*

This issue of London Grip New Poetry features poems by:

*Teoti Jardine *Carol DeVaughn *Michael Lee Johnson *John Snelling *Robert Nisbet *Louise Warren
*Jennie Christian *Ricky Garni *Kate Foley *Christopher Mulrooney *Ian C Smith *Shanta Acharya
*Jennifer Johnson *Ruth Bidgood *Robert Chandler

Copyright of all poems remains with the contributors

A printer-friendly version of London Grip New Poetry can be obtained at LG new poetry Spring 2014

ladder of escape                                                                                                           ‘Ladder of Escape’ – Joan Miro

Please send submissions for the future issues to poetry@londongrip.co.uk, enclosing no more than three poems and including a brief, 2-3 line, biography

Editor’s Introduction

The spring edition of London Grip New Poetry begins with a meditative – almost mystic – response to the present crisis in Syria and ends with some fine atmospheric translations of poems from early twentieth-century Russia.  En route from one to the other, the reader will encounter poems which touch on the Cold War period with its protest songs and its actual protests.  It is good to be reminded that poetry is able to deal with wider issues of history and politics as well as with currently-felt experiences and personal recollections.  Of course, private memories, both poignant and bizarre, do also figure among the poems which follow, as do out-and-out works of fantasy.  In compiling this varied selection it has been a pleasure to receive submissions from (and sometimes to converse with) poets in many parts of the world.  Some of our authors are making repeat appearances while others are first-timers. It has been particularly encouraging to receive work from poets who are previously unpublished – when one of these new voices displays a strong individuality.  It is to be hoped that readers will enjoy reading this issue as much as the editor enjoyed seeing it take shape.
                                                                                             *
Shortly before this introduction was written we heard the sad news of the death of Sebastian Barker. He will be widely remembered for his fine, reflective poetry, which often made skilful use of rhyme and form, and for his perceptive and encouraging editorship of The London Magazine.  The many tributes paid since his death show that he will also be much missed as a warm and generous human being. (Helen Donlon’s thoughtful article about Sebastian Barker’s childhood can be found at http://londongrip.co.uk/2012/02/an-arcadian-literary-childhood-in-tilty/)

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

http://mikeb-b.blogspot.com/

Back to poet list… Forward to first poem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

Teoti Jardine: Syria

The wind remembers 
the promise 
of the touching.

The resounding
response, 
YES.   

Waves chanted
upon the shore,  
remember.

We had pleaded,
allow us to
become,  

we were asked,
will you
remember,

yes we cried,
we will 
remember.

Permission given,
the BE 
sounded.

The place, 
perfectly
prepared.

All the names, 
mirrored within
us.

How easily we
succumbed to
ownership.

Tasting beauty, 
our longings
aroused,

and found
release in 
lordship-ness. 

We had chorused  
YES, left it 
unrequited.

That YES, still resides,
these times our 
readying. 

Cranes and geese  
cast their shadows 
on the desert,

where each grain
of sand, knows 
it is not other.

.

Teoti Jardine was born in Queenstown New Zealand, of Maori, Irish and Scottish descent. His tribal affiliations are Waitaha, Kati Mamoe, and Kai Tahu. He completed the Hagley Writers Course in 2011, and has poetry published in The Christchurch Press, The Burwood Hospital News Letter, London Grip, Te Panui Runaka, Te Karaka, and Ora Nui. His short stories have been published in Flash Frontier’s International Issues, 2013

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Carol DeVaughn: Rain

If rain could speak
it would tell us the history
of its downpours -
the stories of lives
that stream into ours
how its water rises
in clouds and mists
carrying a memory
of the dead
and the living
like lovers sleeping 
in meadow grass;
how it falls
on unknowing houses,
makes harmonies
along roofs and walls,
wakes somnambulant air
from its spell,
sweeps away nightmares,
strives to make spheres
on windowpanes.
It remembers the meadow grass 
and the felicity of molecules.

.

Carol DeVaughn, American-born, has been living and working in London since 1970. Retired from full-time teaching, she is now preparing her first full collection. Her poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies and she has won several prizes, including a Bridport in 2012.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.
.
***

Michael Lee Johnson: Rainbow in April

April again,
the wind
falls in love with itself
skipping across asphalt
and concrete bare
with the breaking weather
RainbowInApril
A rainbow
is half arched, 
broken off deep
into the aorta
of the gray sky.
It hangs
as if from
rubber bands
its mixed colors
drawn from God’s
inkwell,
and brushed 
by the fingertips
of Michelangelo.

