From ‘Stillness’

In darkness let your fan of fingers open,
imagine amethyst’s purple crystals
at a geode’s heart liquifying to honey
until your face muscles loosen, your shoulders,
which have borne so much, begin to unlock
and stillness is a quilt over your body,
a feather lining within. Now the tock
of pulse emerges and breath passes quietly
as a slippered friend. Beyond the house tyres
whirr on tarmac and geese call as they rush
the sky. The grief of the bereaved will push
into your room and nameless losses sustained
by the displaced. Hold silence and you may hear
rain on fruitless fields, grasses rising again.

by Myra Schneider

© Myra Schneider, 2008

Circling the Core is the most recent collection of Myra Schneider‘s prolific writing career, which has encompassed children’s fiction as well as ten poetry collections. ‘Stillness’, the long poem from which this is a complete part, is indicative of her sensitive explorations – often situated within nature – which she performs through sympathetically inhabiting her subjects. The result is sensuous and intricate verse, aided by the technical brilliance which has made Schneider a poet loved by poets. You can find out more about Myra Schneider here.

Enitharmon Press takes its name from a William Blake character who represents spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration. Founded in 1967 with an emphasis on independence and quality, Enitharmon has been associated with such figures as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Kathleen Raine. Enitharmon also commissions internationally renowned collaborations between artists, including Gilbert & George, and poets, including Seamus Heaney, under the Enitharmon Editions imprint. Discover more about Enitharmon here.

The Three Cypress Trees

Transparent and frail,
like the slumber of woodcutters,
serene, foreshadowing things to come,
the morning drizzle does not conceal
these three cypresses on the slope.

Their details belie their sameness,
their radiance confirms it.

I said:
I wouldn’t dare to keep looking at them,
there is a beauty that takes away our daring,
there are times when courage fades away.

The clouds rolling high above
change the form of the cypresses.

The birds flying towards other skies
change the resonance of the cypresses.

The tiled line behind them
fixes the greenness of the cypresses
and there are trees whose only fruit is greenness.

Yesterday, in my sudden cheerfulness,
I saw their immortality.

Today, in my sudden sorrow,
I saw the axe.

by Mourid Barghouti

© Mourid Barghouti, 2005

Mourid Barghouti was born on 8 July 1944, in Deir Ghassana, near Ramallah, Palestine. He has published twelve books of poetry, the most recent being Muntasaf al-Layl / Midnight (Arc, 2008), the collection from which this poem is taken. His autobiographical narrative, Ra’aytu Ramallah / I Saw Ramallah (1997), published in several editions in Arabic, won the Naguib Mahfouz Award for Literature (1997), and was translated into several languages, with the English translation being published by the American University in Cairo Press, Random House, and Bloomsbury. In the year 2000, he was given the Palestine Award for Poetry. Mourid Barghouti has participated in numerous conferences and poetry readings and festivals in almost all the Arab countries, and in several European cities, and his work frequently appears in journals and magazines in both Arabic and in English translations. He has been in exile from Palestine since 1967, and lives in Cairo. To read more about Barghouti, and to see further examples of his work, visit this page.

Arc Publications publishes contemporary poetry from new and established writers from the UK and abroad, specialising in the work of international poets writing in English, and the work of overseas poets in translation. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians. To learn more about Arc and to see its range of titles, click here.

Notebook Hokku

1.

Low grey cloud. Against
the wind, the melancholy weight
of one last heron.

2.

Invisible across the field
the echo of an axe
among the cricket willows.

3.

Cold summer wind. And
unripe apples, tossed up, thump
the light green under foliage.

4.

Immobile and clotted, black
fly submit to red ants’ traffic
on the runner bean stalk.

5.

Inside the ruins of this fallen
willow: damp earth, fungus
and dry white fruit stones.

6.

As the flycatcher
pirouettes,
the globe revolves with it.

7.

Silence huge. A solitude without limit.
What moves through these spaces?
Not I but a function.

8.

Picking through a bowl of damsons.
Fame, success, enlightenment.
These are well-construed notions.

9.

Damsons in handfuls echo
in the basin. Quiet between
mouth and a dark blue flavour.

10.

Bird song was scrolled
tightly, as I walked beside
the elder, between umbels.

by Tom Lowenstein

© Tom Lowenstein, 2009

Author’s Note: These shorter forms were suggested and inspired by Japanese and Chinese poetry, but I have not attempted to write haiku. The title of this sequence is the nearest I’ve come to admitting that some of the poems, in this section particularly, represent haiku echoes. All of the above are to be read as separate individual poems, notwithstanding the common title.

These poems are drawn from Conversation with Murasaki by Tom Lowenstein (Shearsman Books, 2009).

Tom Lowenstein was born near London in 1941. After completing his education at Cambridge University, he taught for six years in English secondary schools. He has also taught English and creative writing at Northwestern University, worked for the Alaska State Museum and spent a year, in the mid-1970s, in an Alaskan Eskimo village, recording and translating its legends and histories. This work was later to bear fruit in a number of publications: Eskimo poems from Canada and GreenlandThe Things That Were Said of Them: Shaman Stories and Oral Histories of the Tikigaq People (University of California Press, 1992); Ancient Land: Sacred Whale (Bloomsbury, 1993; Harvill, 2000). He has also written on Buddhism.

Tom Lowenstein’s own poetry has been collected in The Death of Mrs Owl (Anvil, 1977), Filibustering in Samsara (Many Press, 1987), in the Ancient Land: Sacred Whale volume, and in the Shearsman Books publications Ancestors and Species: New & Selected Ethnographic Poetry (2005) and Conversation with Murasaki (2009). You can discover more about Tom Lowenstein and his poetry here.

Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

“Could it be true…”

Could it be true we live on earth?
On earth forever?

Just one brief instant here.

Even the finest stones begin to split,
even gold is tarnished,
even precious bird-plumes
shrivel like a cough.

Just one brief instant here.

by Nezahualcoyotl

From Flower and Song: Aztec Poems, translated and introduced by Edward Kissam and Michael Schmidt.

This book has recently been published by Anvil Press to coincide with the British Museum’s exhibition Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler (September 2009–January 2010).

Two young poets who grew up in Mexico became fascinated in the 1960s by the fabled Aztec poems composed before and during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in 1521. They encountered these extraordinary poems largely in Spanish translations, made from the texts recorded by the early friars who followed in Cortés’s wake.

Nezahualcoyotl, the original author of this poem, was King of Texcoco. He lived from 1402–1472. He is the most famous of the Nahuatl-language poets, considered by his contemporaries to be the best master of the classical style. Many tales are told of his wisdom as judge, public servant, philosopher, and teacher.

Nahuatl is unlike any European language – so different that Michael Schmidt doubts whether meaningful translations can be made, the cultural context of the poems being so alien and having, in any case, been destroyed. But all we can know of Aztec poetry is what these two gifted poet-translators have given us. It may be inadequate of course, but the poems are fascinating and often quite beautiful. Schmidt and Kissam’s introduction to Flower and Song is also a superb, distilled account of the background to the Aztec empire: from its way of life and its fall, to the role of poetry in Aztec life, and how the poems were preserved. It is an ideal introduction to the British Museum exhibition.

Anvil Press Poetry was founded in 1968 and publishes English-language poetry and poetry in translation, both classic and modern. You can read more about Anvil here.