Poets

Lyra: Bristol Poetry Festival

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Lyra: Lyra at Heart

Getting into this year’s two week online Bristol Poetry festival was a joy in itself, with another fine example of online organising. This time the team of Co-Directors and social programmers had something striking to say and the festival‘s aim and title of Festival Reconnection. To say that something was afoot would be a good reference as to the way that online poetry can hold the audience who are just out of being knocked by lockdown though it has now been lifted and hopefully businesses are coming back. So let’s come back from this 2021 Lyra’s protective theme of total and real Reconnecting.

It fell to Prof. Nick Groom to introduce us to and capture us by his expert story of a Bristol poet named Chatterton or Thomas Chatterton. Prof Groom who is a speaker, published with his themes of range and identity, his books include ‘The vampire, a new history’ which I haven’t read and know nothing about. In the fact that Groom’s experimentation in lecturing itself, would bring his world of writing set to explore Chatterton’s influence on Wordsworth’s writing and more.

Lyra: Prof. Groom: Chatterton’s books

Nick Groom

He looked at Chatterton’s work and took the single lines from his poetry to examine how the premierist soon to be a gifted writer and how he early on went into creating through his stronghold phenominality we could have called him a phenominalist. Chatterton’s stories were very much influenced by his take on equality but his immortally kind and understanding stature only lasted until his suicide at the very tender age of 17. His tragedy was sealed. This tragedy shows him probably to be the youngest poet ever to write with such clarity in these manners, matters and more.

A Chatterton Quote would be, “Flowereth nodded on his head”, to me meaning something very gentle, to his, “…to hear his joyous song.” a line to speak for itself. Through most of his light and striving the dedicatory lecture compared Chatterton’s world to the world of today; finding reconnection in his remarkable relevance in the world of today and at the hand of humane starting to rebuild.

The Lyra festival was presented in association with the magnanimously rich in literature; Bristol Poetry Institute. Of whom a Bristol poet Caleb Parkin was in conversation with Madhu Krishnan. Their task was to hold a definitive discussion where the reconnection of our natures will and other natures to be taken in; to drink in the vast possibility’s in future by way of for everything. Going into a better and further look into the world of earth’s nature’s and the powerful nature of Poetry, which is why we’re all here.

A special thanks has to go to Danny Pandolfi a Co-Director of 2021 Lyra and Beth Calverley this years honoured festival poet, who does no end of positive work using poetry to help people to express themselves, she goes deep into this work but from what I saw always with a smile and amazing willingness.

Lucy English

Listening to her charm the place she read her poetry like it was from the sky above. And I would like to thank the other co-director Lucy English who is a spoken word educator and reader at Bath Spa University and is a Co-Director of ‘Liberated words’, so there was a coming together of big worlds in the poetry scene. And I would like to mention Josie Alford who was Marketing & Social media management and is said to have quite a stage presence.

Lyra: In the Event Of…

This event saw a great discussion and Q&A with Danny and Lucy in the launch of the theme of ‘Reconnection’, and all of its physical, natural and environmental implications. That led to poet Caleb Parkin whose pamphlet “wasted rainbow” was commented on by Nadu Chrisman to open up a discussion about the institutes and live world of spoken poetry. With our interests at hand the feedback opened to being interactive and somewhat centred around lockdown.

Madhu Krishnan & lyra Caleb Parkin

With the ecosystem and ecology of poets resulting in greatly helpful organisations whose textured aesthetics, novel form, narrative prose, seemed to surmount looking like (and helping us look into)) the life of the tree who are like their own point of origin and conclusion, seeking the elixir. Brought about loud and important ways to try and treat language specifically in a different way (a term of service that can disintegrate words, and lays out language).

Delving and enveloping the interesting tension in a poem of the individual feelings and focus for the reader and the listener. All of which proving a fascinated interest in dominance and seeing life on earth as a tilted experience. As a kind of “…perpetual loading icon.” That obviously never ends, or a “…pixelated fish”, perhaps indicating no resistance. The philosophy and reaches of the proposed ethics of poetry, within the festival frame plan took us from tip to toe. Offering completed poems and breaking down these poems to see fundamentals where questioning is really quite stylish and purposeful in the field of where to get ideas.

Lyra: Frogs and ‘Liberated Words’

Fiona Hamilton’s “Smell of fog”, reached in and plucked a frog from a naked patch of earth. Whose metaphor struck the almost dumbed senses of frogs that can’t self-isolate! The frogs as a species are a perfect depiction for fertility and interrelatedness. And in this offering was held the deeply fascinating work of eco poetry in action.

As a further introduction to ‘Liberated Words’,who from humble beginnings in the 2012 which was like a year at the Bath Spa University. Lucy directed Reconnections in her screening of poetry films that for Lyra were heritage, family heritage and connection. Sarah Tremlet produced books of poetry films commemorating her much loved film genre. She is a poetry film maker, theorist, and author of the ‘Poetics of Poetry’ film starting in 2005. In her meeting with Lucy English in 2010 they connected and decided to make poetry films about teenagers with autism, all in the name and deliberation of Liberated Words. ‘Liberated words’ and the ‘Arnolfini’ (the Bristol international Centre for Contemporary Art) have hung out many times over the years to the benefit of both.

All of this in the Reconnections: Poetry Film Screening

And in the subject of identity of things like minors, where there may be a duo of poetics of place with 5 examples of Lia Vile Madre who was a medieval gypsy whose heritage collections led to the object of the film ‘A bird on a tree’. So came: the ‘Bird’ Poem’ which was a commission from the Centre for Arts and Wellbeing, literally at the top of the tree. As the poetic wheels of motion rolled along the lines went from, “…feathers always fascinating us…” grouped with, “…love’s me to the winds.” And “each new bird roosts for me!” all hailing a triumphant noise to the sounds and senses of an earthly paradise. Leaving us with feelings of “…favourite colours, rainbows.”

The films scanned one after another in their very short form. Taking us through extraordinary stories of what they called “scattered feather dust.” And spoke of the “bloodlines” of poetry filmmaking with new departures from Ezabel Turner whose pamphlet ‘Wonder of the traveller’ put bones on the road in connection with rural communities. So the film ‘Blood lines’ was in colour and of a green forest at hand. With “…open bravado door”, something sensual and similar, coupled with “songs and seasons wave at you”. All of which completing her surmount of the old depth of reading and writing.

Lyra: Identity in the Mirror

In further film mode of poetry it was seen by Yvonne Redicks whose words became something confident! That creating this world of lyrical semblances in the green and purple lines of, “that night is steep.” With “…ring of his ashes…”, and in the “…line of figures…” completing the theme with a terrific comment on “…still born brother.”

Moving away from film poetry we were invited right into a panel discussion that curtailed on programmes that were done and dusted, and showed us the many implications for thriving as a poet in the world of institutional and established themes whose opportunities being hopefully set to be fed and grow. Our discussion starred the inevitable voice of reason, Dr Edson Burton and with the voice of experience, Lawrence Hoo and facilitator (with some style), Ngaio Anyia.

Ngaio Anyia

The three of them were entrepreneurs at panel discussions, though there was a feeling of real relish from one being to another in this online way. Covering an abundance of tracks they talked about; Art & dissent: Bristol’s radical history. In this title the scope was placed for coverage to be their subjects and advertise them in the hope of bringing them to social matter.

About the plight of humanities African persuasion, communities build on being burnt to the ground classically, culturally and in the institutions. All of this has happened in what I can see as a sustained attempt to control these sections of the community’s across the world with a flag placed in Bristol at the Lyra. A jumping off point for Lyra was to heal the gaps of heinous injustices. I merely use this language because of how well the story was put together by the three even though only as a list of white crimes none of which were made with palatable events.

Lyra: Lawrence’s Analysis

Lawrence Hoo

Analysing Lawrence’s contributions against enslavement he looked at freedoms and civilisations, to build an unrelenting onset with his strength and willingness of experience. When talking with Dr Edson, the points were almost all reiterated. This was celebratory from the point of view of feeling free to speak out. The three did just that and asked us to do that too. There are so many things now going on in Britain, as to think something big may be happening, some kind of all-encompassing wave of truth brought about by writers and poets. But for the moment we will use the distinctive goings on in Bristol and in Lyra 2021.

Onto something inevitable in a made and unmade process. Keith Pipers words were eloquently articulate in a continuation of slave trade books, scenes and most importantly movements. And by now we were seeing familiar faces of the festival with for example Dr Edson talking about Pipers works and feelings. Also getting together with Meshin Decello and Vanessa Kisuule the animation films brought a presence that is unique to this type of art. Developing different voices and activism there was a direct energy alluding to a society that ignores poetry as it ignores people. But for that very reason the need is in offering a call of and for poets to be recognised.

Vanessa Kisuule

In an examination of spoken word in the UK, seeing its history and significance, we welcomed Peter Bearder who further dissented the festivals accessibility. Looking at barriers he performed to the wider world with representative dealings and collaborations for presenting. Part of his creative, playful, physically competitive environment, and in the use of venues such as pubs and clubs. He showed us who could have the discipline for the performances and techniques. A surmounting elaboration of the modern music; dub, punk or hip hop. We could see the implications almost every time.

Though we frequently delved into the many themes of Reconnection the work was also brought into modern day focus. The focus that is needed to see our world as they expand in the relevance of the past or the past relevant to now as alluded to in Prof Groom’s sage like lecture in the events of Chatterton’s 100ds of years old legacy.

Lyra: Cutting Edge

Showing how surprising it is to see cutting edge life of many eras ago and in the time lines of seeing the future. Looking into the African situation of suffering can still be constructed by departmentalising it. Not the work or the poet but the theme. Pete used minority identities to compose and measure these abducted transferences. Cutting in with edgy progressiveness and offering a resistance against the all-powerful commercial marketing. Who if we look at it are also ran on a basis in slavery.

Using performance poetry to convey anything is always a striking phenomenon because of its nature, history and popularity. So for Langston Hughes it was a perfect opportunity to honestly talk about and discuss black America, and its history and its place in the world today. How do you cut through built up distrust? How do you even respond to terrible events? Again by breaking down of systems; for example exposure of Artists, or in the maturation of art form instead of the watered down work of the market.

Lyra: A Kick from Poetry Kitchen

In the aptly named Poetry Kitchen the in-depth knowledge took another turn at the deep end. Including and inviting us to the art of gathering scenes together by using criticism to provide a space for the hippest questions about the 20th Century. Spoken word phenomenon is as to what it is for having already been very impressed by it. It is a world where cherishing differences and critical language come together to agree on spoken word direction having already taken its place. Once again creating Reconnection’s and having a real love coming through bringing the delight of poetry into being; speak and ye shall hear. Lem Susey induced in us to a need for growing black poets becoming a very busy international hub to help create these things for communities and neighbours to share. It, as so much of Lyra festival is, grass root identity, to be striven for and used to debunk fresh acts of violence or the perpetration of…, to create a new culture with an open and tearful eye for the present as on the past.

Lyra: Reconnect

There was no end in this fortnight long online festival to the bountiful world of spoken or read or performed poetic‘s in stances and conundrums. All bound together and clasped together but all with poetic sincerity and connectivity in mind. Poetry of the world puts the highest thinking in place and watches with gentle turmoil as the acts of behaviour viewed across the globe. With this international conceptual thriving the reflections and commiserations shed light on the soul (or the planet) as a thing we know and will know for some time to come, even going back to the old religious celebrations. A healthy, natural absorption occurs; with the never ending qualities holding fun the day. Hence the festivals inclusivity of Lyra to talk loudly as with any other poetic organisations of today, in a world of bringing careful tenderness towards affliction’s of any kind.

Beth Calverly

This is how good and well the distributing of poetry can get out and to as many populaces and cultures as is possible, enter Beth Calverley who was festival poet 2021. She is a 2020 British Life awards and Arts finalist with a collection of ‘Brave Faces & other smiles’ to accompany her verse and poetry press releases. She makes the endearing step towards mental wellbeing for all with her workshops and projects. She performed with her good friend Bethany Roberts whose songs and spoken word had them smiling in different ways.

Lyra: Make the Reconnections, Final Word

The aptly named “Spellbound” was a work of genius. It held the reflection of so many things that poured out of the violin, the music and the voice. We could easily see why Beth is flying and why she was named Festival Poet; imagine the lives she has personally touched. Then to the poems and poets; what this comes down to is written word of poetry. The listening to it, imagining it, understanding it and always making it your own! I’ll leave you with some quoted lines to sooth you but also to wake you up;

The wonderfully positive snippets of a place where; “…the weather was awful.” to the reasoning response “…comfort eyes.” And “…sense my voice friend…” to “…hold this yellow thread…” leaving us with “…sing myself undressed…”
To the bleak “…ghosts don’t bring wine…” looking for “…gold wrapping paper.” But within a “…clammy abyss…”

It was the protest styles that grabbed us with plentiful ideologies of how things play out and come to happen I leave you with the line; “Some poems force you to write them.”

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Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly

StAnza Poetry Festival 2021

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St Andrews
March 6th – 14th


StAnza Director: Eleanor Livingstone

The Stanza International Poetry Festival took place online from 6th to 14th March. Stanza was born in 1997, the brainchild of three poets deeply qualified in the field, Brian Johnstone, Anne Crowe and Gavin Bowd. Over the decades it has built up a standing as a leading place at the head of world poetry. Brian Johnstone, the poet and writer, is part of Edinburgh Shore Poets, with a particular interest in live poetry. Brian served as Festival Director from 2000-2010. Anne Crowe has many publications and prizes, and has translated into Castilian, Catalan, German and more, and Gavin Bowd teaches in St Andrews University. The first Stanza Festival launched on National Poetry Day in 1998, only a year after its conception.

This year, there wasn’t a single poet who did not strive and succeed in the field wither older or younger. having many honorary or volunteered for positions in the festival life itself. But the top seats had to go to the amazing Eleanor Livingstone who took us around as the Festival Director, Louise Robertson, on Press & Media and Annie Rutherford, Programme Co-ordinator.

Annie Rutherford

The pre-festival 5th March Panel discussion I found extremely interesting. I was captured by all the great styles of the written word. Taking off, with an expert discussion about the current goings on in the ‘European regions progress in literary culture’: an assessment of the progress culturally in considering brand new approaches. With an emphasis on understanding of the said European literary culture and regions, whether or not the writing is concerned enough with winning a battle of creating real roots outside the English dominant language. With the good news of their beginning to be or not of new infrastructures that are coming through with fresh lenses.

The Event ‘Trafica’, a radio initiative/European project talked very specifically about its identity and the giant world of creating serious funding that is met a little in the creating of inroads into how to qualify for funding. With Dostoevsky mentioned; the getting out of politics in poetry or at least in the intake of greater cultures, was dreamed of with the belief that poetry is of the Alchemy of the spirit and a gorgeous wish to move far away from being anything narrow minded. All coming with the initial supra courageous step of leaving your home country, finding its way to Stanza.



Concrete Poetry & Insta Poetry

My introduction to this came in a ‘Meet the artist’ event concerning the concept of concrete poetry and Insta poetry; The Insta was explored in Chris McCabe’s ‘For every day’ a poetry book with two poets in what is called a poem atlas, an idea of high mountains and frequent views both bad and good (to put it in simple terms). Bringing with it uncomfortableness and an openness which through the poetry went into the performances and readings.

Insta poetry is helping herald the quiet yet substantial revolution of poetry to the new and younger audiences. With its new forms of poetry, such as photo poetry. All made around the two fresh prospects of Concrete and Insta poetry. Giving the poets a chance to convey personal interests in the nature of concrete poetry measuring its effect upon itself with the natural components of words.

Political poetry then would have helped in the creating of a platform for forming options for the artist to reach their own outreaching platforms. They talked about the marvel that is online eventing calling it a dynamic in the world of Instagram critique. Astra Papachristodoulon asking us to travel beyond the book. Thinking instead about using her own brought objects to the table, a very wavy broadband of a subject. She also gave the example of using sculpture to make sense of her feelings, in particularly mixing sculpture with poetry. So, the highest abstracts were made possible in her very own art form.

The poet called Jinhao Xie spelled out more of how Instagram has brought a closeness to the audience and an interest in the poems themselves. But the aim was to use concise language and influence the critical gender performance, that leaves us with a chance of using simple graphics, with the all-important thing: humanity of others. His concrete poem where doors being closed, set to hatch his poem.


Found in Translation

From Found in translation (as to the popular lost in…) came a call to translators to show their form, their all-important co-working partner; interpretation. Tania Hershman, a poet and translator and Peter McKay communed online with Nicola Gevsky, who translates and interprets, and is into the fascinating, enthralling and necessity ways of the paving for us no less than as a world-wide phenomenon, which sounds like quite a thing, doesn’t it?

Nikola herself read from her poem written to be spoken of; an amazing people who nearly translate the world yet so humanly seek to make translating poetry into something directly close to fun. Saying that the instruments for writing do very well to entertain the senses of the human body all the way up to the mind as a meditation. We listened to the sound of rhymes as gold dust falling from the voices.

It seems that where there is an adopting of cultural context, there is room for expansion as in this case hailing from smaller countries. Translation takes place from the blood, sweat and tears of theirs and our revered poets who speak well in public. Though this is a thing that tends to differ per society (environment) and in their linguistics’ of the personal and the very public.