April again,
the wind steps high.

.
Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
***

Michael Lee Johnson: Red Rocking Chair

 A red rocking chairRedRockingChair
abandoned in a field
of freshly cut clover,
rocks back and forth-
squeaks each time
the wind pushes
at its back,
then,
retreats.

.
.
.
Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, photographer who experiments with poetography (blending poetry with photography), and small business owner in Itasca, Illinois. He has been published in more than 750 small press magazines in 26 countries. He edits 7 poetry sites and is the author of The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom, several chapbooks of poetry, including From Which Place the Morning Rises and Challenge of Night and Day, and Chicago Poems. He also has over 69 poetry videos on YouTube.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
***

John Snelling: The Shop

It’s the shop you always passed 
in childhood;
parents hurrying on
elsewhere.
A window full of promises,
the entrance small,
but you always knew
that inside it went on forever.

You never forgot it
but never could recall
exactly where it was. 
Once or twice, as an adult,
you returned
but couldn’t find it.
It’s not there anymore.
Maybe, it never was.

.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

John Snelling: Journey With No Virgil

Young and uneasy amid wrecked buildings, new towers,
in war-scarred London. 
Hearing the talk of bombs. 
Learning to fear
The Bomb.

Schooled to appease an angry vengeful God,
trinity of Jornado del Muerto.
Lost at the beginning of life’s way
in a shadowed metal forest. 

War grew cold.

‘All hope abandon’ said the sign;
protest and rebellion our response.
We thought our parents stiff misguided fools,
that love was all you need,
that we could fix a shattered world
with slogan and sit-in.
We joined, we followed, waved our banners high
and we sang in the streets as we marched.

 

Jornado del Muerto: The name of the desert area in which the first atomic bomb test was carried out. The test was codenamed ‘Trinity’. The name of the valley means ‘journey of the dead man’.
.
John Snelling has been writing poetry since the 1960s. In 1976, he won first prize in the City of Westminster Arts Council’s poetry competition. After this, success in competitions eluded him until, in 2013, he gained a Judge’s Special Commendation in The Poetry Box competition for dark and horror poetry.
.
Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
***

Robert Nisbet: A Period Piece

In Martha’s kitchen, steam and the smell of soap.
Hot tea and biscuits. She and Jean
plucking the threads of a small town’s week.

Now there’s a pair of silly sods. Students.
That boy Nesbitt and that Wynne Whatsisname,
in the Grey Hart Café, thumping that boy’s guitar. 
These fancy songs, The Times Are Changing,
We Will Overcome, and that Bob Dylan-Thomas.
So Lorna asks them, What are you singing, boys?
and, sarky-like, What is your message?
So that Nesbitt says, We’re singing of brotherhood,
Mrs. Davies, and love and peace. The cheeky beggar.
So Lorna, quick as a flash, says,
Do they have sisters in these brotherhoods?
Or will you boys run the world? Joking, like.
But that flattened them. The two daft lumps. 

So, every thread inspected,
looked at for size and grain and story’s truth
and lingered over in the scent of tea,
in the peace of Martha’s kitchen.

.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
***

Robert Nisbet: Joan and Alice in the Seafront Café

The café’s plain, looks out upon
the dock, the wide blue harbour.

Joan and Alice, in mid-morning cups,
are reminiscing of the present day.
I listen, see the photos passed across. 
And this is Bernard by the uni library ….
(On to his room, his hall of residence) …
And this is Bernard’s girl friend …
(Subdued frisson and I fancy
she’ll be mini-skirted well up-thigh.)

The picture spread continues:
the lecture halls, the campus and the Summer Ball …
He’s done well, your Bernard, hasn’t he?
A credit to you, Joanie.
He thinks he might do advertising.
He’ll go far, that boy, go far.

Sleet drizzles on the café’s window,
in from the dock and the big bay,
out to the wide blue distances
where Bernard’s father once
trawled heavy waters to the West and North, 
the Irish Sea, the Hebrides, the storms.

 

Robert Nisbet was for several years an associate lecturer in creative writing at Trinity College, Carmarthen, where he also worked for a while as an adjunct professor for the Central College of Iowa. His short stories appear in Downtrain (Parthian, 2004) and his poems in Merlin’s Lane (Prolebooks, 2011).

