‘Lament’ Recorded at the Smock Alley Theatre

I received this morning the sound files for a performance of Lament that occurred at the Smock Alley Theatre, as part of the 2012 Béal Festival. My thanks to Elizabeth Hilliard and David Bremner for programming the piece.

Friday Afternoon – part 3.wav

Containing:

Christine Murray: Lament (for three female voices) (performed by Dove Curpen, Réiltín Ní Charthaigh Dúill and Emilie Champenois; also with thanks to Rita Barror for organising and reading-through) (first performance)


Beal2012

Crown Of Thorns by Bethany W Pope


Crown of Thorns by Bethany W. Pope

Oneiros Books 2013

Crown Of Thorns by Bethany W. Pope is published under the Oneiros Books imprint. This is not an easy book to read. Ultimately it is a tale of triumph against war, where  war is child sexual abuse, rejection, and alienation. Throughout Crown Of Thorns there is a sense of profound hope and strong unshakeable faith.

Bethany Pope uses an imagery and symbolism in Crown of Thorns that is bloody, battered, estranged, and sometimes terrifying. Corridors, umbilici, and torn flesh form the vast part of the imagery, with water and earth less spoken but always present. Crown Of Thorns is a testament of survival and endurance sited in a complex construction that requires some explanation.

Divisions in Crown Of Thorns

There are four major divisions in Crown Of Thorns, Crown of Thorns, House Of Masks, Rabbit Trap, and Bloodlines: An Emperor’s Crown. Within each division are series of poems excavating both familial and personal history. The series are broken into sonnet groups, some of which are acrostic.

The opening section of the book eponymously titled Crown Of Thorns comprises two separate threads (or cords) Joy and John. The section is 15 sonnets long, alternating between two groups of seven sonnets under each heading that become entwined in Sonnet #15. Crown Of Thorns forms the foundation of the book proper. The major themes of survival and abuse are herein introduced.

The themes of this opening section of the book are taken up throughout the other previously named divisions, House of Masks,  Rabbit Trap and Bloodlines. Pope maintains a careful balance in the foundational and introductory parts of her book. She explores and ultimately accepts the damage of war on the body, and its survival in the final part of the book Bloodlines: An Emperor’s Crown.

Pope has intricately embroidered her major themes throughout the fabric of the book. She will pick up and repeat phrases in different sonnets, most especially in  Bloodlines: An Emperor’s Crown, which is more assured and deftly handled than the earlier sections. Bloodlines is cumulative, thus the most difficult set of themes to render poetically.

The achievement of this book is for the writer, who has honed her craft to attain her mature poetic voice. This, she achieves through her use of structure, structural underpinning in the form of acrostic sonnets, and a developed use of symbolism that interweaves its way through each titled or numbered section. The use of  the symbolism of the umbilicus, the corridor, the tunnel, the eye , and water is very evident in the final section of the book through Crown 2: The Ancestors, Crown 3: Alchemy, and Blood Jewels. These named sections form the final part of the book, titled Bloodlines, An Emperor’s Crown.

Symbols In Crown of Thorns

Crown Of Thorns is set out as a Bildungsroman, or more properly a pilgrimage. The book is confessional, as it is a testament of victory over war. War is the torn body and soul of the victim of child abuse, war in the experience of neglect and poverty. The deepest victory is in Pope’s admittance to herself that the battle is never entirely won. It begins anew each day with the ‘Dream that bursts when eyelids open.’

Some of Pope’s material is traumatic to read and to think about. Her most intense victory therefore is in how she has achieved compression of her traumatic themes through her use of poetic form, and in how she has explored and set out those themes through sure use of symbol.

Soil, earth, water and the dark blood of birthing mingle their acids into an existence that is always questing for right and truth. The umbilicus, that dark binding cord of ancestry binds the victims of family through change of place and of time,

13.

‘The corridors run, binding us together
out of glistening blue and red wires.’

Crown 3: Alchemy (Bloodlines)

Bloodlines makes liberal use of the acrostic form spelling out a history, which I read as an SOS. Bethany is born, only purity is my tough refusal to, sell my poor soul, and so on. It is a morse-code of distress hammered into sonnets of sure structure and strong voice. I found myself trying to avoid the acrostics as much as possible to get to the meat of the work, although the acrostic sonnets form the tough outer skin of the poetry- the rind.