Backgrounds made the curtains of the theatre fall but it was always in pursuit of something fresh, lost and found is a good place to start. In the discussion on background of poems, there were translating challenges presented; to be handled by an enhancement in the learning about culture which is the passport to many things in the flight of this poetic world. It headed home to St Andrews with the translating from Gaelic of Peter’s piece, and Mitko Gogor’s into English. Putting the sharing of poetry at the forefront that merged for us into being very relaxed and finely in tune.

And in this relaxed manner George Colkitto (another wonderful name) who can understand full Welsh; again, portrayed another act of listening to the Welsh. He read these sounds like hymns of the human voice. Translating as a known and unknown quality where words and worlds still fall away. The ‘meet the artist’ events were always informative and super pleasant. And with the introduction of Peter MacKay who is among many other things a broad caster, lecturer, very much interested in translation of art and poetry into film. A question and answer, about the film poem just seen, was discussed with Ciara Ni E, a Berlin student with a deep and intense response to events.


Q & A on Found in Translation

Paul Maguire mentioned the occasion of choosing to speak in his own tongue, in the discussion and Pauls Scots, who speaks Gaelic Irish – wanted and does create the space for the handy opportunity to see the world through different lenses. And in the relationships between nations, whose translation into English has brought an external archive that was described as an ‘interesting process’ and with that the introduction of film, called a different animal ‘Urban fox’ an Irish sharing of cultures, stories, and a celebration of the ancient street scenes of Edinburgh ‘…fox eyes then her human eyes.’,

In translating from Welsh, words that didn’t fit into the interlocking of the process stood out, as the Welsh stands out as a language. Q. How much were you working from sound? Was a question that expounded the mediums and enhanced the subjectivity of the matter concerned.

Another Q. was. Is there too much emphasis of nationality in Ireland, Scotland and Wales? Which I felt was an electric question because it seems we would all like to know that one, a dynamic question for more wide spread thinking. Poetry has the ambition of representing entire cultures and in that world, they say that Irish and Scottish can very well be vice-versa in their substances. But there are feelings that Welsh is left to the side lines, mimicking perhaps a wider ignorance towards an anti-thesis that not all languages share the same usefulness as the mostly dominant Anglo English. In Wales there is a sense of a great lack of interest in the fineries of romantic culture as set aside by Rome

In the gaps in language, it is found that identity disappears. In for example closeness to masculinity undergoes misunderstandings, but in the spirit of determinism of subject there are important links succeeding between communities, snow balling since the big efforts for change affected in the 1970’s.


Online Organisation

Reaching remote communities is an exciting happening due to the internet’s reach, seeming to come to all of us here. It has among many other things created a different conversation online. The history side of things throw up great questions that probed into changes of attitude among nations. Where there is at the moment a longer process involved in Anglo Saxon world, because translation requires a wider questioning of translating older wisdom!



Maria Stepanova & Aileen Ballantyne, Two Poets

Maria Stepanova

‘Poets at home’ where we met Maria Stepanova & Aileen Ballantyne event was of the downs of which the poet and translator Sasha Dugdsale incurred. In the voice of the downs, adapted by the nature of the countryside she is so very close to. For her it was everything, and her radiance grew with every piece of her dramatic and informational poems. Information that included methods for well mental being. But her soft voice spread out to the water or fields in front of her, almost with freedom at hand. ‘The downs – ‘wide open…’, a huge affinity…,’ laying her shadow into the picture as her ‘eternal feminine’.

‘The last model’ – Francise Boutle (2020) – Latgalien poetry to showcase appeared last year, who having formed broad international contributions in a minority language had Jade Will, a compiler and translator, own work ‘The last Model’ – 2018, Published (Boubly publications) – In the translated from Latvian into English the poem her ‘…age of Christ…,’ The last days of the Soviet Union, belches of Soviet era. The power of poetry, the power of Russian poetry, is a power and blood shed of war.


Taking in Topics

The power of translating from Russian into English results in desperate and yet very strong words, coming from a shift in history, that is to be taken very personally. So, reading two, three, four poems fresh from the press started coming from the same place in literature but differing greatly in environment.

The subject of describing woman and defining woman, often led to some horrible histories both personal and societal (societal should be easier to change for the better). Offering first-hand accounts, of the sheer pain of war and destruction that happened in the native or visited countries and regions who all share the same map. Woman have never been dismaying into backing down the extremely withered sensation in a battle of the sexes.
Nature takes its place in the heart of the Stanza’s proceedings, and by the looks of it a learned poet can be as clear as a country river with its objects and musings all in the power of poetry that bends like nature to your will wherever it may suit you.

Where in any line there was loveliness and hope at any other time the words and ideals disrupted our gentle walk and took hold of us to the very collar. Also, though not so much imagined sorrow but very real and now, holding poetry to their hearts or casting them very far afield. Always returning to the magic that poetry seems to have a place for all of us.


The Foreign Language & Finance

Estonian poetry had a good presence, with the positive news that some things are as good as on the right track. To the esteemed concrete idea of being a poet who earns a living. From the Latvian situation comes a revealing of wide spread publishing. And it looks as though it differs because of a problem of language acting as a stopper, that this process is proving hard to understand. But the line out of it would be in making the poetic market a non-government organization, and the organization of friends to establish publishing, leaving off for a need of more future progress.


Another New Poet

The Stanza 2021 Poetry Centre Stage events had varied poets who have been internationally sought after was Russell’s readings that had his close adherence to poetry through science fiction, to throw open the field and the day. His images with poetry crossed genres and moved into a new way of sending a message through poetry. His writings and compilations all worked in pushing things to an extreme.


Stanza: Masterclass

The ‘My Favourite Poets’ time was spent in producing a masterclass. Where from dark words, the hero poet knee deep in failure, bitterness and then joy, was like a scene from some unmentionable tragedy reported through praiseworthy poetic Stance. As a woman wrapped in insignificance. Reminding us of the wide and well spread coverage for exemplary poetry and factual utterings.


Helen Boden, Suzanna V Evens and Jaqueline Saphra

Suzanne V Evans

As we were joined by Helen Boden, we took a virtual walk along Fife coastal path. For which she amounted her poems and photographs from Yorkshire. With extensive collaborations, responsive poems and creative non-fiction under her poetic belt. She was so soft and full of great endearment, passion and accomplishment. Photography or film merges very well with poetry and creates a view of sight and sound. She celebrated her land marks of sheer familiarity for her that included the poems celebration of a light house that see the high winds and seas.

Jaqueline Saphra

When Jaqueline Saphra joined Suzanna V Evens the experience heightened for me with the language she used in the forms of Form & evolution, in Suzanna’s terms it is something like or exactly like a palace of words. Or rather her term of the palace of poetry.

Her injection of this metaphoric place; the palace of poetry led us to understand her loud cry for this palace, as somewhere we could reach for or entre at will. She spoke of her wish to be inspired into claiming and taking over this palace which to me had a feeling of the epic poetry of old. To realise the struggle of the work of word. Leaving us with the epic quest of what it might be to create a formless poem?


Post the Palace of Poetry

Read aloud out from a Fatal interview of St Vincent Mallet who spoke; ‘in the winter stands the lonely tree…’ sparked a rich discussions with Eavan Doland’s whose point of view was both agreed with and disagreed with. About the art and against the silence. Of a combustion engine that belongs to everyone, she takes note of a Yeats poem called ‘leader of the swan’, which is a horrific poem about the indifference of men to the scene of rape! I feel sorry to mention that here but maybe my feelings should waver here. She took us through how poetry has been shaped in our earliest stanza of the more pure and innocent prayer and lullaby, which was remarkably built to be remembered(imagine that).

So, onto Stevie Smith whose black and white film was directed by his stringent found truths that are in sense and music, and how again they can be used as a back-up for poems, his subversive style revolutionised the sonnet (no small thing). And for Eavan Boland, Marlyn Nielson, Gwyndelin Brooks the embracing the sonnet is most powerful potential for poetry of its two-line sentencing and short hand but lyrical object.

Spurring back to Eavan Dolands in the sense of the staying of woman in the broad sense as love objects. With a longing for breaking down from her fiery motif of moving the wall of the palace, as if holding a sword to the air. And with a sad push comes the recognition that poetry ignores people, or at least that may be how it appears at large. Which was a frequent comment fit for discussion and holding to the poetic torch.

Entering a zoom discussion was always bubbly and filled with the joys, Though no less discursive. We talked about the limits created by the currant and older problems of isolation of the senses. Coupled with the opposite track of internet wide coverage for the poetic world to emerge into. There is a lot to be recognisable in for example the music and metre where ability to conduct poetry is to try everything right up and down the harbours of the mind.



A Suggested Unison & Inclusivity

In all the work of the poet’s poems there seemed to run an undercurrent of a spoken unison. And at this year’s online festival, it was very successful that is to say very absolute in the faces of many frustrations that are holding unhelpfully back the literature movements. Some of its drive was of poetry that is not being held with quite the esteem and potential as it could be in the arts that convey it.

The inclusivity of the festival was paramount to the weeklong presentation. And when in the inspire sessions, we were given some gifts of direct techniques and of tackling the prospect of making works yourself. Showing something for everyone from well-established poets who so magnanimously shared. Making the poetry mostly into a taking off leading us far in and out of ourselves just by the act of listening!

No poem had less than 2 lines of topic of subject; creating a wonderful addiction to the gentle reassurances that were often to exorcize a turn of listening to a person talking in a language I’m sorry to say I didn’t know. In the Q & A and in the discussions, post reading offered the time for these considered people to reveal their trade.


Centre Stage

On a Poetry Centre Stage event Mona Kareem, a featured writer met with Michael Grieve a Fife poet and teacher and who has been involved in Stanza before, offered a little correspondence through some poetry. In an endearing poem by Michael, his lines were about time and thinking and contemplating to look beyond his own words and performed as a living dedication to some sweet ideas for living in the planet.

The bitter hero set to last only for a small time, or to be disregarded anyway had the writing seeking for a purity of living that won’t be found in anything less than an honest one. Weaving around the straight English poetry was the translating effect from English to Another or another to English. The Gaelic language held a fore front as well as Russian.

The writing covered seemingly every aspect of life. Using far-fetched facts about frilly concepts that were splayed by the continuous almost threat of darker things to come or those that have already happened. To put Kareem back into the centre stage event found that his ever-growing process had fired off with the increased use of as many forms of poetry as he found was possible, putting his work right out there to be studied for years to come.

The poets, the staff, the volunteers shared a feeling of great togetherness when going through all kinds of poetic certainties and more importantly uncertainty.
Kareem’s poetry makes things easier, subscribing for that, poetry can save the world, hit us with her ‘Femme ghost’ project. Through which she in no uncertain terms reclaimed her right to be more than the degradation that man always makes of her. Writing lines that really do change the world by bringing them into focus.


Beginning the Conclusion

Not a point was missed in each event that was so discursive to an onlooker like me. So many things were mentioned and so many discussions witnessed the glee of what it takes to be colleagues in the field. With striking questions and well covered subjects.

Winsome Monica Minott, a poet and chartered artist, was a Jamaican born young and emerging poet. An award winning, freshly published seeker for human rights for her country of origin. Had with Zion Roses created an historical journey in the voice of the Caribbean. There was more seriousness and passion in them as to make it from the heart of their culture and sad history of perpetrated violence upon centuries.

Giving many stories of how these artists became interested in poetry in the first place and a lot of them found that it gave them an inner voice. Something that grew and grew in personal strength and also in the world of awards, publications and collaboration inherent in that world, using a fundamental tradition.


A Big Thank You

Poetry can lend its hand in navigating history into its specifics. And during which time it creates hybrid languages, in the shaping of it. It has over the years encountered singular great and sudden changes led by individual people concerned with the history of the voice. But the signs go up again reminding us of the potential for hampered growth, disconnection, and of things that seem like they should not be. There needs to be a departure from standard English into fresh language as the poetic voice itself would instruct us to go.

Kate Tough, Lisa Kelly, and Greg Thomas were grouped together in an interesting discussion about the fast subject of ‘Making it new’, where there was a sense of optimism. And there was more of challenging the norm, looking into an extended field of choice that can grab the world from the few to the many. As is with creative writing metaphors came thick and fast. Having experiments to confirm or deny any given thought or feeling. With the concrete poetry either distantly or confrontingly standing as an outstanding new field.


Daniel Donnelly

Matthew H Welsh: Ayrshire Poetry

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Matthew Welsh passed away last October, to the great sadness of both his family & an intimate circle of friends, many of whom had been lifelong companions during his domicile in the Ayrshire village of Mauchline. This wee pretty place, & not incidentally, saw the birth & earliest years of Scotland’s national bard – Rabbie Burns. Now Matthew’s death might have passed us by like countless millions of others in this world, except for one thing, & that is a collection of a couple of hundred poems he’d been working on in the twilight of his life. He had intended to sell this poetry collection locally, to raise money for a local charity. Sadly, he passed away, but his family have distributed his book across Scotland, fanning his first flames of a posthumous fame that are kindling fires of appreciation in those who love both poetry & Scotland.

Live Long & Prosper

A hiv mind when we wis younger men,
We went pub-crawlin’ now an’ then.
Aff tae the dancin’, we wid go,
We wis quite hansome, I’ll huv ye know.

We wis always winchin, a bonny lass,
Dancin’ roon the hall, wi’ a wee bit class.
We’d arrange a date, fur Saturday comin’,
But wance again, we wid get, the blin!

Noo we’re aulder, retired folk,
In a basin, oor feet, we off’in soak,
Then tae a pub, fur a seat an’ a heat,
An’ a blether wi’ mates, we sometimes meet.

O’ times gon past oor memories tell,
Man, auld age disnae come itsel’.
Good lifes tae you, long may you live,
As good a life, as your life can give.

An’ so this poem comes tae an end,
Tae Mauchline folk, awe the best, I send.
An drink wi’ me, tae times gon past,
Us Mauchline folk are here tae last.

So welcome to the Ayrshire poems of Matthew H Welsh, a friendly romp thro’ a man’s life & times, a literary biopic bristling with beauty & intelligence & a massive breath of fresh air in a world of unpoetical poets. Like his illustrious countryman three centuries before him, Matthew chiefly wrote in the galloping & charming dialect of Lowland Scots. The poems he present us are all dated, beginning in June 2012 & the last dated September, 2018. Not all the poems were composed on those days, a good many poems are revisions of older pieces; in total a nice mixture of old & new revised by a mind focuss’d on its literary legacy. Y’see, Matthew was ill, & his poetry reveals as much, & in fact the key beauty of his work is the steady revelation of a dying body – tho’ retaining at all times an eversharp minded. It reminded me briefly of the AIDS poetry I have studied in the past, but these were generally composed in a state of pregrief & pathos, but Matthew takes his ailments on the chin, spinning them with a cheerful resolution to enjoy even the tiniest things in life, like his love for coffees, which get about 3 poems in the collection. The following stanzas are taken from various poems, which show his illness taking hold. To read them invoked Anne Frank & her diary, with her thoughts of Gestapo HQ transmuted into Cumnock Hospital.

Up an doon the stair,
Add tae this the pain am in,
Ma stomach’s awfy sair.
A’ve got tae shift at a meenits notice,
As fast as I can go,
In case a huv an accident,
Coming fae doon below!
Auch Well

A must be getting’ a wee bit senile,
A forget whit am da’in, every once in a while.
I go upstairs, then a come back doon,
Ma heed is burlin’, roon an’ roon.

Aye Dementia is, an awfy thing,
A forget the words, o’ songs that a sing.
Yet a’ve mind o’ things a did, when a wis a we’an,
But yesterdays a no-no, a think am goin’ insane.
Ol’ Age

A’ve finally done it, a’ve filled in the form,
A’ll send it away when I rise the morn.
Fur a wee’er hoose, wi’ nae upstair,
A canny climb them ony mair.

The W.C. is at the tap o’ the steps,
I trip an’ fa’, hurt ma knees an’ hips..
Am fed up takin’ ma life in ma hon,
Tae a flat or a wee’er hoose am gon.
I’ll Have Tae Pack

The physio’s have goat me, excersizing ma leg,
Tae build up ma muscles ’cause they’re flabby an’ sag.
I’ve missed awe ma pals an’ the barmaids but a ken,
Determined I’ll walk, tae the pubs once again.
Happy Days

I think I am shrinkin’, am awe limp an’ bent,
Ma get up an’ go, has got up an’ went!
I’m findin’ it hard, tae walk a few yairds,
Ma young days returnin’, isnae oan, the cairds.

Its difficult even, tae cut up ma dinner,
I’ll hufty eat soup, tae stop getting’ thinner.
A canny even chew, weel cooked roast beef,
It’s a long time since, a hud ma ain teef!
I’ve Seen Healthier Looking Shadows

So, in 2014 Welsh moves to Ellisland Court in his immortal Mauchline for a Keatsean domicile, overlooking from his bungalow window his own version of the Spanish Steps. I’m sure he woudl have enjoy’d the fact the Ellisland Farm near Dumfries was teh cooking pot for many of Rabbie Burn’s finest verses, including Tam O Shanter. The poetry slows now as his illness debilitates deeper, but he’s still happy & healthy enough to enjoy his 70th birthday as presented in the collection’s penultimate poem.

Ma 70th

Thank you tae ma two lassies, Trudy and Ter, who put on quite a show,
When a celebrated my three score years and ten, thats 70 yes I know.
They held it in the bowlin’ green, where the staff wis awfy guid,
Wee Stevie played guitar, moothie, banjo an’ saxaphone, among ither things, so he did.

