Saturday, 29 June 2013



It was when or because she became two kinds

of mad, both a feral nail biting into a plank

and a deranged screw cranking into a wood beam,

the aunt—I shouldn’t say her name,

went at the fullest hour of the night,

the moon there like an unflowered bulb

in a darkness like mud, or covered in darkness

as a bulb or skull is covered in mud,

the small brown aunt who, before she went mad,

taught herself to carpenter and unhinged,

in her madness, the walls she claimed

were bugged with a tiny red-eyed device

planted by the State or Satan’s agents, ghosts

of atheists, her foes, or worse, the walls

were full of the bugs she believed crawled

from her former son-in-law’s crooked mouth,

the aunt, who knows as all creatures know,

you have to be rooted in something tangible

as wood if you wish to dream in peace,

took her hammer with its claw like a mandible

to her own handmade housing humming,

“I don’t know why God keeps blessing me,”

softly madly, and I understood, I was with her

when the pallbearers carried a box

made of mahogany from her church to a hearse

to a hole in the earth, it made me think

of the carpenter ant who carries within its blood

an evolved self-destructive property, and on its face

mandibles twice the size of its body,

and can carry on its back, as I have seen on tv,

a rotted bird or branch great distances

to wherever the queen is buried--Kingdom:

Animalia, Phylum: Arthropoda, Tribe: Camponotini,

the species that lives on wood is, like mud, rain,

and time, the carpenter’s enemy, yes,

but I would love to devour the house I live in

until it is a permanent part of me,

I would love to shape, as Perumthachan,

the master sculptor, carpenter and architect

of India is said to have shaped, a beautiful tree

into the coffin in which I am to be buried,

I know whatever we place in a coffin, the coffin

remains empty, I know nothing buried is buried,

I don’t know why God keeps blessing me,

I don’t know why God keeps blessing me.

poem copyright Terrance Hayes, 2013. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Guest Review: Hirschhorn on North African Literature

Norbert Hirschhorn reviews
Poems for the Millennium [Volume 4]
The University of California Book of North
African Literature, edited by Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour, 2012

This is the fourth volume in the series, Poems for the Millennium, begun by Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris under the imprint of the University of California. The first published in 1995 is titled Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry from Fin-de-Siécle to Negritude; the second (1998), subtitled From Postwar to Millennium; the third (with Jeffrey C. Robinson as co-editor, 2009) presented Romantic & Postromantic Poetry. The series gives prominence to writers both within and outside the western canon, with emphases on political engagement and experimental forms, including poetic prose. Each omnium-gatherum is 700-900 pages long.

In the introduction to the first volume the editors describe their project ambitiously as a “global anthology of twentieth-century modernism with an emphasis on those international and national movements that have tried to change the direction of poetry and art as a necessary condition for changing the ways in which we think and act as human beings”. Each volume presents ‘forerunners’ or preludes: poets from whom modern poetry takes inspiration. The editors write lengthy introductions to many of the sections and provide following commentaries for nearly every author presented.

The fourth volume, “incubating” for a quarter-century, as the editors tell us, is organized similarly but focussing on a region that is home to one of the editors, a region whose literature has been little seen in the West. The area stretches from Libya to Morocco and Western Sahara/Mauritania, known in the Arabic world as the Maghreb (the West) as opposed to the Mashreq (the East). Where the first three volumes are divided into ‘galleries’, the fourth presents the diwan, Arabic for gathering or anthology. The volume’s unofficial title is Diwan Ifrikiya.) The introductions are a splendid resource for understanding the history, culture, context and prosody of the works, coming from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. All
the works have been translated into English, sometimes via a French rendering of an original in Arabic. What is ‘lost in translation’ is more than compensated for by our discovery of such a treasury of poetry seldom encountered in the West.

An introduction to the anthology (‘A Book of Multiple Beginnings’) presents excerpts spanning one thousand years, from the sixth B.C.E. on, featuring such writers as Apuleius (‘The Golden Ass’), Callimachus and his epigrammatic poems, Tertullian, and St. Augustine, all writing in Latin. The sly poem by Luxorius of Carthage, sixth century C.E., ‘Premature Chariot’, is worth quoting in whole: ‘You always shoot out
first and never last, Vico,/ because you need to get hold of that part/ you’ve softened with your pitiful, constant stroking./ The only time you’re able to, somehow, hold/ your horses is when you let the sly  guy,/who’s paid you off, come from behind.’

