New Life

By the time she reached the age of twelve,
The girl with the red scarf and brown eyes
Had seen human body parts scattered in front
Of the house where she had been born, and she had
Fallen asleep to the sound of bombs and rifles.

She had walked out of the ruins of the family room,
Crossed eight countries, mostly on foot,
Scaling snowy mountains, descending on railway tracks
To signal the way to her parents who pushed the pram:
Made her own map of this world.

Through the nets of barbed-wire fences,
Cataloguing, as she passed through, the beatings
Her parents suffered at the borders where they crossed,
She looks back and smiles at the words
She has now abandoned, because they no longer help. 

At her first school, the teacher speaks a language of freedom
Unknown to her. In this new language, she says,
She’d like to make a garden with her parents and her brother,
Who tries his own language as he sits up in the pram rattling
A plastic toy donated to him by a benevolent woman.

The map of the world the girl has drawn
Is being absorbed by the map of this century—
Soles of shoes scattered across the way to hope.
The road to a better life has not yet been planned,
Everyone is waiting for an architect.

by Carmen Bugan

News from the Poetry Centre: welcome back to the Weekly Poem after a short break as we wrestled with the beginning of the semester! We’re delighted to share a poem by Carmen Bugan this week, since Carmen will be reading in Oxford with Tamar Yoseloff on 4 November in Waterstones Oxford. Do join us! You can sign up for a free ticket here. We’ll be featuring a poem from Tamar’s new collection, The Black Place (Seren) next Monday.

We have a number of other events coming up over the next month or so, including an open mic and small exhibition on the theme of mental health on 6 November (more details here), our International Poetry Competition Awards, with a special appearance and reading by Jackie Kay on 28 November (sign up to join us here), and a reading by Canadian poet Doyali Islam and Oxford-based poet Mariah Whelan on 29 November; tickets here. All these events are free to attend. And if you’re interested in creative writing but don’t quite know where to start, you might like to join us at Headington Library for three free workshops, starting with poetry tomorrow (Tuesday) and continuing on 12 November (fiction), and 12 December (non-fiction). More details here.

Finally, our latest podcast, with spoken word poet and author of Stage Invasion: Poetry and the Spoken Word Renaissance, Peter Bearder, has just been released! You can find it here.

‘New Life’ is copyright © Carmen Bugan, 2019. It is reprinted from Lilies in America (Shearsman, 2019) by permission of Shearsman

Carmen Bugan’s books include the memoir Burying the Type-writer: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police (Picador), which has received international critical praise, the Bread Loaf Conference Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction, and was a finalist in the George Orwell Prize for Political Writing, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her previous collections of poems are Releasing the Porcelain Birds and The House of Straw (both with Shearsman), and Crossing the Carpathians (Carcanet). She is also the author of a critical study called Seamus Heaney and East European Poetry in Translation: Poetics of Exile. Carmen has a doctorate in English literature from Balliol College, Oxford University and has been a Hawthornden Fellow, the 2018 Helen DeRoy Professor in Honors at the University of Michigan, and is a George Orwell Prize Fellow.

Her new book, Lilies from America: New and Selected Poems, published by Shearsman, was awarded the Poetry Book Society’s Special Commendation for Autumn 2019. Writing about the book, poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has said: ‘This selection of Carmen Bugan’s poems offers readers an experience with all the surprise and continuity of a long, complex novel. […] [W]e realise that this is the record of a life already recorded, in the distorting staccato of the surveillance transcript, a distortion that leaks into the language of the later poems. Yet faith in the capacity of words to deliver truth survives, reflecting and recalling the exhuming of the typewriter, even if memory is vitiated and language is profaned.’ You can hear Carmen read from her work in a recent recording with A.E. Stallings in Boston  here, and listen to her discuss her parents’ buried typewriter in the context of the Cold War here. You can find out more about Carmen’s work on her own website here.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.