Penelope to Ulysses

Dear Ulysses,

you’re late.

Don’t worry about answering, just come home.
The enemy of Grecian wives has fallen,
but, honestly, Troy wasn’t worth it.

If only Paris had drowned
in some storm when he was heading for Sparta,
I wouldn’t lie frigid in my bed
or have to moan of tedious days
or pass my nights like some poor widow
at the loom’s dull web.

I mean, I know love makes me anxious
and my nightmares were excessive –
lurid scenarios; Trojans singling you out etc.
Hector’s name made me ashen.
When I heard he’d killed Antilochus,
I was a nervous mess.
Then Patroclus died, in borrowed armour,
so even cunning couldn’t guarantee success…
Each time Greek blood warmed spears
I was flooded with fear.

But someone must look out for couples:
Troy burnt and you survived.
Now soldiers slur victory songs;
smoke coils from altars laid with souvenirs;
admiration makes old men babble
as girls hang on tales from lovers’ lips.

The other night, one man mapped battles
in spilt wine, lightly tracing Troy:
‘The river was here; Priam’s palace,
Achilles’ tent, then Hector’s corpse…’

I sent our son to find you – he got the story:
how you, full of your daring – not caring about us –
stole into the Trojan camp at night
and just two of you slaughtered hundreds.
Sounds typically cautious and thoughtful.
Until I heard you’d ridden back, my heart
reared with fear at every word.

Anyway, you’ve razed Troy, but what does it matter
to me it’s been levelled?
I remain as I was while it remained –
alone.

by Clare Pollard

Clare Pollard is currently touring a staged version of Ovid’s Heroines, in which she reads, recites and performs her astonishing poems against a backdrop of Mediterranean light and sound. Produced by Jaybird Live Literature, the show visits the Burton Taylor Studio Theatre in Oxford on 9 July. For more details and for tickets, visit the Oxford Playhouse website.

As part of the MCS Arts Festival Oxford (20 June-5 July), the highly-acclaimed poet Roger McGough will be reading tomorrow evening (30 June). You can find more details on the festival site. Also tomorrow, Penny Boxhall will be leading an Illumination Poetry Workshop in the Old Library, University Church of St Mary the Virgin from 4.15pm.

‘Penelope to Ulysses’ is copyright © Clare Pollard. It is reprinted from Ovid’s Heroines (Bloodaxe Books, 2013) by permission of Bloodaxe Books.Notes from Jaybird Live Literature:

An extract of Penelope’s letter to Ulysses, one of Ovid’s Heroides, translated by Clare Pollard as Ovid’s Heroines. With this letter, Ovid puts a different perspective on Homer’s The Odyssey. The Trojan War has long been over, but the Greek war hero Ulysses has not returned to his wife Penelope in Ithaca. Whilst those who have read Homer will know this is because he has been waylaid by obstacles that include Gods, monsters, weather and the sorceress Circe, Penelope has heard nothing. Their son Telemachus has just returned from a fruitless trip to Pylos, where he was trying to find out what has happened to his father and was almost killed.

You can read more about Clare’s book here, and follow her work via her website and on Twitter.

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found 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.

The Madwoman’s Roof

It’s midnight, and a worker returning
from the second shift at the cannery
tests what strength he has left

by throwing stones against the tiles
of the madwoman’s roof.

‘Damn you all, you sons of bitches!’
she curses from inside.

She is history, unable to cast blame on anyone.
She is the skeleton key, the collective curse
on a night that reeks of sardines and enzymes.

by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi

This is the final poem taken from the shortlist for The Corneliu M Popescu Prize that we are featuring. The Prize, run by the Poetry Society, was formerly called the European PoetryTranslation Prize. The first winner of the Prize, in 1983, was Tony Harrison for The Oresteia. The prize was relaunched in 2003, and renamed in honour of the Romanian translator Corneliu M Popescu, who died in an earthquake in 1977 at the age of 19. The Popescu Prize 2013 has a shortlist of seven books, and the winner this year was Alice Oswald for Memorial, her ‘excavation’ of Homer’s Iliad. You can watch a video of Oswald reading from her book on thePoetry Society site.

