American Lyric”, exhibits the same riffing in the key of ‘w’, and sibilant ‘s’ counter-weaves through the texture in a kind of bitonal remix of language:

There’s a poem in Los Angeles
yawning wide as the Pacific tide
where a single mother swelters
in a windowless classroom, teaching
black and brown students in Watts
to spell out their thoughts
so her daughter might write
this poem for you.   (Gorman, 2017)        

This molecular interweave of phonemic alliteration on the stressed and unstressed parts of the word—on their beats and their off-beats—create innovative rhymical sequences which are developed further by syncopated assonances of rhyme though the lines in unexpected distributions. The splicing of “just is” from “justice” and the morphological ‘sampling’ of “arms” to “harm” to “harmony” in her inaugural poem also destabilise and challenge the fixedness of words as their meaning blends semantically from one to the next. Just like people—society—language comes apart and then coalesces back together again.

The power of anaphora has long been the domain of both poetry and political speeches:

We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.  (Gorman, 2021) 

These are the ‘power-chords’ of a poem seeped multimodal sampling from phoneme to morpheme to phrase. The repetition of the anthemic phrase ‘we will rise’ vaults through the lines to evoke a message of solidarity and activism.

The poem comes to rest on a couplet which formally resembles the beginning of a blues stanza where the opening line is repeated by the second line with minor variation in an echo of itself:

if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it. (Gorman, 2021)

It is now apparent that Gorman is accessing and gathering the whole tapestry of American poetics and political discourse to create a new poem for a new age: from the Whitmanesque listing of subjects, identities, cultures, to the blues.

Gorman has always combined the spaces between poetry and politics, art and activism, and has woven a new blended discourse of both. In 2013, inspired by the Pakistani poet laureate, Malala Yousafzai, Gorman became a youth delegate for the United Nations.  In 2016, Gorman founded One Pen One Page, a non-profit programme of free creative writing workshops to foster the talent of disenfranchised young writers and future leaders.

2014 saw her own inauguration as the Youth Poet Laureate for Los Angeles, her home city, and again in 2017 as the first African-American National Youth Poet Laureate. In the same year, she opened the Library of Congress’ literary season with the poem, “In this Place: An American Lyric” to commemorate the inauguration of the United States Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith.

Gorman graduated from Harvard with a degree in Sociology in 2020 and is the author of two poetry collections: The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough (Penmanship Books, 2015) and the forthcoming The Hill We Climb (Viking, September 2021).

If you enjoyed Amanda Gorman’s poetry, discover other African-American women poets, like Harryette Mullen and Sonia Sanchez.


John Ashbery, Poet. (1927-2017)

We wake to the sad news that one of our greatest modern poets, John Ashbery, has died aged ninety.

He was a leading figure of the New York School of poetry in the 1960s, a group influenced by modernist and contemporary art (especially abstract expressionism and surrealism). The work that emerged from this movement was wide-ranging; forms of pastiche, non-narrative and anti-narrative text, a simultaneous return to and rejection of form all problematised the discipline of poetry—and in a good way. Complex new poetry for a complex new, postmodern world. An interest in contemporary culture provoked poems about the banal, every day, sometimes the throw-away. Art is life, and sometimes, life is dull. No more grand subjects and narratives, just life.

This is neither an obituary nor essay; it’s a remembering of my first encounter with Ashbery, and not an easy one to recollect since his poetic work has been so prominent in the study of contemporary poetics, but I think I can pin it down to a balmy late September in a seminar room when our tutor gave us crumpled photocopies of “The Skaters” (1964):

These decibels
Are a kind of flagellation, an entity of sound
Into which being enters, and is apart.
Their colors on a warm February day
Make for masses of inertia, and hips
Prod out of the violet-seeming into a new kind
Of demand that stumps the absolute because not new
In the sense of the next one in an infinite series
But, as it were, pre-existing or pre-seeming in
Such a way as to contrast funnily with the unexpectedness
And somehow push us all into perdition.

The direct address, themes concerning sound and music and the rush of rich images made this early encounter with Ashbery’s text a meaningful touchstone for much of my later research concerning poetry, music, sound, and the every day. I return to Ashbery again and again in reading, research and in teaching (some of our students will know well the famous “Popeye” sestina: “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape”).

For more information about Ashbery, explore the online collection archived at the Poetry Foundation
To read and listen to, in Ashbery’s own voice, “The Skaters” visit the archive at Penn Sound.