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.

.

.

.

.

.

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
***

Louise Warren: Alice and the hornet

Insistent as an unloved uncle, drunken,
bumping back and forth from his brightly lit doorway,
that pouch of poison bulging between his whiskered legs.

He makes one last lunge towards her, into the air,
you are so young and beautiful he growls,
I want to wrap myself in your hair.

I want to burrow deeper into those hot dark drifts.
She is on her feet now, feeling him, elderly pupa,
crawling back to infancy.

You are so warm, he croons, my love,
just let me.

.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Louise Warren: Balconies

One by one we step out into the mild London night,
and lean our arms against the white railings.
The trees are huge now, engulfing the square like barrage balloons.
They creak and sway, billowing their black silks.

There is a tension in the air, someone shouts out,
something like a plea and our hands loosen for a moment,
distracted by the voice, the wind, the strange
black silks straining against their ropes.

Look at us, just scraps holding onto the edge with our fingertips.

 

Louise Warren won the Cinnamon Press First Collection Prize and her book A Child’s Last Picture Book of the Zoo was published in 2012. She has also been widely published in magazines and anthologies including Agenda, Envoi, Fuselit, Genius Floored Poetry Anthology, The Interpreters House, The New Writer, Orbis, Obsessed with Pipework, Poetry Wales, The Rialto, Seam and Stand. In 2013 her poems were highly commended for both the Ver and Yeovil Poetry Prize.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Jennie Christian: It was labelled ‘Mellow’

An apple is sitting beside me on the sofa. 
Its rosy glint catches my eye
as if it’s trying to tell me something.  

She told me not to take too much at once, that girl in Amsterdam.
So why did I put all of that sachet into our pesto for lunch? 
And where’s S? He was here 10 seconds ago. 

The room is the wrong shape.
A buzz creeps around the top of my skull, smelling of bacon.
My watch says 5.40pm. Some years later, it says 5.45pm.

Must get a grip.
Eat something? 
An apple would be nice I’ll get one from the kitchen oh no there’s one right here 
I’m scared I want my old brain back this one is overflowing 
endless thoughts chase each other down endless tunnels 
and there’s no way out no way no 

Somewhere         a dog         is barking
She has difficulty	understanding the dog                    who speaks poor English
Everything is Falling into a Crevice of your Mind

the room is now a giant Pumpkin
and i am on the Inside trying to rip myself Out

phone rings           my sister              can’t understand what she says
please come over, come right now 
I want to say but words are jumbled spaghetti stuck in neverendingtangle 
can’t remember wheresentencestarted whatsentence nosense nonsense
oh god oh my god help me 

Go on the balcony, get some air. That will help. Then just glide off 
into the breeze. Up, up, up... 
No no no someone will come and take me away must do something anything

I take a bite of apple,
which laughs crunchily. Its words are perfectly clear.
What did I tell you, dopehead?

 .

Jennie Christian is based in London. Her poems have appeared (or are due to) in poetry journals and magazines including Agenda Poetry (Rilke issue 2007, online supplement), Orbis Quarterly International Literary Journal (#162 Winter 2012-13), SOUTH (issue 48, October 2013) and Obsessed with Pipework (January 2014); also several anthologies

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Ricky Garni: Foods That Are Good For Dry Skin

I look at an avocado, split and sundered
and I don’t think of a hazel vulva. 
I think of my banana-colored Volvo, 
which exploded in the parking lot–
it frightened the elderly ladies nearby who 
were wearing vulvas and already crying.

I look at salmon, and I think: where
is the lemon and ice? Where is the fine
sweater that you once told me to find, 
salmon hued, and I explained forthwith
that I had left it in the truck with a man 
with a gun named Jedidiah whose 
manner was vulgar? It was a flatbed
truck, filled with ice and lemon,
and it was a dream. A dream of
Jedidiah’s, or am I dreaming
of Jedidiah’s dream? Am
I just a dream of Jedidiah?
Who knows?

I look at a sweet potato, and 
I think to myself: what is wrong
with this world? Why can’t we
all just get along? And then
I eat a sweet potato.

 .

Ricky Garni is a writer and designer living in North Carolina. He is presently completing a collection of tiny(I mean, these are teensy tiny!) poems entitled What’s That About, dutifully banged out on Faye Hunter’s 1971 Smith Corona typewriter in purple cursive typeset, and dedicated with great affection to her memory.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Kate Foley: Money To Burn

This is what you burn for the dead
if you're Chinese. Little packets
of gold foil.  They curl up, baby dragons,
stretching in the flame of their lives,
and go out diminuendo, like ash flakes.

