Category Archives: War

An Excerpt from “Delicate” at MarsPoetica (HiRISE)

Click on this image to visit the HiRISE site.

Click on this image to visit the HiRISE site. The image is © HiRISE at Beautiful Mars (HiRISE)

Delicate

A sea snail, most precious egg, as if
It had touched the ruby feather of a
Bluebird. A most precious thing,
Bird-egg-shattered, dust in my pores.
 

This excerpt from “Delicate” is © Christine-Elizabeth Murray.

When we widen the lens, the bigger picture can be divorced from the reality that we think we may have momentarily grasped. The above poem is an excerpt from “Delicate” which is being submitted to an Irish Journal at the present time. I expect I will publish the poem in its entire at some later point. BUT here the poem is performing an imagistic collaborative function and I am very grateful to Ari who notified me of the #BeautifulMars and #MarsPoetica project via the Poethead Contact form. I hope to have more news on #MarsPoetica for readers and contributors to the blog soon !
About HiRISE (HIGH RESOLUTION IMAGING SCIENCE EXPERIMENT): The HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the most powerful one of its kind ever sent to another planet. Its high resolution allows us to see Mars like never before, and helps other missions choose a safe spot to land for future exploration.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and is operated by the University of Arizona.

Submit to MarsPoetica

‘Tread Softly’ and other poems by Michael J Whelan

DELIVERANCE

In the orphanage a child
cowers from cursing men outside.
She wants to climb back into
her dead mother’s womb
and hide inside its warm, soft,
un-edged safety,
where no explanation is needed
or reason to hide under splintered
staircases or run the gauntlet to basement
bomb shelters, existing minute to minute
with strangers until the dawn arrives with her
deliverance and she refuses to be born.

© Michael J. Whelan (Published in Cyphers, Nov 2011)

GRAPES OF WRATH

 

It happens on a Thursday, just after 2pm,
when ancient cultures and beliefs conspire
and vultures spiral above a peacekeepers’ camp,
where cedars age slowly and the Litani River
caresses the ground where Jesus turned water
into wine, where artillery salvos rip the air
on their long flight and bite deep, deep into
that place of safety vaporizing its concrete
walls and burning and blistering and tearing
apart the mass of terrified flesh and innocent blood
seeking refuge from the hate of man.

A soldier climbs from the rubble limbs
and discarded faces, his eyes caked black with tears,
his hands at arm’s length clutching the newborn baby
that looks like a headless doll.

© Michael J. Whelan

(Qana Massacre April 18th 1996)
During ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’ Israeli Defence Force artillery shells strike a Fijian UN compound in South Lebanon protecting 800 civilians fleeing the fighting, approx 120 died. Published in the Galway Review 2013 & The Hundred Years War – Anthology of 2Oth Century War Poems, (Bloodaxe 2014)

 

BROKEN SPADE

You lay in your frozen field, slack-jawed at how you
came to be there, your mouth caked in last year’s mud,
limbs twisted about your body as if in the midst of some
remembered dance or tempered at your rotting crops,
bent over in disgust, yielding in the half light and startled
at the cold – they have never felt.
This harvest, un-reaped and yet reaped upon you
hides the stale shoe and crushed spectacles,
the broken spade that hastily covered you in the soft
clay you loved, now steeled hard against the sharp sky.

I imagine the fears of your kin as they searched the high
golden horizon that summer day.
They might have felt the distant calamity that took you
following the bullet casings along the beaten track,
and I wonder if they found you,
then I see the scars of cluster bombs and scorched
stalks of your petrified labours and there, there in the shrapnel
of this bitter harvest I behold your seed,
torn apart but reaching out to the one who bore them.

