Mirrors to the other side
The Twenty-Fourth issue of The Seventh Quarry magazine edited by Peter Thabit Jones flowed like a meandering river. One turn of a page reflected the previous one. Themes sank in and resurfaced further downstream.
For instance, Bill Wolak interviewed William Heyen. William Heyen’s poems were followed by a photo of William Heyen and Stanley Barkan. and the poem “Who is Stanley Barkan?” by James Palmer. An interview with Dileep Jhaveri is preceded by Bill Wolak’s poem “After a Photo of Dileep Jhaveri.”
One theme that resonated with me kept emerging in this issue’s interviews. It was the idea of poetry as a portal into the timeless, a key to the transcendent.
As Dileep Jhaveri put it:
“The role of the poet is to take the reader along to discover spaces where this magic is innate. [The poet] then becomes a mirror or a river for the reader for a similar adventure.”
And then further along:
“The poem comes from where time and space do not exist. The poem is an encounter with eternity.  You know the universe, and simultaneously you don’t know it.  Poetry comes from within you, and it comes from nowhere.”
I let this idea in and it turned out that the poems I liked the most in this issue actually took me to a space beyond the concrete and the individual.
The issue is also rich in poems about childhood, a theme close to my heart. One, “Bottles” by Tim Gardiner has this strange trope: an adjective reflected back from one object to another.
“A carefully sculpted oyster//held in a boy’s soft hand”
I got this very clear feeling of the oyster’s softness, as well as the boy’s hand. This sensation was enhanced by fact that the poem mentions glass shards of bottles immediately beforehand.
Another poem that took me into my childhood was Gareth Culshaw‘s “Butchers”. I clearly remember a similar sensation to
“I always stood behind, half seen, unheard//brown paper bags swung by finger and thumb,//the firm press and hold of a butcher’s hand.”
The various colours of meat mentioned in the poem seemed a bit “workshopped” to me though (my pet peeve of workshop poems). For me, it is smells that launch me into the past most easily. However, no denying that it can be colours for someone else.
There is this simple yet elegant sequence about early childhood in Siân Northey‘s “Shoes”:
“I barely remember my barefoot days
before the stories
before my soles in my cradle
had walked a step.”
The breath of poetry
“Laces” by Siân Northey struck me with the deep breath of the rhythm: “hand in hand under branches//and twigs and darkness” – through which appeared a particular tunnel of shrubs and a particular pair of hands from my past. The beginning and the end of the poem form a perfect circle, reflecting the topic: laces. It starts with stating a mystery of laces, and ends with the statement that the mystery is
why one side, at the end of every day,
is always, no exception ever,
than the other side.”
I would not be able to say exactly what that means. However, it simply worked as a reference to something being off in life.
As always the case with The Seventh Quarry, there was an unexpected find from the distant shores, this time from Albania. Alisa Velaj‘s “Still” translated by Laureta Petoshati invites a gentle trance through repetition of a few key words around “Sleep” and its assonances: soul, lily, sweet, sing, flee. The mention of “his Madonna horizon” sent me to not one by two references from my personal life.
February and very early spring is one of my favourite seasons. I felt it in Kristine Doll‘s “Green” with its line “a green not yet determined.”
I liked “Marriage” by Michael Graves: a goth-flavoured incantation in the spirit of Corpse Bride, until the very end, when it turned out it was about a man. That rang a little bit alien to me.
Grant Tabard‘s “Fairytale of a First Christmas” brought about those feelings of a young unkempt ragged love affair, the feeling of being out of parental nest and finding your own relationships for the first time.
As usual, the paintings of Carolyn Mary Kleefeld are lovely, charming in their sincerity and directness. I thought Carolyn Mary Kleefeld’s “Our Higher Conscience” is a bit on the nose. Having said that, its message of the current need for character, integrity and measures to save the planet is so urgent that it is worth not only reproducing in poetry magazines, but even writing on each wall in every city on earth.