Nobel Prize for Literature 2016: Bob Dylan

I have a confession to make: I do not like, nor have ever liked, listening to Bob Dylan’s music. This is surely  heresy as today sees the announcement of Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for 2016-05-25-1464211797-4748536-bobdylanearly1960sLiterature, and it has left me with some mixed feelings.  I have among my friends and colleagues on social media many poets and writers and musicians, and the debate out there is passionate, emotional, fierce. Perhaps what surprises me the most is my lack of resistance  to this news; while I cannot suddenly purport myself an overnight fan of Dylan’s work, I do err on the side of the poets speaking in his defence. What I am certain about is Dylan’s unequivocal talent as a lyricist, and that writing lyrics is not the same craft as writing poems. Each of these disciplines is distinct and comes with its own complexities and challenges; one is not ‘better’ than the other. If I were a songwriter, I’d be proud to have written:

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.” — Tambourine Man

The sonic undulation of sibilance in the second line of this lyric is poetic, as is the clean and unusual imagery (‘diamond’ ‘circus’). Is this a poem? Is this a lyric? Dylan has been awarded the prize for ‘having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’, and to my mind, this extract above supports this position.  I would go further and suggest that Dylan also innovated and energised the form of the American song.

This award also brings into debate old divisions between supposed high and low culture for some, and I say, perhaps it is time to get over this class war of culture.  For some decades now, those boundaries have been blended, deconstructed, questioned, dismantled–so why are some commentators even calling into question the validity or possibility of the Nobel literature prize going to a songwriter?  I say, why not?  When I wrote my PhD, on sonority in literature by writers who might have ‘once-upon-a-time’ been called ‘minority’,  I included African-American spirituals and Welsh folk songs in my literature review not just as cultural documents, but for their distinct contribution to our literature.  It is about time perhaps to review what we call literature and broaden our consideration of all written cultural artefacts–perhaps we will soon see a Nobel Prize for Literature award to a video-game.

Do I still dislike listening to Dylan’s music? Yes–but to deny him a Nobel Prize for literature as a songwriter would be untenable. This prize is not about calling Dylan a poet; it is about acknowledging songwriting as a legitimate form of literature.

(Image Credit: Huffington Post)

National Poetry Day, 2016

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Today is National Poetry Day, and I spoke earlier on BBC Radio Stoke about my poem, ‘Kith and Kiln’, which his written from the point of view of a pot-bank. Viewing Stoke as an outsider, I am always struck at how uniquely elegant these structures are. They remind me of grand old ladies watching over us, keeping us in check, asking us to mind our manners.  Here is the text of the poem and a link to the broadcast:

Kith and Kiln
 by Lisa Mansell
 
 “Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there. ”
    ― Aleksandar Hemon.
 
 


Am I still here?
 Do you see me
 notch the oxide sunset
 like an ancient etching?
 
 I've always hunched here, under rain 
 or low-scud cloud--

 heard distant Hanley goose-honks;
 watched unhusked skinheads
 in a drunken slump stumble to
 their midnight dhansak shank
 
 and I used to dream of gathering the crazed hem
 of my brick-skirt  (a drey of cindered mesh
 that cloisters my nesh in winter)

to waltz at the moon in blousy damask
 and tease the bone-ash stars:
 to fang their quartzy flux.
 
 If I could speak
 I would talk in round vowels
 of wom and dome,

and I'd ask you to stay--

but my throat is damp with rain
 without the rasp of caulk-smoke
 from my clayfire belly.
 
 If you must leave me, then do it quick
 before you see me untruss myself
 brick by brick 
 'til I am just a spill of sheeded powder
 whispered on history's lips 
 like a cipher.


 Do you see me?
 Am I still here?

 

 I also asked colleagues and students to submit their poems today, and these poems show that we are all different; our poems are different are as different as we are. We have poems here that are political, historical, formal, informal, experimental, observational; there is always time for poetry.  I hope that you enjoy them:

poem
by Kay Deakes  (Admissions & Enrolments)
Click on the poem to view as high-quality image

 

EL SALVADOR  (1979)

by Margaret Leclere (Senior Lecturer in Screenwriting)



Oh El Salvador
What do I know of it?
Pictures on TV
Darker people dying,
Suffering and crying.
What do I see of it?
Flesh wounds are a blur
A stain of red, a wail of dread
Gunshots whistle over whose head?
What do I feel of it,
Cuddled on this couch?
My cigarette is out,
Uncomfortable, I shift about.


A young man tells his tale, sharp-featured,
Torture too terrible.
They always suffer, those with dark eyes,
They always have. They hardly feel it.
We’ve seen too much of it.
I wish I could get comfortable.
What does it do to me, El Salvador?
There’s a pain on my poor face,
I see no pain on yours:
You’ve seen too many faces crushed by the wheels.
You don’t wring your hands,
Hands bound by the thumbs or with fingernails pulled off.
Those eyes plucked out were bright before,
Legs cracked moved swift before,
Lips so swollen kissed before.