Wee Arlene, a northern Irish Lass, she made chuck fur every wan,
We ate away tae oor hearts content, whie Stevie sung anither song.
Half wi through a wee surprise, Jim Cartner played the pipes,
Wi’ stampin’ feet an a yooch or two, the place wis fu o’ hype!

Tommy Mulgrew, wis on the ball, singing fur awe his worth,
A great wee nicht hud wan an awe, a great way tae celebrate ma birth.
Trudy and Teri gave us a song tae gie Stevie a well earned break,
They soonded awfy guid tae me or mibbes the alcahol in ma drink.

Last but not least ma guests who came, maist o’ them invited they surely filled the club,
A hope they awe enjoyed themselves an’ hud a celidh, It wis like a great big pub!
I thank you all, ma family and freens fur awe the cairds an’ such,
An’ fur awe the lovely presents and gifts, I thank you ver much.

A near forgot ma birthday cake, it really wis a stoater,
Wi’ ma poems written awe ower it, anither present fae ma daughter,
A hope ma visitors awe goat a piece o’ ma cake tae try,
Cause fur masel, again a got fur diabetes, two pork pies

A great nicht!
Matt 21/08/2017

Of Welsh’s other species of poem there are two main types. His set-piece odes reflecting the main national & international events of his times are the weakest, I’m afraid. But no poet is perfect, & this set does help to place the early Welsh in his proper time frame. We hear of the Falklands, Chernobyl, the Miner’s Strike, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Poll Tax, the Gulf War, & the final theme, the Scottish Referendum of 2014 after which Welsh writes (from ‘Paradise’);

There’s a place on this earth, that’s a pleasure tae be,
Its a place where my chest, rises up like the sea.
Filled with pride my heart thumps and it courses with blood,
This lands built with well-being, a present from God.

From the highlands up north, to the lowlands down south,
From mountain tops, rivers flow, to the sea at its mouth.
We have Bens and their Glens and we’ve Lochs by the score,
In this place that’s called Scotland we couldn’t have more.

We have oil, we have gas, we have plenty to eat,
Seas teaming with fish oor haggis is a treat.
He’s given us everything, God couldn’t do more,
Except for our neighbours, the English, next door.

They’ve stolen oor gas and they’ve stolen oor oil,
They’ve moved up to Scotland and stolen oor soil…
…This land that’s called Scotland, that’s heaven on earth,
Will belong once again, tae folk Scottish at birth.

When ye go tae the polls in September this year,
An you cast your vote for independence its clear.
A ‘Yes’ is for freedom tae do as we please,
Nae pleadin’ Westminster on oor bended knees!

It is when he writes about his family, pets & friends that he transforms his muse into a raging queen of musical wordplay, quality phrases, & elegant rhythms & rhymes. He manages to turn Mauchline into a Broonsean pantheon of pubs, pals, gals & laughter. The opening poem of the collection, Mauchline Holy Fair 2012, is a classic example, transporting us into a Tam O Shanter display of fairyfed revelry.

Mauchline Holy Fair

I went tae Mauchline holy fair, wi’ oor Teri, David an’ Donna,
The screamin’ preachers they wis there, fu’ o’ their ain persona.
We donnered roon aboot the stalls, o’ which there wis a wheen,
There wis plenty fur the we’ans tae see, the likes they’ve never seen.

There wis pipe bands here and brass bands there, the music wisnae rationed,
Awe the folk enjoyed themsel’s, as if goin’ oot o’ fashion.
In the kirk a choir wis singin’, like angels way up a height,
If Rabbie wis there tae hear the sound, mair poems he wid write.

In the bleachin’ green, big ba’s wis rollin’, wi’ wee boys bouncin’ inside,
There wis pigs on spits, hot dogs an’ burgers, an’ plenty mair besides,
Plenty tae eat and loads tae drink, an’ the sun began tae shine,
Yes everywan enjoyed themselves, that day had turned oot fine.

Kirk James he sang some Scottish songs, he set your feet a tappin’,
Wi’ the Glee club music, jugglers an’ clowns, everyone wis laughin’.
Twas there we met oor Jean an’ Sam, queuin’ up fur chuck,
We met again in Poosie nansies, got seats, we were in luck.

Then ma faither an’ oor Jim came in, an’ big Rab started playin’,
The pub wis really busy then, when wee Stan started singin’.
Yes everyone enjoyed themselves, at Mauchline’s holy fair,
A canny wait till next year comes, tae enjoy it awe wance mair.

Just when a thought awe the fun wis bye, as a donnered up the scheme,
Then a landed in an auld pals hoose, fur a few drams it would seem.
Oor Thorie,Morag an big Tam wis there, along wi’ Marlene an Griff,
Morag never laughed as much that day, though she wis a wee bit rough.

We had some laughs, we had some fun, that day we will remember,
The second o’ June, 2012, at Mauchline’s Holy Fair.
When thousands o’ visitors came tae oor Toon, just tae pass some time,
They’ll be welcome back again next year, fur the sake o’ auld lang syne

For Matthew, the Mauchline muse, that world of ‘weans & women & men,’ involves either him nipping to the pub for a drink, an epistle to a friend or the convocation of a happy childhood thro’ misty & appreciative eyes. The following stanza gives a brief taste of the flavour of this lyrical stew.

There were forty-four we’ans, awe in wan class,
Every wan o’ us noo, has a Scottish bus pass,
Big Harry an Mo’, Tommy an’ Gal,
Just some o’ the boys, an’ we are still pals.

The lasses were lovely an’ still are I know,
Helen, Heather, Christina an Maggie are braw.
Its amazin tae think, after all of the years,
We still stay in Mauchline, maist o’ us dears.
(from Classmates)

Matthew adds something different to his canvas, concluding his poems with a brief ‘Authors Note’ which sheds a little extra gloss, revealing his emotional tenderness & snappy sense of humour. Such a spirit is there at all times in his poetry, & tho’ his body may be resting the eternal sleep, that spirit he poured into his verses shall remain forever. And verses they are, true verses, steep’d in a native tradition, for Welsh is a poet unadulterated by the fashions of modernist verse libre & slams, & for that reason his poetry shall remain an island of long-loved lyricism off the coast of Ayrshire, while so many other oeuvres are wash’d away by time’s flood, realising the ambition of Welsh’s shortest pieces, ‘A Poem.’

I wish I could write a poem, that people would read and read well,
I wish I could write a poem, that people could tell and retell.
Someday I will write a poem, recited again and again,
Someday I will write a poem, recited by women and men.

 

An Advertisment for THE MALTIAD

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I had gotten the feeling it was a now or never moment. On the eve of a new national lockdown in the United Kingdom I caught the last scheduled flight between Edinburgh & Malta. At twenty past six in the morning! This meant getting up at 3 AM & making my way from Leith Links to Edinburgh Airport, all the time following the results of the intriguing Presidential election in America. By the time the plane took off I was already becoming resigned to four more years in Flumpland.

Four more years! Four more years!
All optimism disappears
I’d rather vote for Britney Spears
Its four more years in Flumpland!

An hour’s sunrise later I found myself looking out of the small window at the south-snaking rivers of the continent, over which hung ribbons of mist & dew. Two hours more passed atop the white rolls heaven, before breaking out into open skies a few minutes shy of Sicily. What a perfectly timed moment it was as I spotted below me the three islands of Favignana, Levanzo & Marettimo – formally known as L’Isola D’Aegadi. It was in 2007, on an extended visit to the furthest out to sea of the three, Maretimmo, that the Maltiad drew its first breaths. The background was a Mediterranean wintering in the style of the Romantic poets, accompanied by my lovepartner at the time, a farmer’s daughter from Dumfries called Glenda. I had persuaded her to give up her house in Edinburgh, which we had shared for two years, & have an adventure far away from the cold of a Caledonian winter.

READ THE MALTIAD: SONNETS & SIEGES

After spending two & a half months in Sicily, mainly on Marettimo, we then decided to explore Malta til the spring. We arrived in this glorious jewel of an archipelago one late January morning from the port of Marzemi. There then followed two months of residence between Malta & her sister island, Gozo, the poetical product of which are Calypso’s Cave, the Maltese Falcons the last four of sieges to be found in the Maltiad. The other siege, that of Gozo in 1551, has just been composed on my second winter’s visit to the island, in late 2020, as were the vast majority of the sonnets.

In 2007 I had kept a group-email type Blog, in which my Maltese experiences were poured into & stored for posterity. I give the following as an example;


GONZO GOZO

The Maltese sure know how to party & I have now got one hell of a hangover. Lent starts in a couple of days, & the Maltese have been raving since last Friday – AND ARE STILL GOING! They have a mad carnival on Gozo – carne vale means without meat – & for the next forty days that’s what they are supposed to do. There is a town on Gozo called Nadur & basically half the Maltese population turn up (200,000), rent the pads that are normally filled up in summer & unleash their libidos in all directions. There’s a constant procession of dj-floats & costumes from about 8pm to 6am – EACH NIGHT! Got dressed up as a blood-soaked serial killer on Saturday, but unfortunately I got drunk & subsequently lost he group – no wonder I didn’t get too many responses when I asked for directions. I did manage to find Glenda & our party in the end – a mixture of Maltese, Serbians & Glenda’s mate, Festa – & have just woken up from a two-day sleep. I’m trying to get my head back together again as I had set off writing the Maltiad – a number of poems for Malta which I’m trying to squeeze in before leaving.

I am beginning to tire of the sonnet form a little now. A year of intense composition in one form has seen me grow deep roots into rosy-bedded sonnet-lore, but at the same time, as familiarity breeds contempt, I feel ready to try new modes of poetic composition. One of my first new efforts is set in Calypso’s Cave, near where we are staying. In the Odyssey, the hero gets enchanted by a sea nymph called Calypso & forced to be his sex-slave for seven years. It seem’d a suitable place to share the seven-century-old customs of Valentine’s day, & we made a midnight picnic there, lighting the lovely pad with candles & knocking back the wine, perch’d high over the moonlit magic of Ramla Bay. As we snogged to the sounds of the sea, this was surely going to be my most romantic Valentine’s night ever.

Marsalforn
20/02/07


READ THE MALTIAD: SONNETS & SIEGES


Fast forward t0 2020, by the time I landed in Malta that early November morning, the urban votes were beginning to pour in across America for Joe Biden, rendering obsolete my hastily dashed off high altitude quatrain. What was not obsolete, however, was my affection for, & devotion to, the art of poetry. Back in Malta after fourteen years, I was a different poet to the thirty-year old who left here in April 2007. I would this time be utilising the National Libraries of Malta & Gozo – two fine institutions curated by three very friendly, noble & eager-to-help gentlemen. In Gozo, a Knights Hospitaler called Chris Galea, & in Valletta – Louis Cini & Donald Briffa. Asking the latter was he Scottish, he replied no, his mother was going to call him Adolf but was dissuaded by certain nuns, & a substitute name was quickly given! Both libraries were cereberally conducive to academic endeavour, & there was something wonderfully traditional about being in the Valetta version especially. This was the old library of the Grandmasters, which you could at one time access directly from the palace. Entering it for the first time is a moving experience – wall to wall with old books stretching into the cathedral heights of its ceiling, & of course wooden catalogue boxes & the dewey decimal, system accompained by reams of beaurocratic forms filled out in triplicate!

The product of my two working winters in the archepelago is The Maltiad: Sonnets & Sieges. It is, of course, divided into two sections. The sonnets are divided into geographical regions & constitute a walkable – or driveable – circuit for any future tourist to these islands who enjoys reading a poem where it was set. Their subjects are a combination of meandering happenstance, for as Wordsworth himself wrote – in the very year that Napoleon invaded Malta-; ‘it is the honourable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which canm interest the human mind.’

There is also a grand sequanza – that is to say a family of 14 sonnets – in which I have collated a number of the famous Maltese proverbs. The form I have chosen is definitely not maltese, being the kural form of the classical Tamil poets such as the Thirukural of Thiruvalluvar. However when dealing with aphroisms, I have found the form to fit so readily perfect again & again. In essence it is simply a couplet of four words on the first line & three on the second.

Sellers have single eyes
Buyers one hundred

Most of the sonnets, including the proverbs, may also be found in my Silver Rose odyssey, an epic poem’s worth of sonnets, 1400 strong. They fit into the schema betwen my trips to Sicily & Greece. Posessing pretensions of epos, I have also composed an Iliadic piece entitled Axis & Allies in which two of the Maltese sieges are incorporated – those of 1565 & 1941-42. The 20-line form utilised by these sequences I have personally designed & named the ‘tryptych,’ & is used in all 900 stanzas of Axis & Allies. Of the remaining poems, Calypso’s Cave is, admittedly, not much of siege – but recognizing poor Odysseus was kinda besieged, I allowed it into the mix – Sonnets & Sieges just sounds so good.

Since the last time I was in Malta & Gozo I had also become something of a historical detective, attempting solutions to famous mysteries such as the true identity of King Arthur. I’ve called the discipline CHISPOLOGY, after the principle of Chinese Whispers, or the ‘Arab Phone’ to the French. Never one to miss a chispological challenge, I have come up with at the very least plausible answers to two of the great Maltese antiquarian questions – what is the etymology of Malta & where is Calypso’s Cave. I have touched on the answers in two of my sonnets, but feel a little more depth may be supplied at this point

The name Malta is said to derive from the Latin Melite, whose origin scholars have placed in two camps – either from th Phoenician mlṭ, meaning “refuge,” or from Ancient Greek melítos, meaning “honey.” Let us instead acknowledge that according to Greek myth, Heracles mated with a nymph called Melite.

Melite bare to Heracles in the land of the Phaeacians. For he came to the abode of Nausithous and to Macris, the nurse of Dionysus, to cleanse himself from the deadly murder of his children; here he loved and overcame the water nymph Melite, the daughter of the river Aegaeus, and she bare mighty Hyllus.
Apollonius Rhodius

Hyperia was the island home of the Phaecean people before their resettlement on Scheria. One of the oldest historians to write about Malta, De Soldanis, states that Malta was ‘Iperia’ & the Phaeceans were the ‘Faeci.’ The key passage is;

Soon after the trouble with Ilium the Phoenicians took the island of Iperia or Malta after they had expelled from there the Faeci

The reason for their exodus from Hyperia under King Nauthilous was pressure from the neighbouring Cyclops. All this is given in the Odyssey, from the lips of the Phaeceans themselves.

Athena went to the land and city of the Phaeacians. These dwelt of old in spacious Hypereia hard by the Cyclopes, men overweening in pride who plundered them continually and were mightier than they. From thence Nausithous, the godlike, had removed them, and led and settled them in Scheria far from men that live by toil.

According to another very old writer, Thucydides, among the “earliest inhabitants” were the Cyclopes. Joining all the dots basically makes shape rather like Malta, & suggests this particulary Melite was named after the lovepartner of Heracles – remember their was once a huuuuuge temple to Heracles in the south of Malta, surrounded by a 3 mile wall.

My other chispological discovery is also connected to the Odyssey – that of Calypso’s Cave. Indeed, the close proximity of the Phaecean & Calypso elements in the text suggest some kind of common origin.  The most enduring location of the island cave where Odysseus spent seven years as what amounts to a sex-slave to a goddess, is on Gozo, at Ramla Bay, but of course there has been many other contenders. In 1790, Richard Colt Hoare wrote;

The identity of the habitation, assigned by poets to the nymph Calypso, has occasioned much discussion & variety of opinion. Some place it at Malta, some at Gozo, & others elsewhere. At all events, we may now seek in vain, either at Malta or Gozo, for those verdant groves of alders, poplars, & the odoriferous cypress; for those meadows, clothed in the livery of eternal spring; for those limpid & murmuring streams, with which Homer adorns the abode of Calypso

My own contribution to the debate is that yes, theGozitans wer right to preserve a folk memory of Calypso on their island, but no, it wasn’t at Ramla where she kept Odysseus as a sex-xlavwe for seven years. Instead, the extremely ancient temple of Ggiantija at Xeghra is the original Calypso’s Cave, & a factochispp took place over time which moved it a couple of miles to the coastal cave at Ramla. However, there is no evidence of some kind of religious sex thingy going on there, but there is a lot of evidence for that kind of thing happening at Ggigantijia, such as fertility goddess statuettes & a temple shaped like ovaries. The egg-like rooms could even have been used in some kind of orgiastic ceremony – but that’s pure speculation on my part.

The longest piece in the collection concerns the Siege of Gozo, 1551, which also has a place in the Conchordia Folio. This is my collection of musical plays in which the dramatic elements are often given a Shakespearean linguistical twist. In this particular conchord I have formalised the speech patterns into cantos of five equal ten-lined speeches of iambic pentameter, like the Odes of John Keats. Its form has its origing in the chaunt royale of the trouadours. Between these dramatic scenes I have placed traditional dances & composed settl’d lyrics for the normally extemporized Maltese singing art of ghana. I have supplied no melodies or music, but having stuck rigidly to the metrical rules – quatrains of 8-7-8-7 syllables, with a rhyme scheme of ABCB – I am sure most of the traditional ghama melodies may be attached to my words. At all times I had G.A. Vassallo’s dictum ringing in my ears, whic states, ‘any poem, written in Maltese, that did not employ the octosyllabic verse is, at least in its form, spurious… & will never become popular.’ I was also inspired in my work with the ghana by another Maltese author & linguist, Guze Aqulina, who stated; ‘some quatrains contain fine images that, handled by a skilled writer, could be woven into verse that was better expressed & more varied in texture.