In the west we have fireworks, which nobody
connects with dying: cop-drama bangs.
But the sudden rain of sparks,
like golden umbrella spokes opened
in the sky is fresh as rain itself.

As fresh as the pathos of things
that don't know they're discarded,
the lumpy blue of tightfisted mussel shells
now open, the lace's gracile fall
from a dead shoe.

It's a bit like gold Chinese money
poked into the stiff hands of the departed
with guilty love. You can't help
feeling a stab of pleasure that your heart
is live enough to quiver as bank notes 
curl in the borrowed life of fire.

 .

Kate Foley‘s 5th full collection One Window North was published by Shoestring Press in 2012. She lives, writes and leads workshops between Amsterdam and Suffolk.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Christopher Mulrooney: grotto

you can’t miss the thing at all
there’s the street it goes right by
and there the town square you pass along
and suddenly there’s the place

look here you plump you down
I say are you mad quite folly-cast
took sick blind as any shrieking bat
well take out your money here and now

when the morning stars sang they emptied their filth into this place
now have you seen my will in the matter
there is them as wants it shall not have it
you and I have a lot of ground to cover

is it really as hard as all that
come have you squinted or lollygagged
instead of using your wits have you tried
well then here’s your tea and slop be content

go ahead and take a look now it won’t harm you
that’s it with you taking a look we’ll have you settled
and all this place now very soon
a place for everything and everything in its place

you do not bargain very well my friend
if you do not have me well do you have nothing
you know very well what you have and bear it
there’s an end laid on you have you know your just deserts

do not mistake this for a place of anomaly
you know it for what it is a grotto nothing more
many more like it every day so do your work
be glad and health and fitness attend you labouring

what is this a garden where the gardener
yes that’s a story for another day
what I shall say for this while is
have a care remember our first meeting

that is all that’s enough and if our journeys end
they meet as meet we now and thus complete
the peril and the passing time in joy as well
as wishing for abandon and reflection there

so there a record of these beginnings and endings
with the great arc in the middle they teach at school
state your purpose and leave your name at the door
you’ll have reached the institution in some degree

 

Christopher Mulrooney has written poems in The Hour of Lead, Black & BLUE, The Cannon’s Mouth, The Seventh Quarry, SAND Journal, Red Branch Journal, The Germ, Auchumpkee Creek Review, Epigraph Magazine, West Wind Review, Pomona Valley Review, TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics, Or, pacific REVIEW, and The Criterion.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Ian C Smith: Abattoir Road

These several cherished rooms I call my own
in which I read, think, watch the sun
emerge through gently rising river fog,
the tired dusty chair, the reading glasses
that mark my place in second-hand books,
form the mute rhythm of serene days.
A slew of years all over me, I think of a life
far from how I always meant to live.

Winter, smells of steel and cooking fat.
A boy caught a train without a ticket,
thin sleeves rolled to disguise frayed elbows.
He would haul dirty laundry in a bag
to his sister, already blindly fugitive
from meanness into another lifetime trap.
Sometimes he took long walks from a rented room,
his only option after family meltdown.

I interrogate scars on my inked skin,
this palimpsest of hungry, dangerous times
on lean streets where he dwelt,
petrol fumes overlaid by cigarette smoke,
grey windows masking violence and sorrow.
Though it took so long to journey from
that rude room, no fit place for a child,
a cathedral choir of ideas now supersedes rage.

 .

Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in Axon:Creative Explorations,The Best Australian Poetry, London Grip, Poetry Salzburg Review, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, The Weekend Australian & Westerly. His latest book is Here Where I Work from Ginninderra Press (Adelaide). He lives in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, Australia.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Shanta Acharya: Ladder of Escape
For Joan Miro

A time for retreat
to a world imagined
perhaps a river made iridescent
by the passage of a swan
a time to rise above 
the incompleteness
of life, understand emptiness
invisibility, liberation
discover magic ladders
wander in rapture, peace
towards the rainbow
guided by phosphorescent
tracks of tortoises
leaving behind individuality
plunging into anonymity
a star caressing the breast of happiness
casting off cobwebs of prejudices 
prisons built by us, our past selves…
celebrating creation
a negation of negations
drawing with smoke on air
free, magical things
connecting earth to sky
becoming a tree with ears, eyes
a drop of dew falling from 
the wing of a bird
in answer to a prayer
prophetic, a ladder of escape.