How stupid the sad clown, or the happy clown.
How despicable our sentiment.
Blubber lips, wet eyes, near tears,
Hangdog, slouched, insomniac.
Poor kleptomaniac, megalomaniac,
Poor pre-menstrually tense, agrophobe, claustrophobe.
Poor me. Deprived, depressed, oppressed, obsessed.
Despised. Long pig.


El Salvador.
There would be pleasure in the cry
Did it not stick at my throat.
I would love
To pad gently through Noddy’s bubble world
When the giant has made the soft snow fall
And call, scream, blow it all away
With the cry – El Salvador.
Lamposts would fall, engines would stall,
Pretty lace curtains would crinkle and curl
And a crack would travel up the wall.
The dome burst, for El Salvador.

 

[p.s.  Margaret wrote this when she was a student in response to the 1979 events in South America.]

more
by Kate Moore, Level 6 Creative Writing.
Click on the poem to view as high-quality image

 

Vogue Brides
by Kerry Jackson   (Level 4 English and Creative Writing)


Vogue brides blushing since 1910.
Each dress, each decade just as dramatic.
Girls still scarpering, now and then.
Designers faultless, flaunting and charismatic.

Roaring twenties birthed Bara, bobbed brides.
Forties gowns were war filled simplicity.
The Valium lovers of the sixties, veils headlined.
The naughty women wore bold for publicity.

Beneath the twenties were unseen rompers.
Forties barely seen girdles revolutionary.
Maidenform the sixties liberal enough for an encore.
The thongs of this decade everyone but he would see.

Nearly virginal, probably pregnant, almost reluctant.
At least she got to wear a dress so decadent.





[Inspired by the title Brides in vogue since 1910]

 

Writer and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, Paul Houghton offers his thoughts on his favourite poem, “Memories of West Street” by Robert Lowell

 

It’s worth it alone for the line ‘Like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants’ wear.’

But it’s a great poem about middle age disappointment, crime and hospital incarceration! I love its stories within a story structure and blazing images.

In 1990, when I was staying in Boston, I met Lowell’s best friend, a wonderful man – a painter named Frank Parker. He had sad but fascinating stories about Lowell excitedly reciting his poems in the kitchen while he (Frank) and his wife were trying to retire to bed!

lowell

Memories of West Street and Lepke
Robert Lowell

Only teaching on Tuesdays, book-worming
in pajamas fresh from the washer each morning,
I hog a whole house on Boston’s
“hardly passionate Marlborough Street,"
where even the man
scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans,
has two children, a beach wagon, a helpmate,
and is “a young Republican.”
I have a nine months’ daughter,
young enough to be my granddaughter.
Like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants’ wear.

These are the tranquilized Fifties,
and I am forty.  Ought I to regret my seedtime?
I was a fire-breathing Catholic C.O.,
and made my manic statement,
telling off the state and president, and then
sat waiting sentence in the bull pen
beside a negro boy with curlicues
of marijuana in his hair.

Given a year,
I walked on the roof of the West Street Jail, a short
enclosure like my school soccer court,
and saw the Hudson River once a day
through sooty clothesline entanglements
and bleaching khaki tenements.
Strolling, I yammered metaphysics with Abramowitz,
a jaundice-yellow (“it’s really tan”)
and fly-weight pacifist,
so vegetarian,
he wore rope shoes and preferred fallen fruit.
He tried to convert Bioff and Brown,
the Hollywood pimps, to his diet.
Hairy, muscular, suburban,
wearing chocolate double-breasted suits,
they blew their tops and beat him black and blue.

I was so out of things, I’d never heard
of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Are you a C.O.?” I asked a fellow jailbird.
“No," he answered, “I’m a J.W.”
He taught me the “hospital tuck,"
and pointed out the T-shirted back
of Murder Incorporated’s Czar Lepke,
there piling towels on a rack,
or dawdling off to his little segregated cell full
of things forbidden to the common man:
a portable radio, a dresser, two toy American
flags tied together with a ribbon of Easter palm.
Flabby, bald, lobotomized,
he drifted in a sheepish calm,
where no agonizing reappraisal
jarred his concentration on the electric chair
hanging like an oasis in his air
of lost connections. . . .

From Selected Poems by Robert Lowell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1976, 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission.

Dark in the Day

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Please join us in congratulating Paul Houghton and Creative Writing students on the release today of  Dark in the Day (Immanion Press).

“In the blink of an eye, around the corner, The Weird is everywhere. It’s in the bird that turns out to be a fluttering newspaper, that white shoe left in a ploughed field, or the curdling smoke on the windscreen of a car, caused by the fast-moving reflection of clouds overhead. Normal is often weird and vice-versa. We’re used to weird dreams but what about the wide-awake weird? This collection celebrates evocative tales of oddness that span the genres of magic realism, the supernatural, the fantastical and the speculative.