Joy: Thorns

Growing flesh around the darkened hole death springs from,
the bark hardens around the hollow in the bole,
the secret place you love for no known reason.
Dressed in a chiton, playing the role of nymphic
servant to unseen Pan, you slide into the loamy darkness,
your wood-rot scented hide. Adolescent haunches
squat in soft soil. You have a shepherd’s pie you bought
with two week’s allowance. Treated bamboo and garish
dyed bands, producing a sound your mind makes melodious.
The tree speaks with the borrowed breath of a wounded girl.
Saturday is for hiding, drawing strength from the earth.
Sundays still belong to grampy, his evil, elderly
entitlement; right of patriarchy to penetrate
beyond the heart of innocence, which grows no armor-bark.

by Bethany W Pope

Poems from ‘Of Dead Silences’ by Michael McAloran

Of The-

Head of death

The seasons dissipate as if they
Had never collected tears

A dissolving sky
Soil sieved through fingers

The silent laughter of the blood

Nothing More-

Ruins of the foreign sky
From which point all are dead

Smears of dying animals upon clear glass
The flies will gather, nothing more

100_2738

Ignites-

A blindfold of congealed earth
The dead drown of inverted tears

Lacking the light
By which the night ignites the living

Upon-

Brute flesh shocks the nothing back
Into resolve

And is then pissed upon

100_2754

Silences-

Heart of desolate
In a vice of flesh

Nowhere else/ nowhere/ nothing less
The winds erased having tasted ashes

Echoes of non-being
Inexplicable silences

Champion-

Dark hollow
The sky unearthed

One final breath to champion the infinite

100_2757

Ever-

Haven to begin from
Scarlet striking out striking the dirt

With liquid hands
As if it could have ever begun otherwise

II

#9-

Echo within echo within shadow of…
Absence/ walls/ flames/ still breath alone

Pantheon of carousel/ of vertigo/ of absences

Night’s undoing was never night
Hence the laughter forever ceases to be

#14-

Danse of polka winds…night undone/
Night flourishing…

Silent retrace of bone/ vapours/ memories

Immense sky of non-death/ nothing lessened
Razor absences/ peeling away the bloodlessness

#15-

Hollowed tongue…winds dealt/ silenced
Dread lest the fingers break/ (only the elapsed)

Sing elixir of non-speech/ mouth full of dry sands
Leaving behind the drapery of skinned tide

#18-

Adrift…a visage of mists…(dead unto breath)/ arbitrary
Vault of wasps/ colours/ discoloured skin/ emptily

Night of vague breathing/ unheard voices/ voices heard

Stillness of forgotten sky/ there or here again/ cast aside
Buried sun/ sky/ sun of ashen waste/ teeth of nothingness

#19-

Waste ground/ flies of haste/ silver voices/ decay
Black tongue of…wasted wounds of…soundless again

Arise dead/ so much the/ dread/ silenced/ birthed
Evaporating tongue of/ erased/ better never/ never to have been

100_2738

All the images accompanying the poems from Of Dead Silences (Lapwing 2013) are © Michael McAloran (Acrylic on unprimed canvas, 2012)
Michael Mc Aloran was Belfast born, (1976). His work has appeared in various print and online zines, including Carcinogenic Poetry, Calliope Nerve, The Recusant, PMI, Sex & Murder Magazine, Full Of Crow, Media Virus, In Between Altered States, Horror, Sleaze & Trash, Negative Suck, Graffiti Kolkata, Pratishedhak, Prathamata, Danse Macabre, amphibi.us, The Plebian Rag, Full of Crow, Gloom Cupboard, Gutter Eloquence, 1000th Monkey, Fashion For Collapse, Fragile Arts Quarterly, Clockwise Cat, Sein Und Werden, Peripheral Surveys, Milk Sugar Literary Journal, Psychic Meatloaf, Cannoli Pie, The Medulla Review, Counterexample Poetics, Heavy Bear, Indigo Rising, Widowmoon Press, Nothing, No-one, Nowhere, Mastodon Dentist, Gobbet, Ink Sweat & Tears, Ygdrasil, Establishment, Stride, A New Ulster, Primal Urge Magazine, Can Can, etc.He has authored a number of chapbooks, including ‘The Gathered Bones’, (Calliope Nerve Media), ‘Final Fragments’, (Calliope Nerve Media), & ‘The Death-Streaked Air’ (Virgogray Press), ‘Debris’, (Erbacce-Press),‘The Rapacious Night‘, (Calliope Nerve Media),’, & ‘Unto Naught’, (Erbacce-Press). A full-length collection of poems, ‘Attributes’, was published by ‘Desperanto’, (NY), in May 2011, & ‘The Non Herein’ was published by Lapwing Publications in 2012. An ekphrastic text/ image book, ‘Machinations’ was published in 2013 by Knives, Forks & Spoons Press (U.K). More recently, two further collections, ‘In Damage Seasons’ & ‘All Stepped/ Undone’ were published by Oneiros Books. Lapwing Publications also recently published a collection of imagistic aphorisms, ‘Of Dead Silences’

Snake by Leonora Carrington

Snake

Crowned as the serpents
 
In the Kingdom of the mind
Often are.
 
Where is the pyramid
Of her body placed?
 
A mnemonic device
To navigate the reptilian brain.
 
Bare it in mind
Bare it in mind.
 
Snake poem and image by Leonora Carrington , from Leonora Carrington; The Celtic Surrealist (IMMA, Dublin

leonora_carrington_5431_640x480

leonoracarrington

The accompanying Leonora Carrington image is entitled Ulu’s Pants (1952) and is on the IMMA website advertising, Leonora Carrington; The Celtic Surrealist. The exhibition runs from 18 September 2013 – 26 January 2014, at the Garden Galleries, IMMA, Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin 8.