This week’s poem comes from Haywire: New & Selected Poems, and is copyright © Luljeta Lleshanaku, 2011. The translation is © Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi, 2011. It is reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Haywire: New & Selected Poems by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Henry Israeli, Luljeta Lleshanaku and Shpresa Qatipi.

The judges of the Popescu Prize, Karen Leeder and David Wheatley, comment: ‘I could have been born in another place /within another idiom’, writes Lujeta Lleshanaku, in lines that acquire a prophetic edge in these fine translations, like some latter-day Double Vie de Véronique, holding Eastern and Western Europe in delicate balance.

Luljeta Lleshanaku  was born in Elbasan, Albania in 1968. Under Enver Hoxha’s Stalinist dictatorship, she grew up under house arrest. Lleshanaku was not permitted to attend college or publish her poetry until the weakening and eventual collapse of the regime in the early 1990s. She later studied Albanian philology at the University of Tirana, and has worked as a schoolteacher, literary magazine editor and journalist. She won the prestigious International Kristal Vilenica Prize in 2009, and has had a teaching post at the University of Iowa and a fellowship from the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She has given readings in America, Europe and in Ireland at the Poetry Now Festival in Dún Laoghaire in 2010, and you can watch a film of her reading in Ireland on the Bloodaxe site.

Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) is her first British publication, and draws on two editions published in the US by New Directions, Fresco: Selected Poems (2002) and Child of Nature  (2010), as well as a selection of newer work. As well as being shortlisted for the Corneliu M Popescu Prize for poetry translated from a European language into English, it is also a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation.

Henry Israeli is a poet, translator, and founder and editor of the poetry press Saturnalia Books. He studied at McGill University and the University of Iowa, and is now assistant teaching professor, and associate director, certificate in writing and publishing, at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is the lead translator of Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation shortlisted for the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for Poetry Translated from a European Language into English. He was also the lead translator as well as the editor of her two US editions, Fresco: Selected Poetry of Luljeta Lleshanaku (New Directions, 2002) and Child of Nature (New Directions, 2010). His own books include New Messiahs(Four Ways Books, 2002) and Praying to the Black Cat (De Sol Press, 2010). He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Canada Council on the Arts, amongst others.

Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Popescu to the Nobel Prize (the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011, Tomas Tranströmer, was the sixth Nobel Laureate to be published in the UK by Bloodaxe).  Alongside a substantial list of books in translation, Bloodaxe publishes both new and established poets from Britain and Ireland, as well as manypoets from the US and other countries.  Since 2000, Bloodaxe has been based in Northumberland, with its finance and sales office in Bala, North Wales. You can learn more about the press from its website.

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.

Feast – from ‘Triad’

This word tapping down
Into sacred rites,
Things laid out before our gods.

Against all the odds
Again the stranger
Open to the stranger’s face.

A toast and embrace
Repairing two words,
Our glasses raised, our eating

In tents of meeting,
A trust-mended pledge.
The host as guest, the guest host.

by Micheal O’Siadhail

© Micheal O’Siadhail, 2010

‘Feast’ is the third part of a sequence entitled ‘Triad’, and is taken from Tongues (Bloodaxe Books, 2010).

Micheal O’Siadhail won the Marten Toonder Prize for Literature in 1998. He is a freelance writer, and was formerly a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and a professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. His academic works include Learning Irish and Modern Irish, whilst his published poetry collections include Poems: 1975-1995 (Bloodaxe, 1999), and The Gossamer Wall: Poems in witness to the Holocaust (Bloodaxe, 2002). You can watch O’Siadhail read some of his poems here, and read more about him here.

Language pervades our world, the media, our relationships, minds and hearts. We learn it and we pass it on. In Tongues, the book from which ‘Feast’ comes, Micheal O’Siadhail delights in language and shares its wonder and fascination.

Like a genetic code, language brings human life over thousands of years into the present. It unites the personal and the social, allows for continuity and novelty and can arouse the strongest passions.

In Tongues, O’Siadhail explores individual words, plays with grammar, and meditates on pictograms and the distilled meaning of proverbs across cultures. The variety of forms from sonnets to complex rhyming and syllabic patterns matches the thematic richness.

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found 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.