© Michael J. Whelan

Published in And Agamemnon Dead – An Anthology of Early 21st Century Irish Poetry Edited by Walter Ruhlman & Peter O’ Neill (Paris, 2015)

RENDEVOUS

The sodden fields are bleak, the road
is broken and I am tired.
Rain shoots off my weary face,
its cold tears count the ribs
that cage my distant heart.
At night I make my rifle safe,
fling this conflict to the floor,
it gathers round the worn-out boots
that tread in miseries of a war.
But I have a rendezvous,
a memory in a future place.
That short black dress, golden hair
tumbling to her shoulders.
Laying foetal, arms wrapping
her soft body, kissing the curve of her
neck, I breathe her in, capturing her.

© Michael J. Whelan

TREAD SOFTLY

It’s raining, always is,
that sticky hazy rain that gets down your neck,
behind your ears and saturates your face, your hair
as soon as you step from the vehicle
even though the uniform is multilayered,
your boots get soggy straight away
and the pistol grip on the rifle resting in your arms
slips in your fist.

You’re not really afraid – for yourself,
though your heart is racing approaching
the recently finished mass grave- their hurting ground
covered in fresh clay, flags and wreaths,
you’ve just driven over the ancient village cemetery as you entered
like it was a cross country speed test on rough terrain,
the old grave markers are long gone.

No, you’re not afraid for yourself,
the fear comes when no adult arrives to greet you
or check out your party as a possible threat
save for the elderly ones corralling young children
behind hedges and outhouses on the high ground,
who watch you as you watch them
barefoot and half dressed in the rain
and you taking photographs of yourselves
at the place of their parents.

You – the uniforms that stormed into their hurting place
feeling like liberators but to them resembling conquerors,
you who come to help but instead bring memories of terror
and usher a fear they keep from the last time
soldiers conquered this place,
you who tread softly then when you realize what you have done,
when you see the muddied feet of innocence and the future in their eyes
peering down.

© Michael J. Whelan

Published in Three Monkeys, online magazine, Feb 2013

PARADOX OF THE PEACEKEEPER IN THE HOLY LAND
I am forever walking upon the shore
betwixt the sand and the foam.
The high tide will erase my footprints,
and the wind will blow away the foam,
but the sea and the shore will remain forever

Kahlil Gibran

In Lebanon I sought redemption
like the pilgrim at the crossroads of Heliopolis,
on the Bekaa’s great range where Bedouin caravans met
and Romans laid their bodies down in supplication to their gods,
to Aphrodite and Jupiter, and long before this peacekeeper came
on what seemed a fools errant, whose only armour
was the feeble weave of a blue flag,

before these wars for modernity and religion
where the new city’s shadows fall like dead soldiers
on the broken steps of Astarte’s Temple,
where the priests of Baalbek burned incense,
lay themselves prostrate with tribute and homage
beseeching fertility over the land and on warriors on the eve of battle

and the same priests parcelled out her favours to believers
who built new columns to the sun god on her ruins,
before all this there was blood on the stones and in the dust
of Tyre, of Sidon and in Byblos,
and the gods looked down from the heavens and laughed
for they knew that man knew not of their fallibilities,
their eyes kept the storms that belief constructed –

the defence of Masada by Jewish zealots
against ramparts, siege-towers and battering rams of enemies – never giving in,
the caliphs who ordered the conquests of Bilad al-Sham,
Helen who setting forth from Constantinople to Jerusalem
in search of the Cross set beacons ready to burn along the way
and Constantine, her son, converted his empire in promise to his mother

who lit the path for Crusaders and the burial places of a thousand years
under these skies of mumatus clouds that hang like fronds of fruit
above the hills at dusk, who rest like relics with Saracens
and Mamluks, the swords of east and west,
the holy books of Abraham, Mohamed and Byzantium,
where Gilgamesh cleaved the cedars for his ships

and where now the free man might dig with trowels once more,
adjure in the Temple of Baachus, revere the flake-bones of gladiators
under the triumphal arch of Al-Minah – the hippodrome at Tyre,
where fishermen still cast their nets on the same Phoenician shore
in Galilee beneath the stirring sands of Jordan
and camels sometimes carry scholars through the Quadisha Valley
like in the old days passing slopes of red anemone, wild tulip, oleander and poppy

