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Reversifying Rimbaud

Tuesday, 10 August 2021 at 16:35

No Text

My article "Reversifying Rimbaud", about the writing of my narrative sequence on the poet's life after he gave up poetry and became a trader and gun-runner in Africa has just been published on the Royal Literary Fund website:

https://www.rlf.org.uk/showcase/reversifying-rimbaud/

The sequence RE:VERB will appear from Broken Sleep Books in 2021. French Leave: versions and perversions which includes my translations and adaptations from Rimbaud and many other French poets is due from Broken Sleep in 2022. Some of those versions can be found on the website under the translation pages.

Incoming

Friday, 16 July 2021 at 10:47

Jenin after shelling by Israeli army, 2002



Continuing the theme of Palestinian / Israeli confict,here are a couple more poems from a long-ago trip to Israel.







Shaheed

 

Other side of that great new Wall,
the deconstructed town (90,000 souls)
half-stands: crunchy rubble, tutting choppers;
street-arabs dodge that tank-track sound.

What’s left is mainly walls. Jenin.
The not-quite-fallen lean
on each other, sketch a corner, put a hearth
in parenthesis, bracket off a bath.

And what’s left of many walls is sky
or a vision of laser-printed saints:
A4 martyrs aimed at Heaven,
an apotheosis bristling AK47s.

One scrawny generation thought
Charles Atlas; now, after pics
show pecs pumped with ironmongery,
bigged up, lumpy

with whole hardware bins of nails.
Hard enough for Allah,
flashgunned brief hours before their fame.
One, from where the new Wall

slices olive groves,
wears that green headband.
God’s élite – no one kicks sand
in this commando’s face.

Streetside galleries of the Shaheed:
Hamas. Fatah. Jihad – a verse
from the Qur’an bleeds through screen-grabs,
heroic deeds they’ll ink to light.

....ripped-up roots, a lonely boot,
the snap of wasp-striped tape;
fluorescent crews harvesting the red
communal fruit from sticky tarmac.

Faces strobed: the shadow’s veil,
the siren’s call to oxyacetylene prayer.
Something close to history
hanging in newly-stung air.

You’ve seen this face: bespectacled,
studious in the freshers’ photo.
A little out of focus,
fuzzy with an idea of beard.

Or snapped a year or two back:
that graduation trip to Al-Quds,
aka Yerushalayim.

In the background, Al Aqsa:
just like the poster – that blinding mosque,
sun detonating on its golden rim.

*

Incoming

Hizbullah, exhilarated, exhaling Allahu Akbar!
as rocket launchers whoosh Katushkas

…over the border, in the olives,
you rely on the nearby Jewish village’s siren,
wind in the right direction…

[South-facing shelters,
the hillside’s tachycardia.
Out of here, all clear, you’ll be lucky
to be breathing walls, your neighbour’s dust.]

… to give you maybe one thousand heartbeats
or one hundred shallow breaths to find
your wife, mother and her granddaughter:
Fatima on the rooftop hanging washing;
Zeinab scooping Leila from the garden

Building Jerusalem

Friday, 16 July 2021 at 10:13

No TextIsraeli security forces take positions during clashes with Palestinians in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, June 18, 2021.

Building Jerusalem

Ten measures of beauty gave God to the world; nine to Jerusalem and one to the remainder.

Ten measures of sorrow gave God to the world; nine to Jerusalemand one to the remainder.

The Talmud

 

Two Voices

You’ve seen that poster? The young Israeli soldier’s
burying his prayer here in the Wailing Wall.
His rifle’s slung at his elbow, stock tipped
from the strap, bow-strung from his shoulder.
These huge stones make us all feel small.

Above and beyond is al-Haram al-Sharif.
Another poster, the Tourist Office’s, makes
that gold mosque’s rising dome the must-see sight.
Up there, Abraham quivered with his knife;
Mohammed ascended a staircase of light.

Temple Mount’s out of bounds to Jews
by their own Holy Law, and off-limits to non-Muslims
these last tense weeks. Security’s real tight,
so I’m sticking out among the Hasidim
in their old country, old century, black and white.