Broken Sleep

I wake to a residue of milk
playing in your throat.
Through the window starlings
coagulate in the no-colour dawn,

each bird distinct, but utterly
in thrall to formations of twist,
kite, looming bee-swarm.
Your single cry’s answered

by a parched breaking in my chest
and a laboured rush
of hot liquid. As I lift you
from your crib, still balled up

and loaded with sleep, I know
soon you’ll uncurl, walk away
to a point I can’t hear you.
The birds rise together as though

on an up-draught. I spread
your outstretched fingers
on the back of my hand as you
work away at one breast –

ears pulling in time, toes curling;
your whole body drinking –
and lost milk from my other breast
grows cold as rain on my nightdress.

by Sally Read

© Sally Read, 2009

‘Broken Sleep’ is the title poem of Sally Read‘s second collection (Bloodaxe Books, 2009). It comes from a cycle of poems addressed to a baby from a mother, moving from the uncertainty and awe at the discovery of a pregnancy through to the ecstasy of early motherhood. It charts, with tenderness, the child’s development from a foetus in the dark, to a walking, talking toddler in a bewildering and exciting world. The poems comprise a hymn and an elegy to the experience of pregnancy and early motherhood.

The second part of the book, The Glass Eye, moves swiftly into a world where loss, whether of a loved one, a breast, or simply innocence, is countered by extraordinary kinds of redemption. Whether conjuring angels, music, or lies, these pieces offer a sometimes disturbing but always marvellous alternative to the unavoidable blackness behind the glass eye.

You can find out more about the collection here, more about Sally Read at this page, and hear her read from her work at the Poetry Archive (if you cannot hear the recording here, click on the link entitled ‘open player in a new window’).

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found 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.

Leaving Fingerprints

I know this frosted landscape
better than it knows itself, its layers
a busy clock of history, still ticking.

Under my feet I feel the trail of the slug,
the snail, the earth’s deep squirm
around an anklet or an amulet, a broken cup.

Lost, the names of the ones
whose fingers made and used
and threw away these things,

written and rewritten in the calligraphy
of roots. The worm’s heave
and turn delivers messages up,

scribbled in folds of soil and mud, afterthoughts
that grow to trees, trunks with arms,
branches with fingers, twigs with nails,

scratches on air, tear
after tear on a white page.
These names have given their artefacts away

to be sparse as winter. Here I am, they say.
Here and here for you to see,
fingerprinted on the sky.

by Imtiaz Dharker

© Imtiaz Dharker, 2009

Imtiaz Dharker was born in Pakistan, grew up in Glasgow, and now divides her time between Bombay and London. Her main themes are drawn from a life of transitions: childhood, exile, journeying, home, displacement, religious strife and terror. She is also an accomplished artist, and all her collections are illustrated with her drawings. Leaving Fingerprints, the title poem of which is printed above, is her fourth book from Bloodaxe.

In these poems, the only thing that is never lost is the Bombay tiffin-box. All the other things which are missing or about to go missing speak to each other – a person, a place, a recipe, a language, a talisman. Whether or not they want to be identified or found, they still send each other messages, scattering a trail of clues, leaving fingerprints.

You can watch Imtiaz Dharker read two of her poems here, and find out more about her and her work here.

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found 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.

Hope

Like lightning in dark skies
I love to brighten up dark lives
and rid sad hearts of lonely cries.

I have one fierce enemy, despair,
all driven energy, forever there,
rips hearts apart and doesn’t care.

I care. Let’s walk together now,
help me to help, to grow and thrive
and let the future shine alive.

Despair would murder it and make you
guilty. Let’s talk now as we walk and see
the future reaching out to you and me.

Our skies are brightening up today.
I love your company, dear friend,
and always will, come what may.

I dream of being the living song
everyone would love to sing.
Impossible? No. That’s me. Let’s keep walking

until both our hearts are singing.

by Brendan Kennelly

© Brendan Kennelly, 2009

Much of Brendan Kennelly’s poetry gives voice to others and otherness. Whether through masks or personae, dramatic monologues or riddles, his poems inhabit other lives, other beings and other ways of being in the world.