The First Diwan gives work coming after the Islamic conquest of North Africa and the apex of cultural glory that was Muslim Andalusia in southern Spain. It was there that the muwashshaha developed, strophic verse poetry sung in classical Arabic, often accompanied by musical instruments. The form influenced the troubadour poetry of southern France, as well as the zajal of the Levantine -- still heard today – that
instead used the vernacular. There would be centuries of conflict between the language of the indigenous Berbers (Amazigh) and Arabic, between classical and demotic Arabic, both premonitory to that between Arabic and French and Spanish languages of the later colonialists. The oral tradition is presented in transliteration throughout the anthology, comprising fables, poem-songs, and proverbs. We are invited to chant the prayer-song composed by Abdeslam Ibn Mashish Alami of Tangier (1163-1228).

Women, too, were writing in the golden era of al-Andalus though their public authorship does not reappear until the 20th century. They are bold: Wallada bint al-Mustakfi (994-1091) of Cordoba teases a lover: ‘Ibn Zaidun, though a man of quality, loves the unbent rods in mens trousers./ If he saw a joystick dangling from a palm tree he’d fly after it like a craving bird’. The Jewish Kabala has its origins in Andalusia, and well-known devotions and poems in acrostic form come from this time.

The Second Diwan comprises mainly prose, interspersed with poetry, written by genteel scholars to edify a literate audience on customs and social graces of foreign peoples. Still read are the travel diaries and   journals, the most famous of which is by Ibn Battuta (1304-1369) who voyaged over thirty years from his home in Tangier all the way to China. His accounts are far more informative than those of Marco Polo.
Equally enlightening to his time and ours are the travel diaries of Al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad al- Wazzan al-Fasi known to the West by his baptised name of Leo Africanus (1488-1554).

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) from Tunis and Cairo wrote on the craft of poetry anticipating Mallarmé’s dictum, [C]e n’est point avec des idées que l’on fait des vers…. C’est avec des mots” by writing “Both poetry and prose work with words, and not with ideas. The ideas are secondary to the words. The words are basic.” And: “Poetry is eloquent speech built upon metaphoric usage, and descriptions.”

The Third Diwan is titled ‘The Long Sleep and the Slow Awakening’. The excerpts demonstrate the “stagnation of literary genres” between the 14th-19th centuries, following the fall of Granada in 1492 to the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella. Cultural output was further stunted by the Ottoman Empire rule. In its place, however, rose popular verse and song – devotions of love and chivalry called the melhun – still
performed today.

The Fourth Diwan (‘Resistance and Road to Independence’) however, signals the reawakening at the time of colonisation by Spain, Italy and France in the late 19th - mid -20th centuries. Brutal wars in favour of independence and against post-colonial dictatorships led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. We still feel the reverberations in our era’s so-called ‘Arab Spring’. Francophone poets were inspired by French literature, Sahwari by Spanish, and yet were at the forefront of resistance to colonial rule.

The Algerian Jean Sénac (1926-1973) was one of the most prolific and articulate of North African poets, writing politically inspired poems (‘Dawn Song of My People’, ‘The July Massacres’. In ‘News in Brief’ Sénac writes: ‘Bidonvilles bidonvilles/ in the thistles anger/ builds its nest/ bidonville// One night a scream in the city/ freedom/ a thousand tigers lying in wait/ awake the stubborn foreheads…. Whose fault/ a man’s/ accused of screaming/ accused of killing// It’s but an abscess draining/ bidonvilles/ freedom// It’s but an ear of wheat rising/ in the blood/ toward the good.’ Sénac was assassinated. Murder of poets is an instrument of oppression around the world, carried out by dictatorial regimes and by religious fundamentalists alike. The
first opposes any insurrection; the other all modernity.

Although Martinique-born, psychiatrist Franz Fanon (1925-1961) is better known as an Algerian, author of ‘Wretched of the Earth’, writing on the psychopathology of colonialism. In the excerpt from ‘On National Culture’ he severely criticises the “colonized intellectual” who instead of returning to some nostalgic prelapsarian past must use literary talents to galvanize the people who are oppressed now. A poet who
responded to this call was Kateb Yacine (1929-1989), of Berber ancestry, who created a powerful Maghrebian vernacular literature for every medium.

The Fifth Diwan comes in two parts, both titled, ‘Make It New: The Invention of Independence.’ Authors are presented by country, dealing with colonial and postcolonial violence and oppression – the‘poetry of responsibility’– up to and including the current ‘Arab Revolution’, which had its start in Tunisia. (Between the sections are works by notional exiles such as Paul Bowles, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Berque.)