 .

Shanta Acharya was born and educated in India before studying at Oxford and Harvard. The author of nine books, her latest poetry collection is Dreams That Spell the Light (Arc Publications, UK; 2010). Her poems, articles and reviews have appeared in major publications including Poetry Review, London Magazine, and The Spectator. She is the founder director of Poetry in the House, Lauderdale House in London, where she has been hosting monthly poetry readings since 1996. She was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Poetry Society, UK, in 2011. www.shantaacharya.com

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Jennifer Johnson: Holiday

My heart sinks into the sand
they’ve just returned from.

Their relentless prattle
gets me: hassle, slums, 
hopeless food, no English.

The beach, it seems,
was disappointing,
full of hawkers and thieves.
It looked lovely, they said,
when the agent showed them
 photos in early March.

So, they were sold
a truly utopian beach,
virgin golden sand
free from the dark ash
of history or politics,
without the corrugated iron
too many lives rust under
or the desperation for notes
from the purses of strangers

who want photos of paradise
and what’s needed for a tan.

 

Jennifer Johnson. has had poems published in several magazines including Acumen, The Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Obsessed with Pipework, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, The SHOp, South and Stand and a pamphlet published by Hearing Eye (Footprints on Africa and Beyond, Hearing Eye, 2006).

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Ruth Bidgood: Undefined

Probably this photograph
is of the woman, though
she is so small, so far,
she could be incidental.

From the road above
a grassy slope, she seems
to be looking down at him.
His lens is turned towards her,
but doesn’t  zoom in
to lessen the distance between them.

That may be the subject –
distance: the small figure
below sombre crags
above the long steep drop
to the river.
                   No certainty
of any interchange;
maybe a look? Maybe.
Only the lens,
making its moment’s précis,
has definition.
The hinted story has none.

.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Ruth Bidgood: Wrong Turn

I should not have been there,
shall not be there again,
shall not forget.
                         The lane
meandered  through a thin wood,
went on too long, brought conviction
only of trespass.
                           Suddenly
the  trees sat back, lane
became drive, pillared bridge
led to gravelled forecourt.
Long, low, redly creepered
in September sun,
the house glowed.

No sound except a river’s 
understated calm-weather song.
From the bridge, deep shadow.
A mill down there, huge wheel
motionless, seeming not disused
but resting from use,
workaday, but in that dimness
not without mystery. I realised
it was the Wye that flowed
as millstream here, queen
playing handmaid.

                             Looking back
at the house before leaving,
unexpectedly I felt kinship
between its life and mine, both
being contradictory, unclear.
It lived on two levels, plunged
from sun to shade; was hard in stone,
in water, shifting, mutable.
It had a kind of certainty, yet endured
tremors of hauntedness.

                                           This place
had been intruded on, and yet had  taken
me, chance-come questioner,
into its unknown story; destined
to stay in mine, had made an entry,
unwilled, uninvited, welcome.

 .

Ruth Bidgood lives in Mid-Wales.. She has published 13 books of poems, and one prose book about the Abergwesyn area of old North Breconshire, which was her home for many years. She also contributes research articles to county journals In Powys and Carmarthenshire.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

Robert Chandler: Translations of poems by Alexander Alexandrovich Blok

She came in out of the frost
Alexander Alexandrovich Blok 6 February 1908, tr. Robert Chandler

She came in out of the frost
her cheeks glowing,
and filled my whole room
with the scent of fresh air
and perfume
and resonant chatter
that did away with my last chance 
of getting anywhere with my work.

Straightaway
she dropped a hefty art journal
onto the floor
and at once
there was no room any more
in my large room.

All this 
was somewhat annoying,
if not absurd.
Next, she wanted Macbeth 
read aloud to her.

Barely had I reached
the earth’s bubbles
which never fail to entrance me
when I took in that she,
no less entranced,
was staring out of the window.

A large tabby cat
was creeping along the edge of the roof
towards some amorous pigeons.
What angered me most
was that it should be pigeons, 
not she and I,
who were necking,
and that the days of Paolo and Francesca
were long gone.

