Author Archives: Eddus

REVIEW: The Europeans – David Clarke & Shrines of Upper Austria – Phoebe Power

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No doubt the poets of the future will look back on the era we currently suffer through and wonder how any of us wrote any poems at all, let alone ones about politics. The ongoing and ever-evolving horrors of Brexit have infused themselves into our lives almost completely and I would find it impossible to write about a subject so contentious, difficult, and evolving every day. These two poets have written interesting, intriguing and passionate books with Europe as their central theme, in these books we travel out towards dark Austrian lakes and back again to dodgy and dingy British pubs in the rain.

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“And yet we cannot fault the service
in the Hotel Europa.”

The Europeans – David Clarke

Published by Nine Arches Press {Link}

“The Europeans
had much to say of poetry and much silence to say it into.

I became convinced they knew something
they would not tell me, but I did not dare
to ask the veterans on the parched square”

 – The Europeans

David Clarke’s second collection probes the politics of English and European identity from a variety of angles. The collection explores these ideas from a particularly working class “non-metropolian” perspective which at times views the continent with suspicion and exoticism.

Travel is a major concern in the collection, and Europe itself is often seen as a hotel, in the opening poem:

“And yet we cannot fault the service
in the Hotel Europa. Even though it’s just after
or before a war and long-retired
waiters have been pressed back into the ranks

of the white gloved.”

– An Invitation

In this poem we see the community of the European Union as a Hotel, something European Nationals buy into like a service, which works as efficiently as it can, built as it was in the chaos of Post-World War Two Europe. This poem enjoyably captures a relaxed and intriguing continental atmosphere. Clarke is adept at turning phrases and bringing surprise into the poems.

In the poem “The Europeans” quoted at the beginning of this section, Clarke explores the idea of Europe as the standard bearer for culture, placing isolationist Englishness as a counterpoint to this. The idea of Europe as a cultured and free place is explored against the constrained and uncultured Englishness that the poet experiences in their daily life.

The pub is a symbol of Englishness that the poet keeps returning to, “In the Snug” takes on Far Right attitudes, and, seemingly, Nigel Farage:

“Little man, you are my grinning birthright,
frog-faced in your better bookie’s coat.
You lean against the ale-damp bar of England

and stroke the giggling landlady’s chubby hand,
Cooing words that stick in bigot’s throats.”

-In the Snug

If the Hotel is the poet’s metaphor for the European community, efficient, interesting and liberal, the Pub is poet’s metaphor for Englishness, isolated, bigoted, intoxicated and divorced from reality. Alongside Pubs, the rain is a consistent theme and an easy shorthand for a lot of English experience. It’s not all bad though, in one of the closing poems of the collection “Land of Rain” Clarke explores a nostalgic view of rain and a desire to return to those earlier memories, even if they were rainy.

The poems in this collection have a confidence that one would expect from a second collection. I enjoyed the questions it was asking of the reader and it was commendable that the poet decided to explore these big ideas, however in exploring this big ideas and the anger surrounding them, I felt the poems themselves lacked an emotional engagement, outside of the anger that runs through the collection. There were a handful of personal moments, but overall the book was about exploring these large questions about Englishness and Europeanness, ultimately though enjoyable, I feel the collection could have done more to explore the poet’s personal connection with the subject matter.

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“if you wanted you could stay / till the flame burned down.”

Shrines of Upper Austria – Phoebe Power

Published by Carcanet {Link}

“There’s a Schloss in the town
I’m living in, named for
my constituency

‘Cumberland, a lake-rich
county of England’,
where I vote by proxy”

-In and Out of Europe

In Phoebe Power’s debut collection, which won the Forward Prize for best first collection, and was also nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize, there are an incredible array of poetry on display. We see and hear the Austria of today through a poet travelling through the region, the Austria and the Britain of the past through the voice of a grandmother who married a British soldier after the Second World War. The collection also brings in themes of climate change as a contemporary concern and the deep cultural connections between the UK and Austria, through similarities in language and the Schloss Cumberland which is mentioned twice in the collection:

“it’s a fake fairy castle
like disney logo

there’s one bit that’s old
curly locks on the door
white roses im Garten

goats who spoke to me loudly
and a hidden lake.”

-Schloss Cumberland

Like the Americanised ideal of the European castle that the Disney company built outside of Paris, during earlier moments in European cultural history, people have brought ideas from other places and these have been successfully transplanted and warmly received until their foreignness is not even seen any longer. This is one of the many subtle ways that Power brings forward the argument of unity within Europe.