Many of the poets risked or lost their lives in speaking truth to power. Tahar Bekri defied the oppressors: ‘All these leaves that fall to the tyranny/ Of winter don’t prevent the bird from perching// On the branches free and invincible/ His song fed on snow and sun’. Moncef Mezghanni excoriated poets who toady up to the regime, seduced by golden pens and silver inkwells, ‘and finally a pile of paper money’. The mother of one such poet interrupts his public reading by shouting ‘With a duck’s feather/ he used to write poems of gold,/ but with a golden pen/ he has only written/ a duck’s speech’.

Abdelkrim Tabbal expresses with bitter irony the dreadful risk to a poet writing under a viciously oppressive regime: ‘We sit down around a table in the café/ and suddenly the café is a tomb/ We sip the small glass of coffee, the coffee is blood/ We watch the waiter, he is a torturer/ We look at the spoon stuck in the glass/ the spoon is a mic’ (‘Happiness’). The splendid work of Abdellatif Laâbi, has just now been brought into English with recent translations by André Naffis-Sahely. Laâbi is a pioneer of Maghrebian poetry, a founder of the avant-garde journal (Souffles). His efforts and art cost him eight years in prison. We were privileged to meet and hear him at The Mosaic Rooms in Earl’s Court this earlier this year, with sponsorship by the Poetry Translation Centre.

Abdelmajid Benjelloun writes aphoristically. ‘If you want to know how Arabs love, watch them listening to Oum Koultoum’ (‘The Flute of Origins, Or the Taciturn Dance’). Mohammed Bennis reminds one of Wallace Stevens in ‘Seven Birds’; six with different colours, the last ‘colourless’ but most compellingly: ‘Where light unites with vibration/ A draft that startles/ Its visitor with a wing whose recurrent glitter/ Is
ever-changing and I can see it from a distance’.

More women are now writing and being published who represent the lyric tradition. They should become equally well known. Among others: Ouidad Benmoussa (‘I am created by a kiss/ For me to dwell in you/ No ocean in my eyes/ But waves/ No spring in my hands but sound’.); Touria Majdouline (‘Your silence is exhausting/ The choke became heavier/ The bridge – to you – longer/ So may I leave/ Or can you spare/
Some time for speech?’); Waafa Lamrani (‘In the morning/ at the hour when birds head in the direction of the ocean/ disarray takes me in the form/ of startled happiness’); Rashida Madani (‘We never drew up a pact with the desert/ we set loose hostile camels there/ near the outlines of false cities/ constructed on mirages’).
From Libya comes our colleague living in Michigan, Khaled Mattawa, writing world poetry in Arabic and English, and providing translation of fellow Arab poets, such as Adonis and Mahmoud Darwish. He inspires other bilingual writers, such as Fady Joudah, to bring Arab poets to our attention.

The poetic styles displayed here are resolutely modern, seldom ironic or confessional, but still drawing on centuries-old antecedents. Anaphorae and declamations abound, forms of chanting true to the ancient oral tradition. The lines are short, often one or two words long, which evokes the way traditional Arab poets shouted out to applause at each line. Extreme metaphors are commonly used, such as Ashur Etwebi’s
‘vagabond clouds have picked your apple and the song has lost its virginity…the pomegranate of the soul leans over my body’ (‘Of Solitude and a Few Other Matters’).

It is a trope promulgated by the Syrian poet Adonis, and Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, where the more distant the relation between two disparate subjects (tenor and vehicle), the better. One obstacle for ‘western’ readers’ full appreciation is that the  works employ such ancient and honoured imagery: camels, oases, desert, sea, open sky and horizon, birds of prey, the sufi mystical tradition and ecstasy; and the special eroticism that comes in a conservative society as typified by the qasida love poem: the absence of the loved one from a deserted campground.

In a representative anthology such as this, only one or a brief sample of works per writer is given, and some just in fragments; it is like a huge buffet of mezze, to be indulged in slowly to avoid satiation. It is, however, necessary for its introduction to the Anglophone world. The editors’ commentaries are useful in explaining the biographic details, as well as the social and political context, but seldom serve well as critiques of the works themselves. And since none supplied, the reader should consult a detailed map of the region to identify the places the poets come from.  One hopes that the series ‘Poems for the Millennium’ continues, and brings us the riches of another part of the world yet less revealed.

Hirschhorn is a world-renowned medical doctor credited with saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in Africa with his new techniques, as well as a poet and critic based in the UK.

Monday, 24 June 2013


Wow - Paddington Bear would have loved to get his paws on this shop's books on the fabled Portobello road he so loved to visit...