For the Maltese I hope that reading through these poems will grant just a portion of the pleasure I had in writing them. Malta & Gozo might be small islands, but they have continental-sized depths & have dipped their sisterly toes into every sub-stratum of history since the dawn of Human consciousness. They are also exceedingly fortuitous in possessing scenes of unrivalled natural beauty, & are peopled by sentinel beings of warmth, kindess & gentle jocundity. To any accusation that I am not Maltese I would reply that I take my art as seriously as the early medieval Icelandic skalds, who touted their literary wares at all the courts of Europe. Whether my work will ever be extolled like theirs, I leave to taste & time, but hope to be remembered at least as an English poet who revelled in the near-perfect conditions that one needs to write poetry, in which Malta, & Gozo especially, possess in abundance.

San Julian
03/12/2020


READ THE MALTIAD: SONNETS & SIEGES

Brunanburh, Beowulf & Egil Skallagrimsson

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Brunanburh! Brunanburh! Brunanburh! This antique name was once attached to an Anglo-Saxon fortification, in whose locality was fought one of the most important battles in British history (937 AD). A massive showdown, it saw King Athelstan of England face off against a grand alliance of Scots, Vikings & the ‘Northern Welsh’ of Cumbria & Galloway. This confederacy had been galvanized into action by a young Viking prince called Analf Guthfrithson. Normally based in Dublin, Analf had momentarily managed to unite the entire Viking world behind him in an attempt to wrestle back their former control over England which had been lost to Athelstan’s grandfather, Alfred the Great. Despite such powerful forces arrayed against them, the Battle of Brunanburh was a comprehensive victory for the Saxons, since which day the borders of Britain’s three nations have been more or less constant. One could fairly admit that the Battle of Brunanburh was the moment when the British Isles were truly born.

The first mention of Brunanburh in the annals comes within the pages of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, that wonderful storehouse of early English history without which the Dark Ages would have been much, much darker. The entry for 937 is actually one of the most famous pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the first & best of a series composed throughout the 10th century. Most entries in the ASC are written in rather mundane prose, but the rendering of certain events in poetry would naturally amplify their cultural importance. It is only through the Pegasus-flight of the poetic voice that humanity may truly record the incredible passions felt in the most turbulent of times. A fine example is the poetry of Wilfred Owen, without whose words our ability to feel the sensations inspired by the trenches of World War One would be much diminished. Similarly, the composer of the Brunanburh poem manages to reflect with consummate skill the spirit of battle, basing his words upon what appears to be genuine eye-witness accuracy.

In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors,
Ring-giver to men, and his brother also,
Prince Eadmund, won eternal glory
In battle with sword edges
Around Brunanburh. They split the shield-wall,
They hewed battle shields with the remnants of hammers.
The sons of Eadweard,
It was only befitting their noble descent
From their ancestors that they should often
Defend their land in battle against each hostile people,
Horde and home. The enemy perished,
Scots men and seamen,
Fated they fell. The field flowed
With blood of warriors, from sun up
In the morning, when the glorious star
Glided over the earth, God’s bright candle,
Eternal lord, till that noble creation
Sank to its seat. There lay many a warrior
By spears destroyed; Northern men
Shot over shield, likewise Scottish as well,
Weary, war sated.
The West-Saxons pushed onward
All day; in troops they pursued the hostile people.
They hewed the fugitive grievously from behind
With swords sharp from the grinding.
The Mercians did not refuse hard hand-play
To any warrior
Who came with Anlaf over the sea-surge
In the bosom of a ship, those who sought land,
Fated to fight. Five lay dead
On the battle-field, young kings,
Put to sleep by swords, likewise also seven
Of Anlaf’s earls, countless of the army,
Sailors and Scots. There the North-men’s chief was put
To flight, by need constrained
To the prow of a ship with little company:
He pressed the ship afloat, the king went out
On the dusky flood-tide, he saved his life.
Likewise, there also the old campaigner
Through flight came
To his own region in the north–Constantine–
Hoary warrior. He had no reason to exult
The great meeting; he was of his kinsmen bereft,
Friends fell on the battle-field,
Killed at strife: even his son, young in battle, he left
In the place of slaughter, ground to pieces with wounds.
That grizzle-haired warrior had no
Reason to boast of sword-slaughter,
Old deceitful one, no more did Anlaf;
With their remnant of an army they had no reason to
Laugh that they were better in deed of war
In battle-field–collision of banners,
Encounter of spears, encounter of men,
Trading of blows–when they played against
The sons of Eadweard on the battle field.
Departed then the Northmen in nailed ships.
The dejected survivors of the battle,
Sought Dublin over the deep water,
Over Dinges mere
To return to Ireland, ashamed in spirit.
Likewise the brothers, both together,
King and Prince, sought their home,
West-Saxon land, exultant from battle.
They left behind them, to enjoy the corpses,
The dark coated one, the dark horny-beaked raven
And the dusky-coated one,
The eagle white from behind, to partake of carrion,
Greedy war-hawk, and that gray animal
The wolf in the forest.
Never was there more slaughter
On this island, never yet as many
People killed before this
With sword’s edge: never according to those who tell us
From books, old wisemen,
Since from the east Angles & Saxons came up
Over the broad sea. Britain they sought,
Proud war-smiths who overcame the Welsh,
Glorious warriors they took hold of the land.

 Leaving aside for a moment the quest for the battlefield’s location (Burnley), I would now like to turn our digressional attention to a certain Egil Skallagrimsson. This guy is a true Icelandic legend, a warrior-poet of the 10th century who is the movie-star of the anonymously-penned 13th century Egil’s Saga. For me, he is the leading contender for authorship of the poem that was used by the Anglo-Saxon Chroniclers for 937 AD.

 

Egil was a widely praised poet – he composed his first at the tender age of three – & could well have been commissioned by Athelstan to compose a triumphant piece of propaganda. We know the poem was more or less contemporary to the battle, finding itself inserted into the ASC at least as early as 955, when it was written into the so-called “Parker Chronicle” ( Whitelock 1955). Egil was the best poet of his time & the poem is clearly the best in the Chronicle. Alistair Campbell (1938) notices how the original version of the poem contained many, ‘non-west saxon & archaic forms’ & declares, ‘who the poet was is impossible to say.’ He does, however, go on to describe the spirit of the poet, as in;

Although he owes much to his predecessors, the poet of the Battle of Brunanburh is by no means without merits of his own. He uses the conventional diction neatly & cleverly, & never becomes swamped in phrases… the two feelings which breathe through the poem are scorn & exhultation, & they are perfectly expressed. Lastly, despite the wealth of poetic diction at his command, he can be, at times, astonishingly simple & direct; the chief example of this is the description of battle from 20 to 40, where there is little repetition, & nearly every half-line advances the narrative… the poets subjects are the praise of heroes & the glory of victory… his work is a natural product of his age, an age of national triumph, antiquarian interest, & literary enthusiaism

 

My gut, litological instinct tells me that Egil was the author of the poem, based undeniable facts such as;

A – Egil fought at Brunanburh

His presence at the battle is without question & recorded extensively in the saga of his life by Snorri Sturlsson

B – Egil stayed at Athelstan’s court

A year or two after the battle, Egil returned to Athelstan’s court, & I believe it was at this time in & in the post-Brunanburh climate that the poem was produced. Although giving very little detail of Egil’s visit to Athelstan, the Saga definitely places him there, as in;

During the second winter that he was living at Borg after Skallagrim’s death Egil became melancholy, and this was more marked as the winter wore on. And when summer came, Egil let it be known that he meant to make ready his ship for a voyage out in the summer. He then got a crew. He purposed to sail to England. They were thirty men on the ship. Asgerdr remained behind, and took charge of the house. Egil’s purpose was to seek king Athelstan and look after the promise that he had made to Egil at their last parting.

        It was late ere Egil was ready, and when he put to sea, the winds delayed him. Autumn then came on, and rough weather set in. They sailed past the north coast of the Orkneys. Egil would not put in there, for he thought king Eric’s power would be supreme all over the islands. Then they sailed southwards past Scotland, and had great storms and cross winds. Weathering the Scotch coast they held on southwards along England; but on the evening of a day, as darkness came on, it blew a gale. Before they were aware, breakers were both seaward and ahead. There was nothing for it but to make for land, and this they did. Under sail they ran ashore, and came to land at Humber-mouth. All the men were saved, and most of the cargo, but as for the ship, that was broken to pieces.

        When they found men to speak with, they learnt these tidings, which Egil thought good, that with king Athelstan all was well and with his kingdom… in that same summer when Egil had come to England these tidings were heard from Norway, that Eric Allwise was dead, but the king’s stewards had taken his inheritance, and claimed it for the king. These tidings when Arinbjorn and Thorstein heard, they resolved that Thorstein should go east and see after the inheritance.

So when spring came on and men made ready their ships who meant to travel from land to land, then Thorstein went south to London, and there found king Athelstan. He produced tokens and a message from Arinbjorn to the king and also to Egil, that he might be his advocate with the king, so that king Athelstan might send a message from himself to king Hacon, his foster-son, advising that Thorstein should get his inheritance and possessions in Norway. King Athelstan was easily persuaded to this, because Arinbjorn was known to him for good.

Then came Egil also to speak with king Athelstan, and told him his intention.

‘I wish this summer,’ said he, ‘to go eastwards to Norway and see after the property of which king Eric and Bergonund robbed me. Atli the Short, Bergonund’s brother, is now in possession. I know that, if a message of yours be added, I shall get law in this matter.’

The king said that Egil should rule his own goings. ‘But best, methinks, were it,’ he said, ‘for thee to be with me and be made defender of my land and command my army. I will promote thee to great honour.’

Egil answered: ‘This offer I deem most desirable to take. I will say yea to it and not nay. Yet have I first to go to Iceland, and see after my wife and the property that I have there.’

King Athelstan gave then to Egil a good merchant-ship and a cargo therewith; there was aboard for lading wheat and honey, and much money’s worth in other wares. And when Egil made ready his ship for sea, then Thorstein Eric’s son settled to go with him, he of whom mention was made before, who was afterwards called Thora’s son. And when they were ready they sailed, king Athelstan and Egil parting with much friendship.

Egill engaging in holmgang with Berg-Önundr; painting by Johannes Flintoe.
Egill engaging in holmgang with Berg-Önundr; painting by Johannes Flintoe.

C – The poem is Bookish

 Where JD Niles notices that scholars have, ‘drawn attention to the poem’s studied artistry, including its use of syntactic variation, studied antithesis, aural patterning, and an array of rhetorical figures that may be patterned on Latin models,’ Campbell (1938) tells us, ‘the poem is remarkably ‘correct’ in metre : that is to say, its half-verses are constructed with regard to the limitations, & bound together by alliteration with regard to laws, which are found in the earlier Old English poetry… the diction is almost entirely composed of elements to be found in earlier poems…. a large number of word s & expression which forcibly recall the older poetry.’ We must also observe that the poem does not rhyme, with Campbell stating, ‘as a final instance of the conservative nature of the versification of the Battle of Brunanburh, the absence of rhyme must be mentioned.’

I am a poet myself, & I understand the very tidings of poetic construction. Scholars have observed how the Brunanburh poem is packed full of direct lifts, or half-lifts, from the corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature. To my mind, although Egil would have been fluent in Old English, he may not have been so observant in its literature. To remedy this, during the composition of the Brunanburh poem I believe he made use of Athelstan’s library, in order to paint his epic, panygerical pastiche. Where Campbell tells us ‘it is evident that the Battle of Brunanburh shows no changes in the structure of the half-line : all its types can be paralleled in the older poetry, & practically all of them in Beowulf,’ in the poem, 21 half-lines occur identically in other OE poems, such as

 

eorla dryhten (Beowulf)

on lides bosme (Genesis)

wulf on wealde (Judith)

 

While 23 half-lines are nigh identical, as in;

 

faege feollan (Beowulf) = faege gefealled

on folcstede (Judith) = on dam folcstede

bone sweartan hraefn (Soul & body) = bonne se swearta hrefen

 

D – The poem is Skaldic

In the 10th century,  the Icelandic poets – the Skalds – were the best in Europe, & their professional services were sought by many a wealthy king. That the Brunanburh poem has Skaldic roots is supported by JD Niles, who tells us;

By Old English standards, there is something unconventional about the poet’s voice as well. Granted that the distribution of praise and blame is central to the purposes of early Germanic poetry, still nowhere else in Old English is there such a quintessential poem of boasting and scorn. Athelstan’s triumph is celebrated not by a sober account of his actions, but by exultant allusion to the enemy blood spilled on the field and the number of enemy kings and noblemen cut down. The poet’s bloody-mindedness is matched by his emphasis on the losers’ shame. The survivors take to their ships xwiscmode ‘humiliated’ (56b), while the victors proceed home wiges hremge ‘gloating in battle’ (59b). The satiric element that runs through the poem is most prominent in the threefold repetition “hreman ne £>orfte. . .Gelpan ne J)orfte. . .hlehhanne Jjorftun,” 39b, 44b, 47b (“he had no need to gloat. . .He had no need to boast. . .they had no need to laugh”). The poet here makes sardonic reference to the grief of the aged Scottish king Constantine, who not only lost his son on the battlefield but was unable to recover the young man’s body.

The poet’s brusque indifference to carnage may remind one of the hard, cold tone that is characteristic of skaldic verse more than it calls to mind the heroic spirit of Beowulf or Maldon, let alone the melancholy and philosophical mood in which both the Beowulf poet and the poet of the Wanderer contemplate the spiraling tragedies of earthly mutability.

If Brunanburh has affinities to other early medieval verse, they are to such a poem as the Battle of Hafsfjord rather than to anything in Old English, as Kershaw has pointed out (vii). Both these poems celebrate a decisive battle by which a king established authority over the whole of his realm. In the Norse poem the king is Harald Fairhair, and his opponents are a coalition of Norwegians who opposed his expanding power in 872. Even more than the author of Brunanburh, the Norse poet takes delight in the image of boats manned by fleeing survivors, who in this poem are pelted with stones from behind while the wounded hunch shame-faced under the rowing-benches:

In Hafsfjord as in Brunanburh, the poet follows the customary mode of panegyric and calls attention to the distinguished ancestry of the victorious party: “konungr enn kynstóri,” 1.2 (“the king of noble lineage”). He also alludes in conventional fashion to the din of battle: “ísorn dúõu,” 2.4 (“swords clashed”), “hlömmum vas á hlífum,” 3.4 (“shields clanged together”). Brunanburh resembles nothing else so much as Hafsfjord drawn out to a more substantial and dignified length by an author who had at his command the full resources of Anglo-Saxon poetic speech and used those resources to honor his English king. In commenting on the “elliptical, allusive , non-narrative style” of the six encomiastic poems that are embedded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Opland suggests that this group of poems emerged due to the influence of the court poetry of the skalds (173). Leaving the other five Chronicle poems aside, since (with the possible exception of the poem on the capture of the Five Boroughs) they do not seem much like Brunanburh except in being occasional pieces, there is reason to think that the Brunanburh poet had at least passing acquaintance with the Norse language and skaldic poetic models. Several of the points of influence have been reviewed by Dietrich Hofmann (165-67); these consist of cnear ‘warship’ (35a) as a loanword, sceard ‘deprived’ (40b) used in a manner suggestive of Old Norse idiom, guöhafoc ‘war-hawk’ (64a) as a kenning for ‘eagle’, and – with less certainty – eorlas (31a) in the Norse sense of ‘jarls’. Other points worth identifying are the following.

There are a number of echoes between the Brunanburh poem & the poetry said to have been composed  by Egil himself, as given in the saga.;

 

A

The warriors revenge

is repaid to the king

wolf & eagle stalk

over the kings sons;

Hallvard’s corpse flew

in pieces into the sea

the grey eagle tears

as Travel-quick wounds ES

 

They left behind them, to enjoy the corpses,

the dark coated one, the dark horny-beaked raven

and the dusky-coated one,

the eagle white from behind, to partake of carrion,

greedy war-hawk, and that gray animal

the wolf in the forest. ASC

 

 

B

There the North-men’s chief was put

to flight, by need constrained

to the prow of a ship with little company:

he pressed the ship afloat, the king went out

on the dusky flood-tide, he saved his life. ASC

 

 

My mother said

I would be bought

a boat with fine oars

set off with Vikings

stand up on the prow,

command the precious craft,

then enter port ES

 

 

C

The field flowed

with blood of warriors, from sun up

in the morning, when the glorious star

glided over the earth, God’s bright candle,

eternal lord, till that noble creation

sank to its seat. There lay many a warrior

by spears destroyed ASC

 

there before sunset we will

make noisy clamour of spears ES

 

 

 D

They split the shield-wall,

they hewed battle shields with the remnants of hammers.