As a German speaker I gained an enormous amount of pleasure from the use of German within the poems, especially using words which have shared roots in both languages. The use of “Garten” in the above quote does this perfectly, we can see from the context and the sonic similarities that “Garten” means Garden and using the German word instead stresses our shared linguistic history and makes the reader feel that they are participating in this other language as they read the poems. For me, this use of language added an extra level of enjoyment as I could feel the different words working together well, I appreciate however that those who do not speak German might find the use of the language in line amongst English with no demarcation of difference a little strange and that this might take readers out of the moment somewhat. A recurring word in the collection is “See” meaning lake. It is easy for readers to connect the German word with the English “Sea”. In a way this particular choice of bringing in the German word, gives the lakes a larger presence, linking it to the English word “Sea”. The lakes of Cumberland are contained in some way, but the huge See of Upper Austria seem to ebbe and flow more like the open water of a sea. There is a glossary of words and phrases at the back of the collection, giving it another function as a phrase book of sorts, if you’re travelling in Austria and keen to go to a Konditorei (cake shop) for Kaffee-Kuchen (coffee and cake) the book will be useful.

The sequence “from A Tour of Shrines of Upper Austria” gives us a series of impressionistic poems describing the religious shrines. Each one is a small and detailed world in itself (much like the poems in the whole collection) and we gain not only a sense of the places themselves but also of the traveller discovering them:

“Behind, the painting:
Mary gets a crown, ascension.
seven stars of straw
tucked in the top iron frame.

first I’ll draw
then photograph

if you wanted you could stay
till the flame burned down.

I have to kneel
inside to take a good picture”

-“From A Tour of Shrines of Upper Austria”

The shrines are beautiful, idiosyncratic places, each putting its own local customs and saints on display. Each shrine is like it’s own little member state of a union, welcoming  visitors, with a shared belief but also a variety of interpretations.

This sequence happens early on in the collection as a way of opening up the door for the grandmother to appear, the voice of someone who grew up in Austria, but moved to Britain after World War Two. Through the collection we gain an ever deeper sense of the relationship between the grandmother and the poet (there are two voices present in many of these grandmother poems). This sort of personal exploration is bold and exciting to explore as a reader. It’s a beautiful way of documenting a past which generations currently living feel ever more distant from and gives the contemporary exploration of Austria more purpose and poignancy.

Reading the collection is a breathtaking and eclectic experience. This book deserves the high praise in prizes and nominations it received. Like the shrines that give the book its title, the poems are idiosyncratic, intriguing, emotional and important.

Books reviewed:
The Europeans – David Clarke
Published by Nine Arches Press {Link}
Shrines of Upper Austria – Phoebe Power 
Published by Carcanet {Link}
Books photographed by reviewer on backdrop of the book: Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski {Link}
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REVIEW: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

So You've Been Publicly ShamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really interesting. Read this as a way to stay off twitter as much as possible. Ultimately the cases of public shaming Ronson gets into are very interesting and ones I remember from when they occurred. The link between twitter and the idea of a dark ages mob justice is interesting and adds weight to the book. Interesting bits about Prisons (both real and in psychological experiments).

The powerlessness in our day to day lives and the despicable politics of our current time make us feel the need to take control and deliver ‘justice’ for someone at least, so people’s lives are destroyed for tweeting unfunny things which can be read as being explicitly racist (when they truly didn’t intend this). It’s made me really aware of how quickly we pass judgement on people without appreciating the nuances of their situations.

One thing about the book that frustrated a little was the sheer volume of stories which were told. Within paragraphs some people were shamed online (or, in one of the most affecting stories, in court) and then their lives spiralled out of control, then, tragically they often committed suicide. All within a paragraph. We were often not given enough time to process all this before another shorter story occurred.

Sadly there is a lot of suicide and violence reported in the book, linking self harm and violence in general to feelings of shame. Please beware if this is triggering content for you.

There’s a real lack of empathy to a lot of online interaction and this book has really made me rethink how we should act online. We need to strive to me as warm and forgiving as possible, to be part of the internet’s calm ‘suburb’ instead of its chaotic violent centre.

Worth a read !

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Poem: The Taxidermist

The Taxidermist

The squirrel had been in the freezer for weeks,
wrapped up tightly in Tesco bags
wedged between the frozen fish and quorn.
His evening was just beginning,
giving me a quick kiss whilst putting on his rubber gloves.
The bathroom was soon heavy with blood and borax.
He used a scalpel and nail scissors to slip out the organs
and to tease muscle from bone, scrape down skin.
He always had to finish it in one night
before the body started to rot.

I sat in the living room
reading Agnes Grey aloud
into the high ceilings of our flat.

At midnight, this time, he called me in to show me:

The squirrel’s skin unpicked,
draped, a deflated balloon on the side of the bath.
Its claws still poised and sharp.
One of our dinner plates smeared,
a mess of organs and blood.

 

 

This poem appeared in the Autumn 2018 edition of Eye Flash Poetry 

REVIEW: The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp

The Naked Civil ServantThe Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my second reading of this book, first reading for was a few years ago. I came back to it because I have been craving more queer voices and I have a great love for the early to mid twentieth century queers whose struggles we all need to remember are close to being our own but for a few decades.