The bus rattles through the sun-struck shtetl.
Last week, another martyr blasted off to heaven
right here – dressed as a Haredi, I heard:
black coat, white shirt, black suit, the broad-brimmed hat.
I’m guessing he already had the beard.

And, undercover of that black black suit,
that newly-laundered winding-sheet of shirt,
doubtless beat a very special heart:
one that knew injustice, indignity, spite,
or grew sour at some subtler private hurt.

One sullen spark, long fanned, may start
God’s love to smoulder in any heart.
One day that love may burst into flame
with such force the soul escapes
its cage of ribs and rips your world apart.

He was raptured up right through this bus’s roof:
this jagged crescent’s a witness to his light.
Small stars now stud the dark where rivets
discovered their holy vocation, shunned the night
and aimed themselves at sky, his moon.

Bedeck the walls, the deck is flower-strewn,
confettiblown: the petals and stems of washers, bolts,
sprays of glass, bouquets of skin; the ecstasy
of flesh dispensing with the need to be;
the jolt of bodies beside themselves in joy.

He came. He went. An exemplary life. He undressed
himself right down to the marrow of his soul,
took nothing with him, bequeathed his companions all.
Yet powerfully persuaded his Mitteleuropäischer guests,
who have come so far, to strip off their Sabbath best,

and dance, here in the hot Middle Eastern sun.
And now even those wallflowers, too shy
to hang up their long black coats, can’t help themselves
– they’re nodding heads and hats and beards.
Soon they’ll be fingerclicking, toe-tapping,

getting down and dirty to the beat.
And on this bus now trembling at the busy stop
as you fumble on the step for change, who knows
what may have caused another drummer’s heart
to quicken while the diesel ticks?

Yod

Thursday, 24 June 2021 at 20:22

Megiddo, Israel

I've not posted for some time. So, I'll try to catch up over next few days and weeks.

Listening to the recent news from Israel reminded me of a series of poems I wrote after a visit there several years ago.

Megiddo is better known to us as Armageddon, site of an ancient Canaanite city and Biblical prophecy. This poem is part of a sequence Yod set in Israel during the Intifada which appeared in Pilgrim Tongues (Wrecking Ball, 2015).

Megiddo Junction

Route 66 forks off.
West Bank: Jenin’s just a stone’s throw east,
half-bulldozed, curfewed by the IDF.

Assyrians, Egyptians, Ottomans, British,
all yomped through here. Slid their arms
round Israel’s impossibly tiny waist.

Now the iron corset pinches - Green Line, Intifada -
cinches waist to an hour-glass these lines in sand
run through. One click north, it’s Armageddon:

camel’s hump or monk’s scruffy tonsure.
From the bald patch, look out where Jordan’s
just smudged horizon: the Valley of Jezreel’s

blunt with haze. Down there, all green bits fade.
It’s 40 in the shade. There is no shade.

*

She unplugs the plastic tappet, glugs water
from its blue-ridged shell. Hot as hell, you unstick
shirt from skin, wipe sweat from inside straw hat.

Nothing said. Displacement activities.
Blind fingers trace words. This rock’s
a palimpsest that’s thirty cities deep…

Lizards skedaddle. Stop. Beadily check
you out; or drop to breathless reps. Press-ups.
Khaki fatigues merge with dust or dark.

Little sun-driven engines discover fissures,
skitter off on erratic missions into stone,
seeking tunnels, caverns, water-courses…

It all began round here, you think: Big Bang,
the One True... and then that other thing...

*
You watch as what slipped skin through rock ghosts back.
Now tiny restless dynamos materialize;
you see saurians play tricks with their stored-up thunder.

Basilisks. Blood cool from rivers underground,
stripped to nerve, low bump, mere lobe,
they outstare, throb with something ancient, limbic.

Your mind’s on rifts, cracked stone, hind-brains;
things contrary, strange; cloven or twinned;

things winged yet featherless; mythic, primeval;
that crossroads where what slid, crawled, or crept
met the newly and clumsily bipedal.

Back at the car, you’re already headed north.
A dragonfly shimmers on the aerial’s stamen.
She turns the key; unwinds the road to Nazareth.

 

 

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