The sons of Eadweard, it was only befitting their noble descent

from their ancestors that they should often

defend their land in battle against each hostile people,

horde and home ASC

 

I have wielded a blood-stained sword

and howling spear; the bird

of carrion followed me

when the Vikings pressed forth;

In fury we fought battles,

fire swept through men’s homes,

we made bloody boodies

slump dead by city gates ES

 

 

E

They split the shield-wall,

they hewed battle shields with the remnants of hammers. ASC

 

I raise the ring, the clasp that is worn

on the shield-splitting arm ES

 

 

F

 

In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors,

ring-giver to men, and his brother also,

Prince Eadmund, won eternal glory

in battle with sword edges

around Brunanburh.  ASC

 

The wager of battle who towers

over the land, the royal progeny,

has felled three kings; the realm

passes top the kin of Ella. ES

 

A modern Day Skaldic Poet
A modern Day Skaldic Poet

5 – Egil was writing court poetry at that very time

Between arriving in Scotland & spending time with Athelstan (as given above) Egil found himself in York with Eric Bloodaxe, & ended up writing a substantial poem there. He’d got himself into a bit of bother alongside a certain Arinbjorn & ended up writing the poem to save their skins. The saga tells us;

 

Then they went in. Arinbjorn went before the king and saluted him. The king received him, and asked what he would have.

        Arinbjorn said: ‘I lead hither one who has come a long way to seek thee in thy place, and to be reconciled to thee. Great is this honour to thee, my lord, when thine enemies travel of their own free will from other lands, and deem they cannot endure thy wrath though thou be nowhere near. Now show thyself princely to this man. Let him get of thee good terms, seeing that he hath so magnified thine honour, as thou now mayst see, by braving many seas and dangers to come hither from his own home. No compulsion drove him to this journey, nought but goodwill to thee.’

        Then the king looked round, and saw over men’s heads where Egil stood. The king knew him at once, and, darting a keen glance at him, said: ‘How wert thou so bold, Egil, that thou daredst to come before me? Thy last parting from me was such that of life thou couldst have from me no hope.’

        Then went Egil up to the table, and clasped the foot of the king. He then sang:

 

                                ‘With cross-winds far cruising

                                I came on my wave-horse,

                                Eric England’s warder

                                        Eager soon to see.

                                Now wielder of wound-flash,

                                Wight dauntless in daring,

                                That strong strand of Harold’s

                                        Stout lineage I meet.’

 

        King Eric said: ‘I need not to count the crimes on thy hands, for they are so many and great that each one might well warrant that thou go not hence alive. Thou hast nothing else to expect but that here thou must die. This thou mightest know before, that thou wouldst get no terms from me.’

        Gunnhilda said: ‘Why shall not Egil be slain at once? Rememberest thou no more, O king, what Egil hath done to thee—slain thy friends and kin, ay, even thine own son to boot, and cursed thyself? Where ever was it known that a king was thus dealt with?’

        Arinbjorn said: ‘If Egil have spoken evil of the king, for that he can now atone in words of praise that shall live for all time.’

        Gunnhilda said: ‘We will hear none of his praise. O king, bid Egil be led out and beheaded. I will neither hear his words nor see him.’

        Then said Arinbjorn: ‘The king will not let himself be egged on to all thy dastardly work. He will not have Egil slain by night, for night-slaying is murder.’

        The king said: ‘So shall it be, Arinbjorn, as thou demandest. Egil shall live this night. Take thou him home with thee, and bring him to me in the morning.’

        Arinbjorn thanked the king for his words: ‘We hope, my lord, that henceforth Egil’s cause will take a better turn. And though Egil has done great wrong against thee, yet look thou on this, that he has suffered much from thee and thy kin. King Harold thy father took the life of Thorolf, a man of renown, Egil’s father’s brother, for the slander of bad men, for no crime at all. And thou, O king, didst break the law in Egil’s case for the sake of Bergonund; nay further thou didst wish to doom his death, and didst slay his men, and plunder all his goods, and withal didst make him an outlaw and drive him from the land. And Egil is one who will stand no teasing. But in every cause under judgment one must look on the act with its reasons. I will now have Egil in keeping for the night.’

        Then Arinbjorn and Egil went back to the house, and when they came in they two went into a small upper room and talked over this matter. Arinbjorn said: ‘The king just now was very wroth, yet methought his mood rather softened before the end, and fortune will now decide what may be the upshot. I know that Gunnhilda will set all her mind on marring your cause. Now I would fain that we take this counsel: that you be awake through the night, and compose a song of praise about king Eric. I should think it had best be a poem of twenty stanzas, and you might recite it to-morrow when we come before the king. Thus did Bragi my kinsman, when he was under the wrath of Bjorn king of Sweden; he composed a poem of praise about him in one night, and for it received his head. Now may we also have the same luck with the king, that you may make your peace with him, if you can offer him the poem of praise.’

        Egil said: ‘I shall try this counsel that you wish, but ’twas the last thing I ever meant, to sing king Eric’s praises.’

        Arinbjorn bade him try.

        Then Arinbjorn went away, and had food and drink carried to the upper room. Egil was there alone for the night. Arinbjorn went to his men, and they sate over drink till midnight. Then Arinbjorn and his men went to the sleeping chambers, but before undressing he went up to the room to Egil, and asked how he was getting on with the poem.

        Egil said that nothing was done. ‘Here,’ said he, ‘has sate a swallow by the window and twittered all night, so that I have never got rest for that same.’

        Whereupon Arinbjorn went away and out by the door leading up to the house-roof, and he sate by the window of the upper room where the bird had before sate. He saw that something of a shape witch-possest moved away from the roof. Arinbjorn sate there by the window all night till dawn. But after Arinbjorn had come there, Egil composed all the poem, and got it so by heart that he could recite it in the morning when he met Arinbjorn. They watched for a fit time to go before the king.

         King Eric went to table according to his wont, and much people were with him. And when Arinbjorn knew this, then went he with all his followers fully armed to the king’s palace while the king sate at table…. then Egil advanced before him and began the poem, and recited in a loud voice, and at once won silence.

 

‘Westward I sailed the wave,

Within me Odin gave

The sea of song I bear

(So ’tis my wont to fare):

I launched my floating oak

When loosening ice-floes broke,

My mind a galleon fraught

With load of minstrel thought.

 

‘A prince doth hold me guest,

Praise be his due confess’d:

Of Odin’s mead let draught

In England now be quaff’d.

Laud bear I to the king,

Loudly his honour sing;

Silence I crave around,

My song of praise is found.

 

‘Sire, mark the tale I tell,

Such heed beseems thee well;

Better I chaunt my strain,

If stillness hush’d I gain.

The monarch’s wars in word

Widely have peoples heard,

But Odin saw alone

Bodies before him strown.

 

‘Swell’d of swords the sound

Smiting bucklers round,

Fiercely waxed the fray,

Forward the king made way.

Struck the ear (while blood

Streamed from glaives in flood)

Iron hailstorm’s song,

Heavy, loud and long.

 

‘Lances, a woven fence,

Well-ordered bristle dense;

On royal ships in line

Exulting spearmen shine.

Soon dark with bloody stain

Seethed there an angry main,

With war-fleet’s thundering sound,

With wounds and din around.

 

‘Of men many a rank

Mid showering darts sank:

Glory and fame

Gat Eric’s name.

 

‘More may yet be told,

An men silence hold:

Further feats and glory,

Fame hath noised in story.

Warriors’ wounds were rife,

Where the chief waged strife;

Shivered swords with stroke

On blue shield-rims broke.

 

‘Breast-plates ringing crashed,

Burning helm-fire flashed,

Biting point of glaive

Bloody wound did grave.

Odin’s oaks (they say)

In that iron-play

Baldric’s crystal blade

Bowed and prostrate laid.

 

‘Spears crossing dashed,

Sword-edges clashed:

Glory and fame

Gat Eric’s name.

 

‘Red blade the king did wield,

Ravens flocked o’er the field.

Dripping spears flew madly,

Darts with aim full deadly.

Scotland’s scourge let feed

Wolf, the Ogress’ steed:

For erne of downtrod dead

Dainty meal was spread.

 

‘Soared battle-cranes

O’er corse-strown lanes,

Found flesh-fowl’s bill

Of blood its fill.

While deep the wound

He delves, around

Grim raven’s beak

Blood-fountains break.

 

‘Axe furnished feast

For Ogress’ beast:

Eric on the wave

To wolves flesh-banquet gave.

 

‘Javelins flying sped,

Peace affrighted fled;

Bows were bent amain,

Wolves were battle-fain:

Spears in shivers split,

Sword-teeth keenly bit;

Archers’ strings loud sang,

Arrows forward sprang.

 

‘He back his buckler flings

From arm beset with rings,

Sword-play-stirrer good,

Spiller of foemen’s blood.

Waxing everywhere

(Witness true I bear),

East o’er billows came

Eric’s sounding name.

 

‘Bent the king his yew,

Bees wound-bearing flew:

Eric on the wave

To wolves flesh-banquet gave.

Brunanburh

 

‘Yet to make more plain

I to men were fain

High-soul’d mood of king,

But must swiftly sing.

Weapons when he takes,

The battle-goddess wakes,

On ships’ shielded side

Streams the battle-tide.

 

‘Gems from wrist he gives,

Glittering armlets rives:

Lavish ring-despiser

Loves not hoarding miser.

Frodi’s flour of gold

Gladdens rovers bold;

Prince bestoweth scorning

Pebbles hand-adorning.

 

‘Foemen might not stand

For his deathful brand;

Yew-bow loudly sang,

Sword-blades meeting rang.

Lances aye were cast,

Still he the land held fast,

Proud Eric prince renowned;

And praise his feats hath crowned.

 

‘Monarch, at thy will

Judge my minstrel skill:

Silence thus to find

Sweetly cheered my mind.

Moved my mouth with word

From my heart’s ground stirred,

Draught of Odin’s wave

Due to warrior brave.

 

‘Silence I have broken,

A sovereign’s glory spoken:

Words I knew well-fitting

Warrior-council sitting.

Praise from heart I bring,

Praise to honoured king:

Plain I sang and clear

Song that all could hear.’

 

King Eric sate upright while Egil recited the poem, and looked keenly at him. And when the song of praise was ended, then spake the king: ‘Right well was the poem recited; and now, Arinbjorn, I have resolved about the cause between me and Egil, how it shall go. Thou hast pleaded Egil’s cause with great eagerness, since thou offerest to risk a conflict with me. Now shall I for thy sake do what thou hast asked, letting Egil go from my land safe and unhurt. But thou, Egil, so order thy going that, after leaving my presence and this hall, thou never come before my eyes, nor my sons’ eyes, nor be ever in the way of myself or my people. But I give thee now thy head this time for this reason, that thou camest freely into my power. I will do no dastardly deed on thee; yet know thou this for sure, that this is no reconciliation with me or my sons or any of our kin who wish to wreak their vengeance.’

Then sang Egil:

 

                                ‘Loth am I in nowise,

                                Though in features loathly,

                                Helm-capt head in pardon

                                From high king to take.

                                Who can boast that ever

                                Better gift he won him,

                                From a lordly sovereign’s

                                Noble-minded son?’

 

        Arinbjorn thanked the king with many fair words for the honour and friendship that he had shown him. Then they two, Arinbjorn and Egil, went back to Arinbjorn’s house. After that Arinbjorn bade horses be made ready for his people. He rode away with Egil, and a hundred fully armed men with him. Arinbjorn rode with that force till they came to king Athelstan, where they were well received. The king asked Egil to remain with him, and inquired how it had gone between him and king Eric. Whereupon Egil sang:

 

                                ‘Egil his eyes black-browed

                                From Eric, raven’s friend,

                                Welcomed. Wise help therein

                                        Wife’s loyal kin lent.

                                My head, throne of helmet,

                                An heritage noble,

                                As erst, from rough rainstorm

                                        To rescue I knew.’

 

I know thats quite a large extract, but its all pretty interesting stuff. I’ve put it in early to show  how there is so much to the Brunanburh case as yet to be uncovered. Up until now, the best academics in the field halted before the Brunanburh poem’s author & declared him ‘unknowable.’ However, by simply suggesting that it could be Egil , suddenly all the strands of evidence suddenly coalesce & make him the clear favorite.

More evidence can be seen when immediately after the battle, Egil is writing militaristic, kenning-heavy praise poetry to Athelstan, as in;

‘Land-shielder, battle-quickener,
Low now this scion royal
Earls three hath laid. To Ella
Earth must obedient bow.
Lavish of gold, kin-glorious,
Great Athelstan victorious,
Surely, I swear, all humbled
To such high monarch yields.’

But this is the burden in the poem:

‘Reindeer-trod hills obey
Bold Athelstan’s high sway.’

Then gave Athelstan further to Egil as poet’s meed two gold rings, each weighing a mark, and therewith a costly cloak that the king himself had formerly worn.

 

This giving of rings even fits in with the ASC poem’s, ‘In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors, ring-giver to men.’  So, using this platform as an investigation, I wondered if it could be at all possible that Egil Skallagrimsson could also have penned the great Old English epic – Beowulf. In support let us examine the following ‘flags.’

 

Egil
Egil

 

1 – Beowulf uses Icelandic folk motifs

In the introduction to Beowulf, edited by CL Wren & WF Bolton, we read the following passages;
The saga of the historical & well-authenticated Icelandic hero Grettir… attributes to him two fights against supernatural beings – the one closely resembling Beowulf’s fight with Grendel, & the other that which he had with Grendel’s mother in the demon-haunted mere. The resemblances are too close to be fortuitous; & one must suppose common folklorist elements lying behind both – since the late thirteenth-century Grettissaga cannot be supposed to have ‘borrowed’ these ideas from Beowulf, which was not known in Iceland.

What this tells us is that the author of the Icelandic Grettissaga was using the same motifs as the author of Beowulf, a situation which has baffled the academics. Peter A Jorgensen (Grendel, Grettir & Two Skaldic Stanzas: Scripta Islandica 24 / 1973) writes, ‘the most striking parallels are to be found in Beowulf’s battle with Grendel in the beleaguered Heorot, in which the hero eventually kills the intruder by tearing off its arm, & in Grettir’s fight with a monster in the harassed house at Sandhaugar, where the marauder is dispatched in the identical manner.’

If we see these folk-motifs as purely Icelandic, then we may assume that the author of Beowulf had access to Icelandic material – & thus most probably Icelandic.

2 – Haeft-mece / Heptisax

Where Wren/Bolton tell us;

There was evidently something important about a long-handled sword in the folk material which lies behind a fight with Grendel’s mother: for in Beowulf we find the unique haeft-mece & in Grettissaga an otherwise unrecorded instrument called a heptisax plays a part in the fight of Grettir against the female monster.

Jorgenson writes that most convincing;

is the occurrence of the much-discussed nonce word heptisax, found both in the second stanza & in the alleged prose expansion of the verses, corresponding to its generally accepted counterpart in Old English, the hapax legomenon Haeftmece (in Beowulf line 1457). It seems highly improbable that the word should occur only once in all of the extensive battle descriptions in Old Icelandic prose &, by chance, at precisely the same point in a narrative where the corresponding English text employs the cognate form.

There is a difference between the two poems, for in Beowulf it is the eponymous hero who uses the haeftmece, while in the Grettissaga it is the monster who wields the heptisax. In his paper Jorgenson concludes that, ‘the material to which the skaldic verses are eventually indebted stems from the same legend which also became part of the Beowulf epic.’ Again, we may suggest that the Beowulf author had access to Icelandic material – & was thus most probably Icelandic.

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3- Compensation

In Beowulf, where Hrothgar pays compensation for the death of Beowulf’s warrior, Hondscioh, at the hands of Grendel, there is a parallel in Egil’s Saga. Here, Athelstan grants Egil two chests of silver as compensation for the death of Throrolf.

4 – The Dates fit

Egil was clearly around in the mid 900s, a period when the English had a great respect for the Danes. Nicholas Jacobs (Anglo-Danish relations, poetic archaism & the Date of Beowulf:Poetica 8 1977) writes; ‘From 927 onwards the Danes constitute a widely accepted element in English society, & an English poem complimentary to them is conceivable at least Down to the resumption of raids in 980.’  Roberta Frank (Skaldic Verse & the Date of Beowulf), remarks, ‘no linguistic or historical fact compels us to anchor Beowulf before the tenth century; if we do so, it is more from our emotional commitment to an early date rather than from hard evidence. Our one secure terminus is the palaeographic dating of the manuscript to around the year 1000.’

Where Walter Goffart estimated that Beowulf could not have been written with these historical details before 923 (Johnston Staver, Ruth (2005) :Placing Beowulf on a Timeline –  A Companion To Beowulf), Jacobs gives us a probable terminus ad quem of the poem when he writes, ‘the first reference by a skald to an event associated with one of the Scyldings of Beowulf occurs around 965 when Eyvindr Skaldaspillir calls gold ‘the seed corn of Fyrisplains’ alluding to the story.‘  Eyvindr was the court poet of Hakon the Good, the English-speaking foster-son of Athelstan, who may well have heard the poem at first hand. His epithet skáldaspillir means literally ‘spoiler of poets’ – which could mean plagarist.

This means that the poem was written between 923 & 965. Returning to Frank for a moment, she tells us ‘the political geography of Beowulf fits comfortably into the period between Alfred & Aethelweard,’ & also suggests the presence of the Geats in Beowulf is a 10th century skaldic theme; ‘The fact that the Geats held together as a people into the eleventh century does not pinpoint the date of Beowulf, but it does suggest that they were as known & topical in the tenth century as in any preceding one – & perhaps more so.’

Conclusion

All this post is meant to do is scrape a little  topsoil off the Egil-wrote-Beowulf theory. The thing is, he was the greatest poet of the age, he did spend time at the Royal English Courts, the Beowulf poem does contain Icelandic motifs & the poem seems to have been composed in his lifetime. This definitely makes him a serious contender not to be dismissed with ease.