I went, I will probably go again. Details about the exhibition and the paintings are available at the IMMA Site.

Transverse threads, two women poets and Homer

09bOswald.jpgpenne

The weft of  Margaret Atwoods The Penelopiad is contained in and revealed through the chorus-line voiced by the twelve maids who were hung by Telemachus on Odysseus’ orders after they returned. Margaret Atwood runs the chorus-line throughout her Penelopiad,  the maids sing their songs at ten intervals in the book. I was struck by a comment that Atwood makes in her notes about the maids. She states that :

‘The Chorus of Maids is a tribute to such uses of choruses in Greek Drama. The convention of burlesquing the main action was present in the satyr plays before the main drama.’ (Margaret Atwood, Author Notes for The Penelopiad pp. 197-198)

I am always interested in how women writers burlesque the heroic perception of the classics through use of device and structural under-pinning. In this instance I have been reading Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Alice Oswald‘s Memorial. Atwood and Oswald approach Homeric themes in a sidelong fashion to get to the meat of the oral-tradition. Their poetic focus is decidedly on the lament. Atwood gives voice to the subversive and unquiet maids of The Odyssey. Oswald creates a dirge through interweaving the names of  fallen warriors of The Iliad. Both Atwood and Oswald use the lament as the kernel for their thematic variations from and approaches to Homeric mythos. The poets use repetition to add texture to their laments thereby shaping and focusing the small forgotten voice  toward expressing a universal grief.  This is a not heroic poetry, it is a poetry of keening and loss.

Oswald’s Memorial has drawn quite divided critique. I mention in particular Jason Guriel‘s  reductionistic approach to the book in which he refers to it as ‘a rose-fingered yawn’. This slighting throwaway remark does little to evoke interest in how women poets actually write, nor does it sufficiently disguise Guriel’s critical-ennui. I would point the general poetic-reader to Michael Lista’s critique of Memorial in order to garner a more balanced view of the work.

Atwood’s twelve maids defiantly do not not burlesque the main action of The Penelopiad. They are the main action of the book. Penelope reveals herself to be a tedious bore whose lack of wit and guile are vaguely repellent. I wanted Atwood to get her toe out of the water and focus on the maids who enliven the text with their songs and shanties.  The central pivot of The Penelopiad revolves round the nasty relation between Penelope and Helen rather than on the texturing of the maid’s burlesquing. In this, Atwood’s approach to Homer is a bit of a missed opportunity. The strength of the book is in its sub-theme which Atwood had not developed into a  fuller rendering. 

Oswald did not make a similar mistake in her approach to Homer’s The Iliad.  She has broken-down the book and re-made it a powerful dirge. The fact that this has led to an inability by her critics to get to what she is doing only strengthens the work in my view. The index for Memorial comprises an unnumbered litany of names from The Iliad. Oswald weaves their names into the text whilst interspersing their histories with individual laments for the warrior-groupings. These laments vary in length , they are devices to allow the mourning voice through. They are not separate to the main action of the book but are organically interleaved into and caught up in the theme and direction of this epic poem-dirge.

‘Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth
And watered it and that wand became a wave
It became a whip a spine a crown
it became a wind-dictionary
It could speak in tongues
It became a wobbling wagon-load of flowers
And then a storm came spinning by
And it became a broken tree uprooted
It became a wood pile in a lonely field.

Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth
And watered it and that wand became a wave
It became a whip a spine a crown
it became a wind-dictionary
It could speak in tongues
It became a wobbling wagon-load of flowers
And then a storm came spinning by
And it became a broken tree uprooted
It became a wood pile in a lonely field.’

Page 31, Memorial, by Alice Oswald

It interests me that contemporary women poets are approaching Homer through the use of the lament. They are voicing the silent mourning that occurs when the glory of battle is over. Atwood is giving voice to the abused girls whose life-experience is of enslavement and of misuse. Oswald does not state that the mourning voice in Memorial is that of a woman, but the cadence of the mourning poems that intersperse her text suggests the chorus, the lament.

In terms of contrast in poetic approaches to direct  engagement with classical literature, one could point to how Ted Hughes re-told the twenty-four Tales From Ovid (Metamorphosis) or look at Heaney’s Beowulf. The fact that critique ignores the poetic engagement of women with the classics of literature only points to critical-disengagement, or at best to a narrow conservatism. It is time that The Chorus (that most pertinent part of Epic) is re-read, and given its place in the overall texturing of great poetic works. What would T.S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral be without the integrity of the women’s voices?

images
‘…he took a cable which had seen service on a
blue-bowed ship, made one end fast to a high
column in the portico, and threw the other over the
round-house, high-up, so that their feet would not
touch the ground. As when the long-winged thrushes
or doves get tangled in a snare…so the women’s
heads were held fast in a row, with nooses round
their necks, to bring them to the most pitiable end.
For a little while their feet twitched, but not for very long.’ The Odyssey, Book 22 (470473) 


Creative Commons License
Transverse threads, women poets and Homer by C. Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.