The book is beautiful for its directness and its voice. It’s an almost chatty spoken narrative that vaguely moves in chronological order from the 1930s through the Second World War to the sixties and seventies.

It’s clear that Crisp had an incredible gift for the quip and for the non sequitur. The book is full of very quotable standout lines and often uses his experiences to delves into discussions of issues like homophobia in the streets, equal rights for LGBTQ people, the idea of the great dark man, a masculine archetype that he desires to find. Crisp’s opinions though interesting are sometimes a little old fashioned for us now in this age.

There are a few other characters in the book who act more as foils for Crisp’s own anecdotes, this does not bother too much, as we know we are here for Quentin Crisp and no one else, but I have a lingering sense of unease, especially about his friend known only as The Czech who struggled with serious mental health issues and was institutionalised. At one point Crisp bemoans having to visit him “six times a year”. Crisp isn’t the most sympathetic of people. At the close of the book he strangely dreams of a world where the government enforces mandatory euthanasia for those over sixty years old… he then moves on to discuss his plans to murder a policeman. One wonders whether the editors and lawyers at the publishers had given up at this point and just let him write anything he wanted.

This book is important as a testimony. It has faults and quirks, Crisp himself holds some opinions which are at best taboo these days. But I am glad we have this record from this time in history of the struggle and eventual happiness (?) of a flamboyant homosexual living in London in the middle of the twentieth century.

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REVIEW: The Fish Can Sing – Halldór Laxness

The Fish Can SingThe Fish Can Sing by Halldór Kiljan Laxness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautiful and complex book. It takes in themes of nationhood, the role of parents and grand parents, heroes and the complexities attached to being a creative person.

The book works in a funny, meandering way where we learn a lot about the people of Iceland in the form of stories told by our protagonist, all the while we get to know our protagonist slowly across the span of the novel.

Álfgrímur the protagonist feels like a stand in for the novelist himself (and for this reader) someone who has a creative spark which he doesn’t quite know how to harness or whether he should or can harness it at all. He builds up a complex relationship with Garðor Holm, a world famous singer from humble beginnings in Reykjavik. Garðor becomes a mentor of sorts as well as a bad example. His worldwide fame is not as pure as he lets on. When he visits Iceland he continually misses concerts and events in his honour. You are left wondering whether he can sing at all, whether instead the whole thing is a ruse. In the book he only sings a handful of times. A heartbreaking exchange nearer the end of the book nearly had me in tears on the train, all about how much Garðor had to struggle to become the artist he was.

I loved the world of this book, it had the completeness of an fantasy world. The narrative voice had shades of magical realist novels like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, but everything in the book was plausible and grounded within a reality, nothing quite stepped into that other world of magic.

Like all great novels it leaves you with unanswered questions. We wonder off and on for the whole book who the protagonist’s birth parents are, but in the end this doesn’t matter. The relationship Álfgrímur has with his adopted grandparents is a beautiful and the location of Brekkukot in the novel is very important and evocative, a sort of tavern where travellers come and go, some stay forever, some go there to die.

There was a lot about what it was like to be Icelandic before they gained full independence from Denmark in 1944. This sense of the ruling class being Danish and their use of language to distinguish themselves as the civilised people compared to the Icelanders was fascinating, and a story sadly recognisable in many other nations in the world.

A beautiful introduction to Icelandic culture, the humour of the people and the struggles of living in that world, as well as the trials of being someone who could escape.

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Poem: Vogue

Vogue

Whitney Houston, Eartha Kitt
Gladys Knight and Bessie Smith.
Ellen, Björk, and Britney Jean
on the cover of a magazine.
George Eliot, Austen, Jane
Intellectuals, eternal fame.
Nicki Raps, Madonna’s grand
Beyonce and Babs Streisand
They have style, they have grace
Nichelle Nichols explored space.
Michelle Obama, Malala too,
Hillary Clinton, we love you !
Ladies with an attitude
Women that are in the mood
Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it
Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it

 

 

A recording of me reading this poem is available here

This poem was published in PERVERSE here 

 

REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Call Me By Your NameCall Me By Your Name by André Aciman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A universal and beautifully real novel which runs along so easily and wonderfully. Narrated by Elio, the younger of the two, you feel his fears, the thrill of his growing obsession with Oliver and, at moments, his fantasies made real. The novel has a few differences to the film (which is similarly glorious) in location and in time frame. The book has a larger scope in terms of the history of the relationship and, having seen the film, it’s lovely to read the book and to continue the story beyond what happens in the film.

A deeply affecting book which I read very quickly and intensely. I felt like it brought me closure on my own past, I was a similarly intense romantic boy once and it was incredibly emotional to see such a real portrayal of love like this.

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