Walter Scott’s Epic Voice

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Portrait of Sir Walter Scott

 Hark, from yon misty cairn their answer tost:
    “Minstrel! the fame of whose romantic lyre,
     Capricious-swelling now, may soon be lost
Sir Walter Scott – The Vision of Don Roderick

The concept of the Accertamento Grande is essentially a process of re-reading the poetry in existence & trying to establish some kind of order or preferment, the most pristeen models through which we can teach our future poets & bards. As an example of the process, I would like to restore a quite a forgotten poem to the public consciousness. It was composed at the height of the Napoleonic phrenzie, in the summer of 1811, by Sir Walter Scott. Coincidence or not, the poem was divided into the same Spenserian stanzas as those the young Lord Byron was dividing his Childe Harolde’s Pilgirmage, a poem which he gave to his publishers on returning from his European tour in that same year of 1811.

Let us now examine looking Scott’s ‘Vision,’ from a certain angle, that is the way he managed to fashion a sumblime & excellent rendition of the poetic voice first used by Homer. The rest of Scott’s poetic output is rather insipid: the verse-ballads, while selling extremely well they contain little of the true juices of Parnassus. Of this poet, Walter Bagehot describes an artist who, ‘had no sense of smell, little sense of taste, almost no ear for music (he knew a few, perhaps three, scotch tunes, which he avowed that he had learnt in sixty years, by hard labour & mental association) & not much turn for the minutiae of nature in any way. The effect of this may be seen in some of the best descriptive passages of his poetry, & we will not deny that it does (although proceeding from a sensuous defect), in a certain degree, add to their popularity. He deals with the main outlines & great points of nature, never attends to any others, & in this respect he suits the comprehension & knowledge of many who know only those essential & considerable outlines.’

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Not the most complimentary of words – yet as we shall see Scott’s ‘Vision’ at times matches the solemn grandeur of Homer & Dante & especially Milton, whose meter was caught by Scott’s ear & transferred into his own poem. This, ‘The Vision of Don Roderick,’ was printed at Edinburgh by James Ballantyne & Co. in 1811, before Napoleon’s march on Moscow & at a time when he held most of Europe in his clutches – only the Iberian peninsular was proving to be a problem, with the Spanish revolting against Napoleon’s brother’s rule, assisted manfully by the Portuguese & British with the whole confederation led by the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The poem was written to celebrate this great moment, when the British were holding their own against a megalomaniac, led by a true hero in the vein of Achilles or Aeneas. The chief contents are based upon an episode in Ginés Pérez de Hita’s Guerras civiles de Granada, a book which Scot devoured as a boy. The mimesis stored for years in his memory banks suddenly had a channel through which to pour, the force of which elevated Scott’s poetic voice from rustic piper to Olympian bard. Scott’s own introduction reads;

The following Poem is founded upon a Spanish Tradition, bearing, in general, that Don Roderick, the last Gothic King of Spain, when the invasion of the Moors was depending, had the temerity to descend into an ancient vault, near Toledo, the opening of which had been denounced as fatal to the Spanish Monarchy.  The legend adds, that his rash curiosity was mortified by an emblematical representation of those Saracens who, in the year 714, defeated him in battle, and reduced Spain under their dominion.  I have presumed to prolong the Vision of the Revolutions of Spain down to the present eventful crisis of the Peninsula, and to divide it, by a supposed change of scene, into, THREE PERIODS.  The FIRST of these represents the Invasion of the Moors, the Defeat and Death of Roderick, and closes

with the peaceful occupation of the country by the victors.  The SECOND PERIOD embraces the state of the Peninsula when the conquests of the Spaniards and Portuguese in the East and West Indies had raised to the highest pitch the renown of their arms; sullied, however, by superstition and cruelty.  An allusion to the inhumanities of the Inquisition terminates this picture.  The LAST PART of the Poem opens with the state of Spain previous to the unparalleled treachery of BUONAPARTE, gives a sketch of the usurpation attempted upon that unsuspicious and friendly kingdom, and terminates with the arrival of the British succours.  It may be further proper to mention, that the object of the Poem is less to commemorate or detail particular incidents, than to exhibit a general and impressive picture of the several periods brought upon the stage. EDINBURGH, June 24, 1811.

Wellington
Wellington

Here we have an epic tri-parted echo of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Strangely, Scott thought the poem was a mere ‘Drum and Trumpet performance’ (letter to William Hayley, 2 July 1811), but this reminds us of Virgil, who wanted to throw the Aeniad into the flames, before being persuaded to preserve his epic for the Roman people. In the ‘Vision’, Don Roderick, the last Visigothic King of Spain, descends into an enchanted cave to learn the outcome of the Moorish invasion. This also has echoes of Virgil who sent Aeneas into the underworld to see prophesies upon the Roman Republic.

Scott’s handling of an epic sweep through Spanish history propels his wordsmithery to heights he never before or after got close to. Here are some examples of Scott’s work; a passage from his famous ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’ & Marmion, followed by a stanza from the ‘Vision.’

They bid me sleep, the bid me pray,
They say my brain is warp’d & wrung
I cannot sleep on Highland brea,
I cannot pray in Highland tongue
But were I now where Allan glides
Or heard my native’s Devan tides
So sweetly would I rest & pray
That Heaven would close my wintry day. Last Minstrel

Not far advanced was morning day,
When Marmion did his troop array
To Surrey’s camp to ride;
He had safe-conduct for his band,
Beneath the Royal seal & hand,
And Douglas gave a guide;
The ancient Earl, with stately grace,
Would Clara on her Palfrey place
& whispered in a  undertone… Marmion

So passed that pageant.  Ere another came,
    The visionary scene was wrapped in smoke
  Whose sulph’rous wreaths were crossed by sheets of flame;
    With every flash a bolt explosive broke,
  Till Roderick deemed the fiends had burst their yoke,
    And waved ‘gainst heaven the infernal gonfalone!
  For War a new and dreadful language spoke,
    Never by ancient warrior heard or known;
Lightning and smoke her breath, and thunder was her tone. Vision

There is no doubt we get a different sensation from reading the first two stanza than the third. They seem different voices, but what has happened is that Scott is speaking with the immortal tones of the epic voice. Similarily, the voice Milton used in his Paradise Lost was different to those used in his Nativity Ode or his Lycidas; Virgil’s Aeneid is different from his pastoral Eclogues & Dante’s Vita Nuova is different from his Divine Comedy. The separating factor is the poet has altered his output in the same way a comedian may don the guise of several different characters during a performance.

A scene from the Aeneid
A scene from the Aeneid

I shall now elucidate more of Scott’s usage of traditional epic themes through stanzas taken from the ‘Vision;

The Epic Hero

Lives there a strain, whose sounds of mounting fire
    May rise distinguished o’er the din of war;
  Or died it with yon Master of the Lyre
    Who sung beleaguered Ilion’s evil star?
  Such, WELLINGTON, might reach thee from afar,
    Wafting its descant wide o’er Ocean’s range;
  Nor shouts, nor clashing arms, its mood could mar,
    All, as it swelled ‘twixt each loud trumpet-change,
That clangs to Britain victory, to Portugal revenge!
The Invocation

But we, weak minstrels of a laggard day
    Skilled but to imitate an elder page,
  Timid and raptureless, can we repay
    The debt thou claim’st in this exhausted age?
  Thou givest our lyres a theme, that might engage
    Those that could send thy name o’er sea and land,
  While sea and land shall last; for Homer’s rage
    A theme; a theme for Milton’s mighty hand
How much unmeet for us, a faint degenerate band!

Tribute to Older Epics

Ye mountains stern! within whose rugged breast
    The friends of Scottish freedom found repose;
  Ye torrents! whose hoarse sounds have soothed their rest,
    Returning from the field of vanquished foes;
  Say, have ye lost each wild majestic close
    That erst the choir of Bards or Druids flung,
  What time their hymn of victory arose,
    And Cattraeth’s glens with voice of triumph rung,
And mystic Merlin harped, and grey-haired Llywarch sung?
 

Here, Milton is alluding to the poem Y Gododdin, etched by the 7th century bard Aneirin. On its discovery in the 18th century, a startled Lewis Morris proclaimed to Edward Richard (1758);

Who do you think I have at my elbow, as happy as ever Alexander thought himself after a conquest? No less a man than Ieuan Fardd who hath discovered some old MSS. Lately that nobody of this age or the last ever dreamed of. And this discovery is to him & me as great as that of America by Colombus. We have found an epic poem in the British called Gododin, equal at least to the Iliad, Aeneid or Paradise Lost. Tudfwlch & Marchlew are heroes fiercer than Achilles or Satan

The Plea for Immortality

For not till now, how oft soe’er the task
    Of truant verse hath lightened graver care,
  From Muse or Sylvan was he wont to ask,
    In phrase poetic, inspiration fair;
  Careless he gave his numbers to the air,
    They came unsought for, if applauses came:
  Nor for himself prefers he now the prayer;
    Let but his verse befit a hero’s fame,
Immortal be the verse!–forgot the poet’s name!

Epic Geographical Sweeps
“Explore those regions, where the flinty crest
    Of wild Nevada ever gleams with snows,
  Where in the proud Alhambra’s ruined breast
    Barbaric monuments of pomp repose;
  Or where the banners of more ruthless foes
    Than the fierce Moor, float o’er Toledo’s fane,
  From whose tall towers even now the patriot throws
    An anxious glance, to spy upon the plain
The blended ranks of England, Portugal, and Spain.

Supernatural Agents

  Grim sentinels, against the upper wall,
    Of molten bronze, two Statues held their place;
  Massive their naked limbs, their stature tall,
    Their frowning foreheads golden circles grace.
  Moulded they seemed for kings of giant race,
    That lived and sinned before the avenging flood;
  This grasped a scythe, that rested on a mace;
    This spread his wings for flight, that pondering stood,
Each stubborn seemed and stern, immutable of mood.

Fixed was the right-hand Giant’s brazen look
    Upon his brother’s glass of shifting sand,
  As if its ebb he measured by a book,
    Whose iron volume loaded his huge hand;
  In which was wrote of many a fallen land
    Of empires lost, and kings to exile driven:
  And o’er that pair their names in scroll expand –
    “Lo, DESTINY and TIME! to whom by Heaven
The guidance of the earth is for a season given.” 

Heroic Speeches

  That Prelate marked his march–On banners blazed
    With battles won in many a distant land,
  On eagle-standards and on arms he gazed;
    “And hopest thou, then,” he said, “thy power shall stand?
  Oh! thou hast builded on the shifting sand,
    And thou hast tempered it with slaughter’s flood;
  And know, fell scourge in the Almighty’s hand,
    Gore-moistened trees shall perish in the bud,
And by a bloody death shall die the Man of Blood!”

Catalogues

From Alpuhara’s peak that bugle rung,
    And it was echoed from Corunna’s wall;
  Stately Seville responsive war-shot flung,
    Grenada caught it in her Moorish hall;
  Galicia bade her children fight or fall,
    Wild Biscay shook his mountain-coronet,
  Valencia roused her at the battle-call,
    And, foremost still where Valour’s sons are met,
First started to his gun each fiery Miquelet.

There are many other stanzas throughout the poem, WHICH YOU MAY READ IN FULL HERE. One of them in particular has the true epic ring;

As that sea-cloud, in size like human hand,
    When first from Carmel by the Tishbite seen,
  Came slowly overshadowing Israel’s land,
    A while, perchance, bedecked with colours sheen,
  While yet the sunbeams on its skirts had been,
    Limning with purple and with gold its shroud,
  Till darker folds obscured the blue serene
    And blotted heaven with one broad sable cloud,
Then sheeted rain burst down, and whirlwinds howled aloud:-

Here we have the best example amongst the Romantic poets of the Epic – or Heroic – simile. This is an elaborate piece of showcasing, a wonderful learned little ornament that adds dignity & variety to a poem. Another example would be Milton’s;

                              He stood & called
His Legions, Angel Forms, who lay intrans’t
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallambrosa, where th’Etrurian shades
High overarch’t imbower

That Scott mentions Milton a couple of times in his poem & has fashioned a similar sounding epic voice tells us that Scott would have had a copy of Paradise Lost before him as he wrote. This is only natural, for all new poetry should contain the waters of pParnassus, to which is added a poet’s own personal outpourings of fortified poesis. That Scott had Milton before him can be truly discerned from the following two stanzas – where we have Napoleon as the satanic anti-christ attempting to storm Spain, which is portrayed by Scott as another Eden.

Who shall command Estrella’s mountain-tide
    Back to the source, when tempest-chafed, to hie?
  Who, when Gascogne’s vexed gulf is raging wide,
    Shall hush it as a nurse her infant’s cry?
  His magic power let such vain boaster try,
    And when the torrent shall his voice obey,
  And Biscay’s whirlwinds list his lullaby,
    Let him stand forth and bar mine eagles’ way,
And they shall heed his voice, and at his bidding stay.

  “Else ne’er to stoop, till high on Lisbon’s towers
    They close their wings, the symbol of our yoke,
  And their own sea hath whelmed yon red-cross powers!”
    Thus, on the summit of Alverca’s rock
  To Marshal, Duke, and Peer, Gaul’s Leader spoke.
    While downward on the land his legions press,
  Before them it was rich with vine and flock,
    And smiled like Eden in her summer dress; –
Behind their wasteful march a reeking wilderness.

One of the key components of an epic is its narrator, & Scott plays the role to an almost perfection – perhaps the poem gets lost a little in the middle. The epic voice is an elaborate creature which must be sustained throughout an entire production. Scott’s was a rush job, & unfortunately the poem shows moments of melancholia & dullness –  but the attempt is a noble one & there are genuine moments of clear magnitude, which if sustained throughout the rest of his ouvre, would have placed him at the top of the Romantic tree. With Calliope at the helm, however, despite her brief visitation, Scott’s blood-drenched poem possesses a wonderful music & portrays at all times that ever-present focus of Scott’s powers which produced the ‘Drum and Trumpet’effect he wrote of, which has become in his hands an epic voice. Scott maintains his pitch & rhythm all the way through his poem with perfect uniformity – an excellent performance. It is a little Iliad of regions, wars, & heroes, & should rightly belong to the class of poems called Epyllia, or ‘little epics.’  We are whisked about European history like a ravishing whirlwind, from William Wallace at the Scottish Wars of Independence, with Scott often distilling massive sweeps of time & space into a couple of lines at most.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1823.
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1823.

With the Vision, Scott is moving his imagination out of Britain onto the European – again a precursor for Byron’s Childe Harolde, whose scenes of continental travel fired the imaginations of a book-buying public trapped on their island by Napoleon’s European blockade. Byron would then go on to fashion his own epic voice, which manifested itself best in his rambling & operatic Don Juan, yet Scott’s ‘Vision’ has primacy & it also raised 100 guineas for the war fund. Written when the real struggle for Europe was about to begin, I believe this piece of poetic propaganda would have inspired the hearts of British Soldiers at the time – I don’t think any man reading it at the time would have failed to have been moved militarily to match the feats of the great heroes of whom Scott’s epic voice had sang.

The Madness of Merlin

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Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad
Euripides


In recent years, in other places, I have demonstrated that King Arthur really did once exist, when from the obscure seed that was his life sprung up the legion of legends that constitute the Arthurian myth. If our great king existed, then, is it not also possible that the other members of his pantheon are also real? This leads us to Merlin, the spell-singing court sorcerer of Camelot, whose vitality supported by a wide array of sources. The Welsh chronicle known as the Annales Cambraie tells us.

573 AD: The battle of Arfderydd between the sons of Eliffert and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad.

A medieval Welsh triad sums up the battle perfectly;

The three frivolous causes of battle in the Isle of Britain.
…The second was the action of Arderydd, caused by a bird’s nest, in which 80,000 Cambrians were slain…

The battle of Arfderydd & Merlin are tied together in a number of old Welsh poems. They tell the story of a great civil war among the native Britons,  climaxing at the battle of Arferydd. After the battle Merlin lost his mind then ran off to be a hermit in the Caledonian Wood. A sterling effort in finding the battle site was made by the great nineteenth century Scottish antiquarian, William Forbes Skene. His ‘Notice of the site of the Battle of Ardderyd or Arderyth‘ in the PSAS of 1864-65 shows this often brilliant scholar at his very best.

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Where, then, was this battle fought? We ought, in the first place, to look for it in one of the great passes into the country; & a curious passage in Fordun gave me a clue to the probable situation. In his notice of Saint Kentigern, he describes, evidently from some older authority, his meeting in the desert a wild man, who informs him that his name was Merlin, & that he had lost his reason, & roamed in these solitudes because he had been the cause of the slaughter of so many men : ‘qui interfecti sunt in bello, cunctis in hac patria constitutis satis moto, quod erat in campo inter Lidel et Carwanalow situato.  The last part of the Latin means, ‘fought on the plain between Liddel and Carwannok.’ Liddel, as is well known, is the name of the river which flows westward through Liddesdale, & joins the Esk about nine miles north of Carlisle. Near the junction is the border between England & Scotland, & from thence the flat & mossy district, called the Debateable Lands, bounded on the east by the Esk, extends to the Solway Firth

This nugget of information was the catalyst for Skene, who now begins to hone in on the battlefield, near Longtown in Cumbria, where a small settlement called Athuret immediately raised his heckles. Taking the train down from Edinburgh, Skene found a place to stay in Longtown, whose landlady was quite shocked to see anybody staying in the area at all. Skene continued;

About half a mile from Longtown is the church & rectory of Arthuret, situated on a raised platform on the west side of the River Esk, which flows past them on a lower level; & south of the church & parsonage there rise from this platform two small hills covered with woods, called the Arthuret Knowes. The top of the highest, which overhangs the river, is fortified by a small earthen rampart, enclosing a space nearly square, & measuring about 16 yards square. On returning to Longtown, I asked the old guard whether he knew of any place called Carwandlow. He said that Carwinelaw was the name of a stream which flowed into the Esk from the west about three miles north of Longtown, & also of a mill situated on it, & that beyond it was a place called the Roman Camp.