and young girls might seek the damask rose in the gorges of forgotten ambushes,
where sultans and kings slaked their pious thirsts – slew their enemies
and exiled the youth of many futures – those pawns who lay penitent at the altars,
who laid down in the Temple of Aphrodite like the peacekeepers lay down now,
yes we who lay down with our wives and lovers like knights with sacred talismans
and far away they lie down with us under the same different moons,

they wait and pray looking up upon the many faces of the gods
who see us only as a fleeting moment on the pages of passing civilizations,
the rising and setting of the sun and we know the signal fires are burning,
the funeral pyres rise up in pillars of ash in the marches between the watchtowers
along the border wire and we know that so much metal has been fired in this cauldron
from arrowheads and spears to icons and the corrupted jagged shards of bombs,
shrapnelled landmines and bullets. On a rainy day we can almost smell it
weeping through the red mud tracks of an army and we must watch our step.

© Michael J. Whelan

Published in A New Ulster, issue 32, May 2015

poethead 2Michael J. Whelan is a soldier-poet, writer & historian (Curator – Irish Air Corps Aviation Museum) living in Tallaght County Dublin. He served as a peacekeeper in South Lebanon and Kosovo during the conflicts in those countries in the 1990s, which inspires much of his work. He was 2nd Place Winner in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award 2011, Shortlisted in 2012 with a Special Commendation in 2013. He was 3rd Place Winner in the Jonathon Swift Creative Writing Awards 2012, shortlisted in the Doire Press and Cork Literary Manuscript Competitions and selected for the Eigse Eireann/Poetry Ireland Introductions 2012. His work has appeared in the Hennessy New Irish Writing 2013, Poetry Ireland Review, the Red Line Book Festival and many other literary magazines and newspapers. His poems were recently published in a new anthology titled The Hundred Years War published by Bloodaxe UK in May 2014.

Michael blogs at https://michaeljwhelan.wordpress.com/

‘Haft Seen’ and other poetry by Shakila Azizzada

Once Upon A Time

 
in memory of Leila Sarahat Roshani
 
Granny used to say
always keep your magic sack
tucked inside your ribcage.
 
Don’t say the sun’s worn out,
don’t say it’s gone astray.
Say, I’m coming back.
 
May the White Demon
protect and watch over you.
Oh, daughter of the dawn,
 
perhaps this sorry tale,
stuck in the mud,
was of your doing.
 
Take the comb from the sack,
throw it in the Black Demon’s path:
seven jungles will grow at his feet.
 
Don’t say heaven’s too far,
earth’s too hard. Don’t throw the mirror
if you fear the sea and her nymphs.
 
Don’t say there was, don’t say there wasn’t,
trust in the god of fairytales.
May Granny’s soul rest in peace.
 
Give the mirror to Golnar’s mother
who, down by the charred vineyards,
dreams of birds and fish.
 
Don’t say the rooftop’s sun’s too brief.
Say, I’m coming and this time,
forget love’s foolish griefs.
 
Shake out the sack.
In the name of the White Demon,
burn that strand of hair.
 
Wasn’t there,
once upon a time …?
Once upon a time there was
 
a girl in whose long, endless dreams,
an old woman with white braids,
forever telling beads, would pray:
 
‘May the Shomali Plain still fill with song
and through the ceilings
of its ruined homes, let light pour in.’
 
Once Upon A Time is © Shakila Azizzada.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Zuzanna Olszewska.The final translated version of the poem is by Mimi Khalvati

Once Upon A Time: this poem refers to a fairytale in which the hero sets off to fight the Black Demon, aided by the White Demon and the magic powers of a sack with a mirror, a comb and a strand of hair. Fairytales traditionally start with the refrain, ‘There was one, there wasn’t one, apart from God, there was no one.’