Monday  1st July

Evening: 7 pm-8 pm: Eyewear party, with reading by Mark Ford

Tuesday 2nd July   

Day readers: 2.30 pm, Leah Fritz; 3.30 pm, Kimberly Campanello; 4 pm, Christopher Reid;  4.30 pm, Astrid Alben

Wednesday 3rd July

Day readers: 1.30 pm, Tim Dooley; 2.30 Tim Wells; 3 pm, Fiona Curran; 3 pm Andrew Motion; 4 pm, Sandeep Parmar & James Byrne 

Evening: Flipped Eye event:

6 pm: Sarah Westcott – runner up in the first Venture Award, reading from her new pamphlet Inklings for followed by Q&A/signing.

6.45pm Introducing The mouthmark Book of Poetry – a hardback anthology of all the single-author pamphlets produced under the mouthmark series, including Jacob Sam-La Rose’s Communion, Denise Saul’s White Narcissi, Inua Ellams’ 13 Fairy Negro Tales and Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth

Thursday 4th July  

Day readers: 3.30 pm, Anthony Howell; 5 pm, Harry Man; 5.30 pm, Michael Horovitz and friend

Evening: 6.30 pm, Laura Del Rivo and Cathi Unsworth

Laura Del Rivo has been living in the Portobello Road area for over fifty years. She still runs a market stall. In 2011 Five Leaves reissued her debut novel, The Furnished Room (1961; filmed by Michael Winner in 1963 as West 11): ‘an evocative taste of black-coffee blues ... a perfect encapsulation of that shady, shifting Ladbroke Grove on the cusp of profound social change’ (Guardian). She has a story in the new Salt anthology of Best British Short Stories 2013, and a new collection will be published by Holland Park Press this year.

Cathi Unsworth is also a local author. Her novels include Bad Penny Blues, an exploration of the unsolved ‘Jack the Stripper’ murders of eight working girls in along the Thames in the1960s, The Not Knowing and The Singer (‘Cathi Unsworth has written the Great Punk Novel’ – David Peace). Her most recent novel, The Weirdo, was published in paperback in June. In the book of essays on London Fictions (Five Leaves, 2013) she writes on Lynne Reid Banks’s The L-Shaped Room (1960). 

Friday 5th July

Day readers: 1 pm; Tamar Yoseloff ; 1.30 pm, John Greening; 3.30 pm, Steven Fowler; 4 pm, Michael Horovitz

Qu’importe maintenant?

Aufgabe 12

Featuring poetry in translation from Quebec
guest edited by Oana Avasilichioaei

What does it matter now? What matters now? What is the matter now? What is now’s matter? All possible transversions of Jean-Marc Desgent’s questioning title Qu’importe maintenant? Works by the following fourteen writers, presented in American and Canadian English translations from the Quebecois French by twelve translators, are possible responses:
     Geneviève Desrosiers
     Benoit Jutras
     Nicole Brossard
     Chantal Neveu
     Franz Schürch
     Suzanne Leblanc
     Steve Savage
     Philippe Charron
     Renée Gagnon
     Daniel Canty
     François Turcot
     Martine Audet
     Kim Doré
     Jean-Marc Desgent

To check out the issue or purchase a copy go to:



The meaning is there, if that's what you want.
(Merce Cunningham)

Shades of silence, and the ear
asks questions the mind can't answer.

Taking a turn filling a temporal frame,
something anonymous that now has a name

is reading the mirror, a face
returning once again to a place

where truth could have been shared out when
curating gardens a child was planted in.

Circumstance removed the born centre,
took out the fixed point to enter

other rooms, now sensing conscience
in this space, in its absence.

Seán Street

Seán Street has produced eight collections, the latest of which, Cello, was published in 2013 by Rockingham Press. His latest prose work is The Poetry of Radio – The Colour of Sound.  Previous writings include books on Gerard Manley Hopkins and The Dymock Poets. He is currently working on a book exploring the relationship between sound and memory, to be published in late 2014. He is Emeritus Professor of Radio at Bournemouth University. In this role he has written several key texts on radio history, including A Concise History of British Radio, The Historical Dictionary of British Radio and Crossing the Ether – Public Service Radio and Commercial Competition 1920 -1939.


The Way In

After M. R. James’s ghost story, “The Mezzotint,” the picture of

the mansion watched for change becomes the camera view on

internet, where anyone may go and view the entrance to a home.

They’ll not stop there but scroll along the edges of the scene, to

follow curves of driveways, walks or, now emboldened, cut across

the lawn, find entry through a window to our private lives.


Morgan Harlow is the author of Midwest Ritual Burning (Eyewear Publishing, 2012). She is at work on a novel, An Interview with Joey Lobos, and a second collection of poems.


A WORK IN PROGRESS... I am writing this first part on the eve of New Year's Eve day - and as new remembrances come to me, I may well...