At this point Skene visited the ‘camp,’ which is today known as the Moat of Liddle. He thought it a magnificent native strength, & was taken aback by its splendid views, including the knowes at Athuret in the distance. He went on;

Between the fort & Carwhinelaw is a field extending to the ridge along Carwhinelaw, which is about half a mile off… The old farmer of the Upper Moat, who accompanied us, informed me that the tradition of the country was that a great battle was fought here between the Romans; & the Picts held the camp, in which the Romans were victorious; that the camp was defended by 300 men, who surrendered it, & were all put to the sword & buried in the orchard of the Upper Moat, at a place he showed me. This part of the tradition is curious, as the Triads mention the Gosgord of Drywon-ap-Nudd at Arderyth which consisted of 300 men.

The name of Erydon, which Merlin attaches to it as a name for the battle, probably remains in Ridding at the foot of the fort, & I have no doubt at all that the name Carwhinelaw is a corruption of Caerwenddolowe, the caer or city of Gwenddolowe, & thus the topography supports the tradition.

This is all breathless work, & leaves us moderns with a few scanty crumbs to discover. The only object of interest I could scrape up myself concerned another fortification, a mile or so to the North of the Moat of Liddel, where; ‘there is a slight eminence called Battle Knowe by Prioryhill farm near Canonbie. It feels like a burial mound & tradition says that a battle was fought here & human bones have frequently been dug up but no authentic information can be obtained to confirm the supposition. (Ordnance Survey Name Book 1858)

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Having discovered battlefield where Merlin went mad, let us now practice the very modern art of Psychoanalysis on his mind. By studying the old poems & stories surrounding Merlin, it is clear he had paranoid schizophrenia, the modern terminology of a condition as old as humanity itself. Joan of Arc heard voices & in the first Book of Samuel, Saul shows all the classic symptoms of a lunatic. The following are extracts from a report by the World Health Organisation in 1992.

Paranoid schizophrenia is the most common type of schizophrenia in most parts of the world. The clinical picture is dominated by relatively stable, often paranoid, delusions, usually accompanied by hallucinations, particularly of the auditory variety, and perceptual disturbances. Examples of the most common paranoid symptoms are:
Delusions of persecution, reference, exalted birth, special mission, bodily change, or jealousy; Hallucinatory voices that threaten the patient or give commands, or auditory hallucinations without verbal form, such as whistling, humming, or laughing;
Hallucinations of smell or taste, or of sexual or other bodily sensations; visual hallucinations may occur but are rarely predominant. Thought disorder may be obvious in acute states, but if so it does not prevent the typical delusions or hallucinations from being described clearly. Affect is usually less blunted than in other varieties of schizophrenia, but a minor degree of incongruity is common, as are mood disturbances such as irritability, sudden anger, fearfulness, and suspicion.

Merlin appears the medieval tale Lailoken and Kentigern, which states: “…some say {Lailoken} was called Merlynum.” This name change leads us to the 9th Century Historia Brittonum of Nennius, which states that in the late 6th century, ‘Talhaiarn Tataguen was famed for poetry, and Neirin, and Taliesin and Bluchbard, and Cian, who is called Guenith Guaut, were all famous at the same time in British poetry.’ Nobody has ever established the further identity of Bluchbard, but the ‘Luch’ embedded in the name links it to the ‘Lok’ within Lailoken. Thus Lailoken the Bard easily becomes Luch the Bard, then Bluchbard. Perhaps, perhaps not, but there’s enough in there to believe it so.

Moving on from digressive conjecture, in the tale of Lailoken & Kentigern, Merlin is depicted as seeing visions & hearing voices, the classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. On one occasion a voice from heaven says; ‘because you alone are responsible for the blood of all these dead men, you alone will bear the punishment for the misdeeds of all. For you will be given over to the angels of Satan & you will have communion with the creatures of the wood.‘ We probably all have experienced a moment in public when a person of obvious insanity wanders around screaming wildly & talking to themselves. Lailoken and Kentigern reports the same thing of Merlin, who used to interrupt the services of his clergy by shouting out prophecies. It also has Merlin seeing bright visions of ‘martial battalions’ lighting up the sky shaking their lances ‘most fiercely’ at him, & then dragged off into the woods by an evil spirit. In another text, the Itinerarium Kambriae of Giraldus Cambrensis, he is said to have lost his mind just before the battle of Arferydd when he saw a monster in the sky.

On Thursday 11th September 2008 The Independent ran a fascinating story about the son of Patrick Cockburn, a foreign correspondent. His name was Henry, who told the paper; ‘do I have schizophrenia? My mother and father and the dreaded psychiatrist definitely believe I am schizophrenic. They have grounds for their belief, such as my being found naked and talking to trees in woods. Yet I think I just see the world differently from other people.’ Patrick added, ‘Jan and I soon became familiar with the distorted landscape of the strange world in which Henry was now living. The visions and voices, though the most dramatic part, were infrequent. He spoke vaguely of religious and mystical forces and was extremely ascetic, adopting a vegan diet and not wearing shoes or underpants.’

Henry certainly sounds like a modern day Merlin. When the mind is being bombarded by extra-sensory stimuli, there is only one true way to ‘let of the steam,’ & that was summed up nicely by Henry;  ‘my main strength was art, and it was through art that I understood my world.‘ Among the all the arts poetry is perhaps the oldest, yet its beauty is that anyone can write a poem. The writing of them is seen by modern psychology as a therapeutic tool to aid schizophrenia. In the  Journal of Poetry Therapy (June 2010), Noel Shafi writes; ‘a patient exhibited negative symptoms including social withdrawal. Under clinical observation she successfully wrote renkus describing her everyday life & seasonal feelings. After 13 months of renku therapy the therapist observed improved social functioning &decreased negative symptoms in the patient.’

This brings us neatly to the ‘therapeutic’ poetry of Merlin himself. While he was in the woods, fuelled by the typical poetic salve that is insanity, Merlin composed a number beautiful poems, of which 6 still survive. In them solid traces of schizophrenia can be found. They also show the skill of an accomplished bard, the first step on the ladder to becoming a Druid. Inbetween is the Ovates, the title given to a bard after twelve years of intense poetic training. On attaining this second rank, the bard will develop visionary powers, being able to see into the future & commune with long dead ancestors. It must have been a total nightmare experience for Merlin once he lost control of his visionary mind. He was not the bearded wise-man of Arthurian mythology, but a man in need of series help.

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Throughout his poetry we can detect the possible reason behind Merlin’s madness, the catalyst that sent him over the edge. It begins with the tradition of Gwendydd being his twin sister, which is given in the aptly titled, ‘The Dialogue Between Myrddin and His Sister Gwenddydd’ from the Red Book of Hergest.

Myrddin
Since the action at Arderydd and Erydon
Gwendydd, and all that happened to me,
Dull of understanding I am–
Where shall I go for delight?

Gwenddydd 
I will speak to my twin brother Myrddin, 
wiseman and diviner, 
Since he is used to making disclosures 
When a girl goes to him.

The tone of the first stanza is sullen & reflective. We can work out why from the following stanza from the Black Book of Carmarthen;

Sweet appletree that grows in the glade!
Their vehemence will conceal it from the lords of Rydderch,
Trodden it is around its base, and men are about it.
Terrible to them were heroic forms.
Gwendydd loves me not, greets me not;
I am hated by the firmest minister of Rydderch;
I have ruined his son and his daughter.
Death takes all away, why does he not visit me?
For after Gwenddoleu no princes honour me;
I am not soothed with diversion, I am not visited by the fair;
Yet in the battle of Ardderyd golden was my torques,
Though I am now despised by her who is of the colour of swans.

So here we have Merlin talking to the trees. It also introduces Rydderch Hael into the story, the King of Strathclyde who had married Merlin’s sister. With the line, ‘I have ruined his son and his daughter,’ we have a clue as to why Merlin went mad. If Rydderch is his brother-in-law, then the children in question were his nephew & niece. In the next line he says that ‘death takes all away,’ which hints that it was Merlin himself who killed them. No wonder his sister ‘loves him not!’ The emptiness of the last few lines portray his soul in dejected reclusion. His lord Gwenddoleu is dead & his mind is full memories of when he was wearing the ‘golden torques.’  The pathos of the piece gives us an excellent insight into Merlin’s mind at the time of his madness. He is obviously suicidal, a thread which the Dialogue poem expands on;

Myrddin
Great affliction has fallen upon me,
And I am sick of life–

I feel heavy affliction.
Dead is Morgenau, dead is Mordav,
Dead is Moryen, I wish to die!

Could Merlin, by surrounding himself with nature & solitude, be seeking reaffirmation with a forgiving god in the woods. Not wanting to disturb him too much, I think we should leave Merlin in the soft, safe confines of his Caledonian Woods. We find him talking to a little piglet & bidding him hide from the ‘dogs of Rhydderch,’– who were out to get them both – that classic delusion persecution, where conspiracies are found at every turn.

Listen, O little pig! happy little pig,
Do not go rooting on top of the mountain.
But stay here, secluded in the wood.
Hidden from the dogs of Rhydderch the Faithful.
I will prophecy–it will be truth!

There has always been a certain sense of the insane about the poet. John Clare spent years in an asylum churning out new cantos of Don Juan. TS Elliot composed his seminal Wasteland while undergoing psychological treatment at a clinic in Switzerland, while William Blake was blatantly as mad as a hatter. Of Baudelair, Jeremy Reed, in his Madness- the Price of Poetry (1989) wrote; ‘Baudelair was a prey to neurosis, his life is the record of an individual seeking to interpret incipient madness through the refinement of an aesthetic sensibility.’ So I guess Merlin & his madness are in pretty esteemed company, & I suppose you do have to be a bit mad to be a poet in the first place!


POEMS BY MERLIN 

(& links)

The first three are found in the thirteenth-century Black Book of Carmarthen, with the others appearing in manuscripts from later centuries.

Yr afallennau – The Apple Trees
Yr Oianau – The Greetings
Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin – The Dialogue between Merlin & Taleisin
 Cyfoesi myrddin a gwenddydd ei chwaer – The Dialogue between Merlin & his Sister
 Gwasgargerdd fyrddin yn y bedd – The diffused song of Myrddin in his grave
 Peirian Faban – Commanding Youth

The New Divan

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I have just begun the transcreation of a book called A New Divan, recently released by Gingko. It had been inspired by the 200th anniversary of a collection of poems by Goethe, itself inspired by works of the medieval Pesian poet, Hafiz. I had no idea either existed, & thoroughly enjoyed my education into the texts at the recent Edinburgh International Book Festival, of which you can read more of here.

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The main premise of A New Divan is to mirror Goethe’s subjects & themes using an international array of poets, whose creations would then be translated into English by another set of pets. Like a poetical UN. Intrigued, I requested a review copy from Gingko, which duly arrived yesterday. Running through the poems gave me the distinct impression that the collection was unfinished – that to match a production by Goethe, & the musical poetics of Hafiz, a single synthesizing mind had to work the ‘notes’ to order. With yesterday also being my last day reviewing at the Edinburgh Fringe, & with a full month’s worth of poesis stored in my creative antechambers, the catalyst had been sparked. I felt almost like Hammer did when hearing Hafiz in the original Persian for the first time, now compelled to translate it into German.  I felt almost like Goethe did on hearing Hammer’s translation for the first time, now compelled to create a western reply to Hafiz.

Hafiz, Herr Goethe, wait for me!
Forming triplet fraternity,
By chance, or not by chance, I heard,
Entrancing dances of the word,
Rose Voice of East, rose Voice of West,
Where voices lay choice words to rest,
I’ll pluck them up, I’ll dust them down,
Then cap them with my laurel crown.

The vast majority of Goethe’s Divan is cast in octosyllabic metre, with simple but effective rhyme schemes. This of course I had to emulate, into which mould I would try & replicate the literary trickery of high-brow Persian poetics. Ultimately its the spirit of Goethe we are trying to please here, and I’m sure he’d be quite averse to Free Verse. Its still early days of course,  but a project worth pursuing, the resulting piece, then, drawn from A New Divan, I shall name THE New Divan. Some of the fruits of my efforts thus fare are printed below.

Damian Beeson Bullen


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CLARA JANES: The Song of the One Who Pours the Wine

As Shiraz roses sheer upclimb
These pages thro’, so hear the chime
Sung by the Holy Fool that stands
Beside the well at dusk – these hands
Reveal the decorated cup,
As if, from it, Jamshid did sup,
Containing worlds within wine-pools
Where ripple stars, submerging jewels,
Revealing patterns unimpair’d
By fauna & by flora shar’d,
A human heart or pulseless stone?
Upon a palm leaf focus hone
In some garden botanica,
Such as the one in Padua,
When famously illustrated
The metamorph you’ll see outspread!

As formula, in chimes, upswells
From caravans & tiny bells;
All things must change, all time must pass,
But even so, as higher class
Of thinker contemplates these things,
All fixed must be in place on strings –
Prayer beads of love & science.

Pour me another cup forth-hence,
Permitting detailed inspection
Of all that swims in reflection,
I’ll read the Cosmos as a sacred text,
Accepting what I’ll see I must acknowledge next.

Keeping electrons in a trance,
By atom procharge made to dance,
Like the limitless extension
Of the waves in curv’d connexion;
Deep secrets of this circuitrie
Reveals the links twyx atomie,
When object & subject between
Sees space collapsing mezzanine.

All this is held by such perfume
Exhaled by Shiraz rose in bloom,
Love is the scent-sway, & does etch
The first & best alphabet, which
Declaring in Persopolis,
This Human grace forever is!

Yet, falls the dusk, the Holy Fool
Sings by the well’s radiant pool,
The poet plucks from blazing flames
A flicker of all things, all names,
That brand my hands, together we
Repeat his arcane sorcery;

Nature, my one joy is to connect!


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JAN WAGNER: Ephesus Ghazal

With tyrants who cavort like gods,
Our days cut-short at shortest odds,
Of these severe was one in faith,
His painters perpetrate a wraith,
With shaggy face & eyes like sleet,
Lads seven underneath his feet,
Prepar’d for freedom, so they hid
Themselves before Dawn lifts its lid.
Cavebound, the dog curl’d at their feet,
That loved them all with love complete,
While they first slept the Emperor
Gave rocks in cartloads the order,
‘Block up the entrance!’ Still they slept,
Dispersing trances, by them crept
Long centuries on centuries,
So deep that sleep it seems death is
Enmesh’d with slumbers – angel’s hand
As gentle as a grazing land,
Did turn them… dreadful, delicate;
Depending on which way the foot
Did point – to Heaven, down to Hell –
Limbs rolling as lads dreamlands dwell.

Eroded rocks, awoke hungry,
Thinking new morn was what they see
Just one night old; so sent to town
Their youngest, keenest, skills a crown,
Who found a bakers where once stood
The court, the baker’s face of blood
Drain’d white, straining for friends, in fear –
The proffer’d coin engrav’d, a clear
Depicted face, some king long dead,
“He was the emperor,” someone said,
A whole town came to gawp & glare
At this young marvel standing there,
Whose uncles & great-grandchildren
Were lang syne dust, distant aeon
In which he tried to grow a beard,
The townsfolk thought this very weird,
Tho’ simmering their pots were set,
They shrank Ephesus’ parapet,
To distant dots, even before
The millet cook’d; they wanted more
To see the cave, & when they did,
The other six no longer hid,
A clan of seven spread from death,
Who’d somehow shar’d eternal breath!


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FADHIL AL-AZZAWI: Paradise on Earth

I see it as I leave the inn
The dark of night, an evil djinn
Pursues me close, each step I take,
These steps shall shudder as I shake
Dogs furious, a-bark behind
Like hunt-track wolves, outflung from mind,
I must drive this road’s solitude,
I must sing madly, loud & crude!
Dervish disguis’d as angel slips
Out from the mosque, threats on his lips,
Waving his stick thro’ air at me,
Hey, you are losing your life!” he
Screams, “You have lost your life,” Adam,
Did you not know its forbidden
In this world to drink Eden’s wine?
But in Paradise, hey, that’s fine!
Go drink that wine, its bountiful
& free, search for the beautiful
Eyes, bountiful houris, gratis.

Oh master of my days, where is
This place, lord tell me where we are.

He points his stick up to a star,
“There,” utters he, “Eternity,”
Twinkling… blazing… “Up there!” says he,
Fluttering as the falcons rise
Evanishing in splendid skies!

I do not move, stricken with doubt,
I dare not move, Hafiz steps out
Arriving as he always does
As of-a-sudden surprises,
“My friend!” he laughs, “Why worry so?
Their walls are high & you have no
Wings there to fly – no – let us make
This mortal rock an angels’ lake ,
Look at these mountains rising up,
For when the flood oerflows the cup,
These seas, these oceans, all aswirl
With fish & gorgeous whales which whirl
About this Godufactured Earth,
Where even serpents maintain worth,
We must remember to release
Snakes from their cages, whom, in peace,
Shall twine around those fine branches
Of our tree – happy, glorious –

What more will we need than that?