View from Afar

 
I’m left again with no one standing behind me,
ground pulled from under my feet.
Even the sun’s shoulders are beyond my reach.
 
My navel chord was tied
to the apron strings of custom,
my hair first cut over a basin of edicts.
In my ear, a prayer was whispered:
‘May the earth behind and beneath you
be forever empty’.
 
However, just a little higher,
there’ll always be a land
purer than any land Satan could wish on me.
 
With the sun’s hand on my shoulder,
I tear my feet away, a thousand and one times,
from the things I leave behind me.
 

View From Afar is © Shakila Azizzada
Translated by Zuzanna Olszewska and Mimi Khalvati.
 

Haft Seen

 
If it weren’t for the clouds,
I could
pick the stars
one by one
from this brief sky,
hang them
in your ever ruffled hair
and hear
you saying:
 
‘I’m like a silk rug –
the older it gets,
the lovelier it grows,
even if
two or three naughty kids
did pee on it.’
 
Am I finally here?
 
Then let me spread
the Haft Seen tablecloth
in the middle of Dam Platz.
 
Even if it rains,
The Unknown Soldier
and a flock of pigeons
will be my guests.
 
Haft Seen is © Shakila Azizzada.
The literal translation of this poem was made by Zuzanna Olszewska.
The final translated version of the poem is by Mimi Khalvati.


With thanks to Sarah Maguire director of The Poetry Translation Centre for facilitating my selection of poems by Shakila Azizzada.
 
The poems were translated by Mimi Khalvati and Zuzanna Olszewska for the Poetry Translation Centre

from The Poetry Translation Centre

.

shakilaShakila Azizzada is a poet from Afghanistan who writes in Dari.

Shakila Azizzada was born in Kabul in Afghanistan in 1964. During her middle school and university years in Kabul, she started writing stories and poems, many of which were published in magazines. Her poems are unusual in their frankness and delicacy, particularly in the way she approaches intimacy and female desire, subjects which are rarely adressed by women poets writing in Dari.

After studying Law at Kabul University, Shakila read Oriental Languages and Cultures at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, where she now lives. She regularly publishes tales, short stories, plays and poems. Her first collection of poems, Herinnering aan niets (Memories About Nothing), was published in Dutch and Dari and her second collection will be published in 2012. Several of her plays have been both published and performed, including De geur van verlangen (The Scent of Desire). She frequently performs her poems at well-established forums in The Netherlands and abroad.

25th Ezra Pound International Conference

Sheets_of_toilet_paper_on_which_Pound_started_The_Pisan_Cantos“The conference’s main host will be Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s oldest university institution, founded in 1592 and located in the city centre. Our second host and other conference site on Thursday, July 11, will be Mater Dei Institute, the college close to what was Leopold Bloom’s residence at 7 Eccles Street.
 
The 2013 EPIC will open at Trinity College Dublin on 10 July with a Welcoming Address by the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. Individual plenary talks by distinguished scholars throughout the week will be on such topics as Pound and Irish Poetry, Pound and other writers (Beckett, Coleridge, Joyce, and Yeats), The Cantos Project, New Translations of Pound’s poetry into German and Italian, the Drafts & Fragments Notebooks, and Doing Justice to Pound. There will also be four days of paper sessions and discussions on a wide range of topics related to Pound’s works, life, and influence.”

 

Transverse threads; two women poets and Homer

09bOswald.jpgpenne

The weft of  Margaret Atwoods The Penelopiad is contained in and revealed through the chorus voiced by the twelve maids  hung by Telemachus (on Odysseus’ orders) just after the men returned from their manly adventures. Margaret Atwood runs the chorus line throughout her Penelopiad, the executed 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 stated 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 underpinning. In this instance I have been reading Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Alice Oswald‘s Memorial. Both 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 maids 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 experiences are 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) 


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