_____________________________________________________________________

Weirdness lurks beyond the margins of the mundane, emerging to dismantle our assumptions of reality. When we encounter strange intervals, our perception of the natural order is challenged and changed.  It is perhaps in those moments, that we glimpse the hidden truth of all things.

Dark in the Day is an anthology of weird fiction, penned by established writers and also those new to the genre – the latter being authors who are, or were, students of Creative Writing at Staffordshire University, where editor Storm Constantine occasionally delivers guest lectures. Her co-editor, Paul Houghton, is the senior lecturer in Creative Writing at the university.

Contributors include: Martina Bellovičová, J. E. Bryant, Glynis Charlton, Danielle Collard, Storm Constantine, Louise Coquio, Elizabeth Counihan, Krishan Coupland, Elizabeth Davidson, Siân Davies, Jack Fabian, Paul Finch, Rosie Garland, Rhys Hughes, Kerry Fender, Andrew Hook, Paul Houghton, Tanith Lee, Lisa Mansell, Kate Moore, Tim Pratt, Nicholas Royle, Michael Marshall Smith, Paula Wakefield, Ian Whates and Liz Williams.”

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/190773774X/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_c_CJN0xbTSH6EN7

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This is the culmination of an ambitious project with Immanion Press which brings together stories from new writers, many of whom are current students and alumni, and new work from established authors. I am so proud of our students, whose work stands justly alongside well-known practitioners, and I am grateful to Immanion Press’ editor, Storm Constantine, for working with and visiting our students over the past year. #ProudtobeStaffs

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Visiting Writer: Poet, Nabila Jameel– Persian and Urdu Poetry.

The department welcomed poet, Nabila Jameel, this week. She delivered an outstanding lecture on Persian and Urdu poetry, from classical to modern, and the complexities of its translation. We read and discussed texts by several Urdu and Persian poets that included Alama Iqbal, Rumi, and Hafiz and explored women’s voices too in Zebunissa, Parvin E’tesami and Parveen Shakir.

For me these are new poets, and voices of extraordinary resonance. These lines from “When I want to Kiss God” by fourteenth century poet, Hafiz particularly struck me in their sharpness of image, concern for the sublime, and the tension inherent in its secretive confessional tone:

When
No one is looking

I swallow deserts and clouds
And chew on mountains knowing
They are sweet
Bones!   (Hafiz, 64)

Zeb-un-Nisa_Begum                                                                                                  (Zebunissa, WIki Commons)

We also read Zebunissa (1638-1702) who was a princess of the Muhgal Empire held captive for the final twenty years of her life by her father. The verse that she wrote then still has bold political register in contemporary debates about society, gender and Islam:

I will not lift my veil,
For if I did, what may befall who knows.
As Nightingales do directly love the rose,
And as the Brahman worships Lakshmi’s grace,
Thus lost in contemplation of my face,
The poor beholder may forget and fail. (Zebunissa, 124)

This strong, female persona declares and defends her position in defiant lyricism and also questions and reflects upon the role of woman in society.

You can read Jameel’s work in Stand magazine, the Poetry Review and in a recent anthology by Bloodaxe: Out of Bounds.

 

Works Cited:

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master. Daniel Ladinsky (trans.) Penguin Compass, 1999.
Annie Krieger Krynicki. 2005. Captive Princess: Zebunissa, Daughter of Emperor Aurangzeb. OUP

‘Digging Deeper’: Clay Cargo with Clayground Collective at the BCB: Poetry & Making

Lisa Mansell and Barry Taylor took part in a poetry and making project with Clayground Collective at the British Ceramic Biennial last Saturday. The project was about poetic responses to ceramics and its relationship with waterways:

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“Clay Cargo takes inspiration from Josiah Wedgwood’s pioneering role in establishing the canals.  It sets out to renew the historic links between ceramics and the canal system by staging clay workshops on boats and canalside locations in three cities: London, Birmingham and Stoke on Trent.  This year we have also commissioned poets and ceramic artists to respond to each site”.  – See more at: http://www.claygroundcollective.org/clay-cargo-2014-digging-deeper-into-clay-canals-and-waterways/#sthash.Inmc7db8.dpuf

Three poets were commissioned to write responses: Barry Taylor, Elisabeth Charis and Rachel Long.

Last Saturday, Clayground Collective hosted a workshop in the BCB at the Spode Factory in which the poems were performed by the poets (Lisa Mansell read Elisabeth Charis’ poem) alongside ‘making’ sessions which invited the audience to make their own creative responses (either in clay or in words) to the poems and making.

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