Matt Duggan‘s “Zombie Land” tackles, in a more playful manner, some of the same topics: the dullness of existence in modern capitalist world, which runs on exploitation and offers the phantom release of celebrity or admiration for celebrity.
William Heyen in his interview for this issue said: “The poet is the one who integrates, who makes us realize that we of all cultures are in this together, that the bell tolls for all of us, that all is One, in the end, as we move toward our common death.” Our goal for today has to be for this death not to coincide with the extinction of humanity.
The Murky Reflection of the Shining Past
A poem about the destructive effect of industrial capitalism, “Whistle-Stop”, also by Grant Tabard has this powerful refrain: “In twenty years it would be black with mould.”
This referred me directly to a widely known in Russia poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky “Khrenov’s Story of Kuznetskstroy and Its Builders.” (Unfortunately, I was not able to locate the English translation.)
This poem by my favourite poet (who, incidentally, inspired my poem published in this issue) has the refrain: “In four years there will be a Garden City here.” It describes the difficulties of building Novokuznetsk Iron and Steel Plant. The striking difference between the two poems reflects the opposing goals of a capitalist and socialist society. In the former, the aim is profit. In the latter the goal is decent (in all senses of the word) life for everyone.
How unlikely is this, that not one but two poems in this issue reminded me of Mayakovsky’s poetry? Gabriella Garofalo‘s “Look, Don’t Kid Yourself” is another dark distorted reflection from our despair of global capitalism back into the explosive and visionary start of the 20th century. “Stars can’t welcome revolution” – says Gabriella.
if stars are lit
it means – there is someone who needs it.
It means – someone wants them to be,
that someone deems those specks of spit
– shouts Mayakovsky in his “Listen“.
“Stories have an happy ending, after all,//Just think of films and soaps,” – says Gabriella.
in the swirls of afternoon dust,
he bursts in on God,
afraid he might be already late.
he kisses God’s sinewy hand
and begs him to guarantee
that there will definitely be a star.
he won’t be able to stand
that starless ordeal.
– exclaims Mayakovsky.
Stars are dim nowadays. When people had a worthy goal to live for, to work for, they did not need to seek solace in soaps. Films were being made about them, and poems written.
The Seventh Quarry is a truly international magazine. Not only does it include poems from around the world, it also contains poems that cross international borders within themselves.
I liked “Ganesh” by Mark Floyer because it describes exactly what normally happens: an English prepschool pupil seeks protection of a Hindu God. I remember visiting a temporary exhibition on Ganesh in the British Museum. I am sure by the end of it the statue was worn from all the visitors’ touching it. And in my special Humanities high school in Russia girls wrote poems dedicated to Ishtar.
Ali Pardoe, (whom I also mentioned in my review of an earlier issue of The Seventh Quarry) in his “Magpie” blends traditional beliefs about the bird from the English, Chinese and Ancient Greek cultures. As for me, however much I can speak and write in English, in my head I still call animals by their Russian names. And these can be feminine and masculine. So, to me, a mole or an eagle is always a “he”, whereas a squirrel or an owl is always a “she”, and so is a magpie.
but you can’t, like me, turn inside out entirely,
and nothing but human lips become!
I put a different translation, by Andrey Kneller, as an epigraph. As a second epigraph, I used a piece of dialogue from Despicable Me:
– What about the air?
– Yes, you can touch the air.
My second poem in this issue has a long title: “The Way Through Tomsk Inspired by The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling.” The poem by Kipling tells a story about a road through the woods that “they shut”, but which still can be discerned by a careful observer. I premiered this poem at Geneviève Walsh‘s Spoken Weird event in Halifax.
I took these “they” and wrote 3 stanzas about what they shut in my home town, which happen to be a sweet shop, a book store and a swimming pool. I took the final line of the original poem “But there is no road through the woods” and applied it to every of the objects that were dear to me from my childhood. I read this one at Gaia Holmes‘ spoken word event in Puzzle Hall, Sowerby Bridge.