The riddling poems of Reservoir Voices (Bloodaxe Books, 2009) of which ‘Hope’ is one, add a further dimension to these explorations, inspired by an autumn sojourn in America where he would sit by the edge of a reservoir, trying to cope with loneliness by contemplating black swans, blue waves, seagulls, trees and rocks:

‘It was in that state of fascinated dislocation, of almost mesmerised emptiness, that the voices came with suggestions, images, memories, delights, horrors, rhythms, insights and calm, irrefutable insistence that it was they who were speaking, not me. To surrender to loneliness is to admit new presences, new voices into that abject emptiness. So I wrote down what I heard the voices say and, at moments, sing.’

To find out more about Brendan Kennelly and to watch videos of him reading from his work – including ‘Hope’, click here.

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found 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.

Severn Song

The Severn was brown and the Severn was blue –
not this-then-that, not either-or,
no mixture. Two things can be true.
The hills were clouds and the mist was a shore.

The Severn was water, the water was mud
whose eddies stood and did not fill,
the kind of water that’s thicker than blood.
The river was flowing, the flowing was still,

the tide-rip the sound of dry fluttering wings
with waves that did not break or fall.
We were two of the world’s small particular things.
We were old, we were young, we were no age at all,

for a moment not doing, nor coming undone –
words gained, words lost, till who’s to say
which was the father, which was the son,
a week, or fifty years, away.

But the water said earth and the water said sky.
We were everyone we’d ever been or would be,
every angle of light that says You, that says I,
and the sea was the river, the river the sea.

by Philip Gross

© Philip Gross, 2009.

This poem is from The Water Table, a new collection by Philip Gross. It was published by Bloodaxe Books in November 2009 and won the 2009 T.S. Eliot Prize.

A powerful and ambiguous body of water lies at the heart of these poems, with shoals and channels that change with the forty-foot tide. Even the name is fluid – from one shore, the Bristol Channel, from the other Môr Hafren, the Severn Sea.

Philip Gross’s meditations move with subtle steps between these shifting grounds and those of the man-made world, the ageing body and that ever-present mystery, the self. Admirers of his work know each new collection is a new stage; this one marks a crossing into a new questioning, new clarity and depth.

For more information about Philip Gross and to see a video of him reading from The Water Table, click here.

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found 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.

From ‘In the Face of History: In Time of War’

4.  Doisneau: Underground Press

Were I to fall in love all over again, it would be
with this low ceiling, with the calm faces
of the two men going about their craft
and with her now twisting towards them
beautiful, defiant and free.

Because we forget how beauty was once itself
and nothing else, how it held its stellar
moment in attic and cellar.

Because that is what beauty is, this compact
with time and the silence of concentration
on one subversive operation,

that requires courage and sacrifice
and never comes without a price.

5.  Sudek: Tree

The visionary moment comes
just as it is raining, just as bombs
are falling, just as atoms

burst like a sneeze in a city park
and enter the dark
as if it were the waiting ark.

You open your hand and blow
the dust. You pick and throw
the stone. You make the round O

of your mouth perfect as light
and the tree bends and stands upright
in the stolid night.

by George Szirtes

© George Szirtes, 2009.

George Szirtes’ latest collection, The Burning of the Books and other poems, from which these two sections are taken, is a collection of narrative sequences by a writer who came to Britain as a child refugee after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The two poems above come from a sequence which was commissioned by the Barbican Art Gallery to accompany its exhibition ‘In the Face of History: European Photographers in the 20th Century’. There is more information about the exhibition here, and you can see the photographs which were the inspirations for Szirtes’ two poems here and here.*

George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948. He was educated in England, trained as a painter, and has always written in English. In recent years he has worked as a translator of Hungarian literature, and co-edited Bloodaxe’s Hungarian anthology The Colonnade of Teeth. His poetry books published by Bloodaxe include The Budapest File (2000); Reel (2004), which won Szirtes the T.S. Eliot Prize; and New & Collected Poems (2008). The Burning of the Books and other poems (2009), has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2009. Szirtes lives in Norfolk and teaches at the University of East Anglia. You can read more of the poems from the ‘In the Face of History’ sequence on the Poetry website here, and learn more about the poet here.

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found here.

* Sudek took a number of similar photographs of this tree in his garden, and the photograph displayed at this link may not be identical to the one exhibited at the Barbican.

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.