Friday, May 30, 2014

Léirmheas de/Review of Ní Ghríofa

Cnuasach gearr dátheangach is ea Dordéan, do Chroí / A Hummingbird, your Heart (Smithereens Press, 2014) le Doireann Ní Ghríofa.  Is cosúil go bhfuil na dánta seo scríofa as Gaeilge i dtús báire agus ansin aistrithe ag an údar féin.  Is suimiúil an rud é nach ionann na bunleaganacha agus na haistriúcháin (sé sin le rá, thar na difríochtaí a bheadh ann in aon aistriúchán ar bith).  Mar shampla, sa teidealdhán, níl sé follasach sa leagan Béarla cé hé an duine a “sleep[s] in a tangled nest of wires” in “a plastic box” — cé gur cosúil go bhfuil an té sin san ospidéal.  Tá sí, lena croí mar dhordéan meafarach, idir beatha agus bás.  Duine aosta, b’fhéidir.  Ach sa leagan Gaeilge, is léir láithreach gur leanbh í: “An bhfanfaidh do dhordéan linn, a leanbh bán?”  Ceist mhór a tharraingíonn an léitheoir isteach.

As the poems in this collection appear to be loosely linked, it is clear that, unfortunately, the hummingbird, e.g. this baby’s heart, does in fact “seek the freedom of the skies.”  In the poem immediately following the above (“Swallows”), the speaker describes herself in the aftermath of this horrible event: “Stretched and stitched, / I lie empty, raw, alone / in the cold corridor of the hospital,” hope disappearing like swallows at sunset.  Thus, it quickly becomes known that death and grief are the overarching themes of this collection.  The poems in it rely heavily on metaphor (especially those of birds) and simile, as the speaker seeks solace in folklore (“Solace”) and poetry and art itself.  There is for example a short homage to Frida Kahlo, who lay “between life and death / . . . in her sickbed.”

Dán suntasach é “Crann” ina bhfuil an cainteoir amuigh sa bhforaois, tite in éadóchas, mar chineál Shuibhne Gealt: “Maisím mé féin le réalta reatha / idir ghéaga garbha.  Sáim mo chuid fréamhacha / i gcré na hóiche, súim súilíní drúchta.”  Sa bpíosa seo, tá gairis fuaime chun tosaigh — uaim agus comhfhuaim ghutaí.  De bharr nádúr na teangan, tá seo níos follasaí sa Ghaeilge, cé go ndéantar iarracht garmheastachán de a chruthú trí mheán an Bhéarla.  Agus éiriónn le Ní Ghríofa sa dá theanga, sa dán seo agus ar fud an leabhair.

Her attention to poetic craft is further emphasized in “Hagfish,” which is almost something like a short manifesto.  Here, she likens poets — female poets in particular — to “ancient snake sisters of the Delphic Sybil” and depicts them
devour[ing] rotting remains,
we scavenge on the strange,
stripping morsels of consonants
from crumbling corpses.
Again, soundplay is the fore, and this is a good example of it in an English version, where usually the Irish lends itself to this just slightly more readily.  Dordéan, do Chroí / A Hummingbird, your Heart ends with the short poem “Grandmother,” where death and new life meet (“Now I stand at your funeral, / newborn nestled into my neck”), and despite the gloomy circumstances there is some sense of hope realized after all.

Is file crógach tréitheach í Ní Ghríofa, agus is féidir an cnuasach iomlán seo a léamh ag an nasc thíos.

This collection can be read in its entirety, for free, here:

Thursday, May 01, 2014

David Stone, The Crystal Prism

Cover art: Guido Vermeulen

David Stone’s new collection The Crystal Prism is published by Giant Steps Press. I wrote the Preface, which I reproduce below in hopes that it will spur you to consider buying the book itself:


A new book from David Stone is a notable event. Stone’s poetry is anomalous. He is “experimental” in style but cannot be classified with any particular faction of the present avant-garde. In fact, his work is eminently accessible in that it often resembles straightforward prose. There is a subject, a verb, an object — the suggestion of some narrative. This is deceiving. Like in Samuel Beckett, the narrative never really quite happens. The false satisfaction of “closure” fails to come about. Stone’s art is realist in technique, in its construction, like Dalí’s paintings are realist in technique. It is the elements that Stone, like Dalí, renders, the unexpected juxtapositions he creates in his work, that lead to cognitive strangeness. Suddenly we notice that this is nowhere close to prose; it is always poetry (the short, enjambed lines should have given this away in the first place!), but poetry of a heretofore unimagined sort.

The Crystal Prism combines aspects of myth and history in a contemporary context. The Minotaur, Pegasus, Anubis are all here. What do they signify? Often death, or the ways that people deal with death, or the ways in which they seek to access the other world. But this is not some Romantic recapitulation of the old myths.  These are figures transported to twentieth- and twenty-first-century landscapes ravaged by war and thus transformed. Time and culture are blurred. A desolate Chicago in “Transportation” (and throughout this collection) at times bears a resemblance to Nazi concentration camps or Soviet gulags. A pterodactyl (an extinct species) in “Travelers” flies from Russia to New York City tenements, retracing the journey of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. In poems like “The Jazz Mind” and “The Crystal Band,” the personage who listens to “jazz” (which oddly emphasizes woodwinds and xylophones and at times alludes to “the Danube”) seems actually to inhabit a dream-like land of the dead.

This is highly political poetry. It is (among other things) about the ways in which oppressors destroy culture and human feeling in order to impose their own rule. In “The Prism,” there are “Ordinary citizens arrested / in public places” — not very much different from what is happening today, if we observe the recent goings-on in Zuccotti Park, Taksim Park, Tahrir Square, etc. “The Kaliningrad Depository” highlights an analogous dynamic in the history of that city, which as a spoil of war was transformed from a center of culture into a toxic waste-infested fortress of unlivable concrete blocks. The poem “The Jackal” begins with the ominous lines, “In the shelled library. . . .” Stone in The Crystal Prism (and for that matter in all of his work) reflects the psychological position of the oppressed, but resists oppression by positing the values of art and knowledge. For example, in “The Vision of the Dunes,” though “capital ISMS,” a “chemical processing plant,” and a Holocaust survivor’s tattooed number all suggest the threat of ugliness and death, “The transposited earth / felt the fire / of Rothko’s huge, black canvas.” Now feel the fire of poetry.