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REZA MOHAMMADI: Smoke

Unto the man I would return
Who once inside my shirt did burn.

At each lip’s precipice I fret
To find the voice I once did set
Down-dangling from a cigarette.

I ask the card-turn to unshroud
The revelations thro’ the crowd
That sweeps aside bird, plant & cloud.

Carry off, great Lord, this flower,
To tables fill’d by my mother,
& to the house of my father,

& to the fish of the rivers
Whom, three times a day, take lovers,
Suicide’s soft deliverers.

I’m six years old, care to buy bread?
What am I doing here, I said.

Carry my soul to the tented
Gypsy mystic, tinted, scented,
Take it to be finger-printed.

I’ll never leave this street, y’know,
That named a missile long ago.

You’ll see I only came to buy
Some rolls of bread – you’ll see that I
Have seen exactly six years by.

Before the next man join’d my thread
Morning stopp’d gorging on his head,
& like this poem’s folding, he
Was thrown, was caught, within old me.

Hey! This much wind my shirt won’t stand,
We should not let this much cloud land.

The blacken’d body’s shrapnel flew
Right back to eat, snack, feast on you.

Why should I be God’s kick’d up dust,
I flow like ink from His fingers.

The broken lighters of his feet
Flicker & flare in mine like heat.

His heart a wet, spent ciggarette,
His mother’s lashes crudely set
Inside his pocket, food for worms,
With sister’s hair that fistfull squirms,
& those barb’d eyelids of his wife.

I wish somebody in his life
Had told him moons dont burst in flame
When clad in clothes by top brands made.

The one runs from me as he ran
From his ma’s table & her pan,
Thus I would like to tell him this,
How poet’s metamorphosis
Grows on lips like little roses
Caus’d by earth – which decomposes!

Even the river dodges me,
Even the doves take flight to flee
& all the Judas trees within
Are made of debris from this bin;
How was your face made up, I said,
What shade the scarf swath’d round your head?
Black-sooted in black suit I stand,
A dandelion in one hand,
Addresses I can’t call to mind,
As on moth-wings descends dusts fine,
Dusts upon petals de-scend-ing –
Now I’m forgetting everything.


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FATEMEH SHAMS: Electrocardigram

My back she aches again today,
Three months ago they mov’d my heart
& ledg’d my vital spine apart,
Then wedg’d it in the vertebrae,
Now each musk-fragrant breath depends
On one thin vein that empties blood,
From darkness to new heart’s blood wends
My idiotic bruise of vein.
My wanton whore of heart, the pain
My back endures nobody should.
My ECG supplies, these days,
My news, headlines from past suck’d out –
A woman used to laugh about
Her love for one man & his ways,
When lavish hearts love’s healths endow,
Form windows facing long exile,
These bunch’d red muscles bled servile,
I wish it were a mirror, now!

The medic team with smiles aflock
Chirps “We had to move it a bit,
& from today we must admit
By beating hearts please set your clock,”
Alarmic systems rotten grown,
My lover new has ask’d last night
“Are all our words & movements known?”
I thought he quizz’d me for to see
How paranoid & how crazy
I was, my shadows hid from sight,
For years my shadow’s eyes did hide
In dresses – cities far & wide,
The final shadow ran its part
& in his fist a bleeding heart –
The doctors are the shadow’s foes
& paranoia diagnose
Expertly well, & for exile
Prescibe a perfect potion’s phial,
Moving the heart to think & feel
In times when no heart’s scar could heal.


Jaan Kaplinski

JAAN KAPLINSKI: The Great Axe

Knew everybody since childhood,
He’d dreamt he was a shaft of wood
By axehead topp’d, his foes to fight
To chop off heads & branches smite!
He grew & chopp’d & splinters flew,
Heads fell & everybody knew
He was the sharpest one of all,
Most pitiless of axeheads’ fall,
Him from the toughest shell was cast
The special spirit naught could rust,
Let no-one ken the truth display’d,
He was just normal, iron-made,
Of brittle rust was he afraid,
Standing alone before mirror
He would check, those new red stains were
Upon his blade? He tried to wash
Away the rust stains with blood fresh
From wounds, but not enough to hide,
Until his peace one day defied,
Smashing the mirror angrily,
He fell inside some phantasie
Beyond the Looking Glass’s ledge,
Near marshes large by forest edge,
& realised his place was there,
In that swamp’s pool, & full aware
He transformed could be back into
A fist of mud-brown bog ore goo!


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The Poetry of Muhammad Ali

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Clay standing over the defeated Sonny Liston

The warrior poet is one of the more remarkable figures in history. In the English-speaking world, their zenith came with the horrors of World War One, when Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen & others veered away from patronising the soldier’s noble death with high-blown lyricism, & got down to expositing the true danger & desperation of combat. Fifty years later the world encountered a different kind of warrior poet, the boxer called Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali who like a high-ranked bardic-trained Gaulish druid passed judgement on the age of Civil Rights.

I am America.
I am the part you won’t recognize.
But get used to me:
Black, confident, cocky.
My name, not yours.
My religion, not yours.
My goals, my own.
Get used to me.
Muhammad Ali


download.jpgLAST NIGHT I HAD A DREAM

Last night I had a dream, When I got to Africa,
I had one hell of a rumble.
I had to beat Tarzan’s behind first,
For claiming to be King of the Jungle.
For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators,
I’ve tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning
And throw thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad.
just last week, I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, Hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.
I’m so fast, man,
I can run through a hurricane and don’t get wet.
When George Foreman meets me,
He’ll pay his debt.
I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree.
Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.
Written by Muhammad Ali | Create an image from this poem
There live a great man named Joe
There live a great man named Joe
who was belittled by a loudmouth foe.
While his rival would taunt and tease
Joe silently bore the stings.
And then fought like gladiator in the ring.


CLAY COMES OUT TO MEET LISTON

Clay comes out to meet Liston
and Liston starts to retreat,
if Liston goes back an inch farther
he’ll end up in a ringside seat.
Clay swings with his left,
Clay swings with his right,
Look at young Cassius
carry the fight
Liston keeps backing, but there’s not enough room,
It’s a matter of time till Clay lowers the boom.
Now Clay lands with a right,
What a beautiful swing,
and the punch raises the Bear
clean out of the ring.
Liston is still rising and the ref wears a frown,
For he can’t start counting
till Sonny goes down.
Now Liston is disappearing from view,
The crowd is going frantic,
But radar stations have picked him up,
Somewhere over the Atlantic.
Who would have thought
when they came to the fight?
That they’d witness the launching
of a human satellite.
Yes the crowd did not dream,
when they put up the money,
That they would see
a total eclipse of the Sonny.


READ

THE GODS OF THE RING

THE NEW DRAMATIC MUSICAL BY

DAMIAN BEESON BULLEN


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The boy could fight too – sheer poetry in the ring, but he actually created a great deal of interesting, funny verse. Inspired by the barber-shop banter he heard in his youth, & driven through a supra-arrogant ‘I’m the greatest’ persona based upon a wrestler called Gorgeous George, the world became hooked on every word the young Cassius said – & he knew it, touching an entire planet thro’ his simple lyricism enabled by his global persona. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”


ALI V JOE FRAZIER

Ding! Ali comes out to meet Frazier
But Frazier starts to retreat
If Frazier goes back any further
He’ll wind up in a ringside seat

Ali swings to the left
Ali swings to the right
Look at the kid
Carry the fight

Frazier keeps backing
But there’s not enough room
It’s a matter of time
Then Ali lowers the boom

Now Ali lands to the right
What a beautiful swing!
And deposits Frazier
Clean out of the ring

Frazier’s still rising
But the referee wears a frown
For he can’t start counting
Till Frazier comes down

Now Frazier disappears from view
The crowd is getting frantic
But our radar stations have picked him up
He’s somewhere over the Atlantic

Who would have thought that
When they came to the fight
That they would have witnessed
The launching of a coloured satellite!


After becoming involved with the controversial ‘Nation of Islam’ group in the 60s, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, which will stick unto eternity. His legacy is being forgotten by the millennial generation, unfortunately, as is his poetry. But there is a clear case that for while he was at the peak of his powers, more people heard, were touched by, & recited back his poetry than other individual on the planet before or since. Maybe not a better poet than Shakespeare, but definitely, during his hey-days, bigger!


ON THE ATTICA PRISON RIOTS OF 1971

He said breedom – Better Now

Better far— from all I see—
To die fighting to be free
What more fitting end could be?

Better surely than in some bed
Where in broken health I’m led
Lingering until I’m dead

Better than with prayers and pleas
Or in the clutch of some disease
Wasting slowly by degrees

Better than a heart attack
or some dose of drug I lack
Let me die by being Black

Better far that I should go
Standing here against the foe
Is the sweeter death to know

Better than the bloody stain
On some highway where I’m lain
Torn by flying glass and pane

Better calling death to come
Than to die another dumb
Muted victim in the slum

Better than of this prison rot
If there’s any choice I’ve got
Kill me here on the spot

Better far my fight to wage
Now while my blood boils with rage
Lest it cool with ancient age

Better vowing for us to die
Than to Uncle Tom and try
Making peace just to live a lie

Better now that I say my sooth
I’m gonna die demanding truth
While I’m still akin to youth

Better now than later on
Now that fear of death is gone
Never mind another dawn.

This poem was recited on air while in Ireland & depicts a hostage protest for better conditions which led to 29 prisoners being shot by soldiers. After reading the poem, Muhammad Ali related the struggle of the Afro-Americans for freedom and justice to the struggle of the Irish against British imperialism


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This is the legend of Muhammad Ali,
The greatest fighter that ever will be.
He talks a great deal and brags, indeed.
Of a powerful punch and blinding speed.
Ali fights great, he’s got speed and endurance.
If you sign to fight him, increase your insurance.
Ali’s got a left, Ali’s got a right;
If he hits you once, you’re asleep for the night
Written by Muhammad Ali | Create an image from this poem
To make America the greatest is my goal
To make America the greatest is my goal,
So I beat the Russians, and I beat the Pole,
and for the USA won the medal of gold.
Italians said: “You’re Greater than the Cassius of old´´.
We like your name, we like your game,
So make Rome your home if you will.
I said I appreciate your kind hospitality,
But the USA is my country still,
‘Cause they’re waiting to welcome me in Louisville.


In the following interview, the controversial 1975 one with Playboy Magazine, Ali talks about his poetry & his newfound love of ‘sayings’

PLAYBOY:
Since a lot of people are wondering about this, level with us. Do you write all the poetry you pass off as your own?

ALI:
Sure I do. Hey, man, I’m so good I got offered a professorship at Oxford. I write late at night, after the phones stop ringin’ and it’s quiet and nobody’s around—all great writers do better at night. I take at least one nap during the day, and then I get up at two in the morning and do my thing. You know, I’m a worldly man who likes people and action and I always like cities, but now when I find myself in a city, I can’t wait to get back to my training camp. Neon signs, traffic, noise and people—all that can get you crazy. It’s funny, because I was supposed to be torturing myself by building a training camp out in the middle of no where in northern Pennsylvania, but this is good livin’—fresh air, well water, quiet and country views. I thought I wouldn’t like it at all but that at least I’d work a lot instead of being in the city, where maybe I wouldn’t train hard enough. Well, now I like it better than being in any city. This is a real good setting for writin’ poetry and I write all the time, even when I’m in training. In fact, I wrote one up here that’s better than any poem in the world.

PLAYBOY:
How do you know that?

ALI:
My poem explains truth, so what could be better? That’s the name of it, too,

Truth:
The face of Truth is open, the eyes
of Truth are bright
The lips of Truth are ever closed,
the head of Truth is upright
The breast of Truth stands forward,
the gaze of Truth is straight
Truth has neither fear nor doubt,
Truth has patience to wait.
The words of Truth are touching,
the voice of Truth is deep
The law of Truth is simple: All you
sow, you reap.
The soul of Truth is flaming, the
heart of Truth is warm
The mind of Truth is clear and
firm through rain and storm.
Facts are only its shadow, Truth
stands above all sin.
Great be the battle of life—Truth
in the end shall win.
The image of Truth is the Honorable
Elijah Muhammad, wisdom’s message is his rod
The sign of Truth is the crescent
and the soul of Truth is God.
Life of Truth is eternal
Immortal is its past
Power of Truth shall endure
Truth shall hold to the last.
It’s a masterpiece, if I say so myself.

But poems aren’t the only thing I’ve been writing. I’ve also been setting my mind to sayings. You want to hear some?

PLAYBOY:
Do we have a choice?

ALI:
You listen up and maybe I’ll make you as famous as I made Howard Cosell. “Wars on nations are fought to change maps, but wars on poverty are fought to map change.” Good, huh? “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” These are words of wisdom, so pay attention, Mr. Playboy. “The man who has no imagination stands on the earth he has no wings, he cannot fly.” Catch this: “When we are right, no one remembers, but when we are wrong, no one forgets. Watergate!” I really like the next one: “Where is man’s wealth? His wealth is in his knowledge. If his wealth was in the bank and not in his knowledge, then he don’t possess it—because it’s in the bank!” You got all that?

PLAYBOY:
Got it, Muhammad.

ALI:
Well, there’s more. “The warden of a prison is in a worse condition than the prisoner himself. While the body of the prisoner is in captivity, the mind of the warden is in prison!” Words of wisdom by Muhammad Ali. This is about beauty: “It is those who have touched the inner beauty that appreciate beauty in all its forms.” I’m even going to explain that to you. Some people will look at a sister and say, “She sure is ugly.” Another man will see the same sister and say, “That’s the most beautiful woman I ever did see.” How do you like this one: “Love is a net where hearts are caught like fish”?

PLAYBOY:
Isn’t that a little corny?

ALI:
I knew you wasn’t smart as soon as I laid eyes on you. But I know you’re gonna like this one, which is called Riding on My Horse of Hope: “Holding in my hands the reins of courage, dressed in the armor of patience, the helmet of endurance on my head, I started on my journey to the land of love.” Whew! Muhammad Ali sure goes deeper than boxing.


READ

THE GODS OF THE RING

THE NEW DRAMATIC MUSICAL BY

DAMIAN BEESON BULLEN


Ali ‘the poet’ must also go down on record as the author of the shortest poem in the language. According to  Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, the shortest poem in the English language was Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes by Strickland Gillilan, which went, ‘Adam / Had’em.’ Ali beat this hands down with his sexy & supercilious, ‘Me / We.’ Yes, Muhammad Ali, you truly were the greatest.


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The Requiem of Anna Akhmatova

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Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem is a perfect piece

Of mid-20th Century epyllia


Anna Akhmatova is one of the greatest ever Russian poets, essayists & translators. During the climate of Stalinist oppression, between 1935 and 1940 she composed she composed the bulk of her long narrative poem, Rekviem. It was whispered line by line to her closest friends, who quickly committed to memory what they had heard. Akhmatova would then burn in an ashtray the scraps of paper on which she had written Rekviem. If found by the secret police, this narrative poem could have unleashed another wave of arrests for subversive activities. The poem would be published for the first time in Russia only during the years of perestroika, in the journal Oktiabr’ (October) in 1989. Mixing various genres and styles & forms, the poem’s scatteredness reflects the disintegration of self and the world that the old Russian order was experiencing- Anna had aristocratic blood.


Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected –
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
[1961]

INSTEAD OF A PREFACE

During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone ‘picked me out’.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) – ‘Could one ever describe
this?’ And I answered – ‘I can.’ It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]

DEDICATION

Mountains fall before this grief,
A mighty river stops its flow,
But prison doors stay firmly bolted
Shutting off the convict burrows
And an anguish close to death.
Fresh winds softly blow for someone,
Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don’t know this,
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
We’d meet – the dead, lifeless; the sun,
Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,
But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.
Where are you, my unwilling friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.
[March 1940]

INTRODUCTION
[PRELUDE]

It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along –
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.

index 2

I
You were taken away at dawn. I followed you
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold sweat
On your brow – I will never forget this; I will gather

To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
[1935. Autumn. Moscow]

II

Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.

III

It isn’t me, someone else is suffering. I couldn’t.
Not like this. Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Then let the torches be removed. . .
Night.

IV

Giggling, poking fun, everyone’s darling,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you –
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses, three hundredth in line,
Burning the new year’s ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound – how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away. . .
[1938]

V

For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I’ve thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever –
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.
[1939]

index 3

VI

Weeks fly lightly by. Even so,
I cannot understand what has arisen,
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they burn,
Eyes that focus like a hawk,
And, upon your cross, the talk
Is again of death.
[1939. Spring]

VII
THE VERDICT

The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.

I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again. . .

But how. The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom (4)]

VIII
TO DEATH

You will come anyway – so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in
Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me glimpse
The house administrator’s terrified white face.
I don’t care anymore. The river Yenisey
Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.
[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]

IX

Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.

That’s when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
To it.

However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:

Not my son’s frightening eyes –
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms

Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom]

index 4.jpg

X
CRUCIFIXION

Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.

1.
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me!’
But to his mother, ‘Weep not for me. . .’
[1940. Fontannyi Dom]

2.
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
[1943. Tashkent]

EPILOGUE

1.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

2.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,

‘I arrive here as if I’ve come home!’
I’d like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
So,
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble words
I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing. Even in new grief.
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That’s how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition – do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar’s Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom]


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