.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

When you stand in my path
Alexander Alexandrovich Blok 6 February, 1908, tr. Robert Chandler

When you stand in my path,
so alive, so beautiful,
yet so tormented;
when you talk only of what is sad,
when your thoughts are of death,
when you love no one
and feel such contempt for your own beauty –
am I likely to harm you?

No…  I’m no lover of violence,
and I don’t cheat and am not proud,
though I do know many things
and have thought too much ever since childhood
and am too preoccupied with myself.
I am, after all, a composer of poems,
someone who calls everything by its name
and spirits away the scent from the living flower.

For all your talk of what is sad,
for all your thoughts of beginnings and endings,
I still take the liberty
of remembering
that you are only fifteen.

Which is why I wish
you to fall in love with an ordinary man
who loves the earth and the sky
more than rhymed 
or unrhymed 
talk of the earth and the sky.

Truly, I will be glad for you,
since only someone in love
has the right to be called human.

.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

from ‘Dances of Death’
Alexander Alexandrovich Blok 10 October 1912, tr. Robert Chandler

 Night, lantern, side-street, drug store,
    a mindless, pallid light.
Live on for twenty years or more – 
    it’ll be the same; there’s no way out.

Try being reborn – start life anew.
    All’s still as boring and banal.
Lantern, side-street, drug store, a few
    shivering ripples on a canal.

.

Back to poet list… Forward to next poem

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

***

from ‘The Twelve’
Alexander Alexandrovich Blok January 1918, tr. Robert Chandler

From street to street with sovereign stride…
 – Who’s there?  Don’t try to hide!
But it’s only the wind playing
with the red banner ahead.

Cold, cold, cold drifts of snow.
– Who’s there?  No hiding now! 
But it’s only a starving hound
limping along behind.

Get lost, you mangy cur – 
or we’ll tickle you with our bayonets.
This is the last of you, old world –   
soon we’ll smash you to bits.

The mongrel wolf is baring his fangs – 
it’s hard to scare him away.
He’s drooping his tail, the bastard waif…
– Hey, you there, show your face!

Who can be waving our red banner?
Wherever I look – it’s dark as pitch!
Who is it flitting from corner to corner
always out of our reach?

– Doesn’t matter, we’ll flush you out.
Better give yourself up straightaway!
Quick, comrade – you won’t get away
when we start to shoot!

Crack-crack-crack!  And the only answer
is echoes, echoes, echoes.
Only the whirlwind’s long laughter
criss-crossing the snows.

	Crack-crack-crack!
	Crack-crack-crack!

From street to street with sovereign stride,
a hungry cur behind them…
While bearing a blood-stained banner,
blizzard-invisible,
bullet-untouchable,
tenderly treading through snow-swirls,
hung with threads of snow-pearls,
crowned with snow-flake roses –
who,
who else 
but Jesus Christ?

 

Robert Chandler’s translations from Russian include Vasily Grossman’s Everything Flows and Life and Fate and many works by Andrey Platonov. He has compiled two anthologies for Penguin Classics, of Russian short stories and Russian magic tales; a third anthology – of Russian poetry – will be coming out this November. He is also the author of a “Brief Life” of Alexander Pushkin.

Alexander Alexandrovich Blok (1880-1921) was born in Saint Petersburg; his father was a professor of law in Warsaw, his mother a literary translator, and his maternal grandfather the rector of Saint Petersburg University. His parents separated soon after his birth and he spent much of his childhood at Shakhmatovo, his maternal grandfather’s estate near Moscow. There he discovered the religious philosopher Vladimir Solovyov and the poetry of Tyutchev and Fet, both still surprisingly little known. Shakhmatovo would remain for Blok the image of a lost paradise.

In 1903 Blok married Lyubov Mendeleyeva, the daughter of Dmitry Mendeleyev, the chemist who created the Periodic Table of the elements. It was to Lyubov that he dedicated his poem-cycle, Verses About the Beautiful Lady (1904). For well over a year, however, the marriage remained unconsummated. Eventually, Lyubov seduced him, but this did not resolve his difficulties; he appears to have believed that sex was humiliating to women. He and Lyubov remained together, but their marriage was largely asexual; both had affairs with others.

The idealism of Blok’s first book yielded to a recognition of the tension between this idealism and reality – and the ‘Beautiful Lady’ yielded her place to the more louche figure of the ‘Stranger’.

The greatest of Blok’s later poems are meditations on Russia’s destiny. ‘The Twelve’ (1918), is an ambiguous welcome to the October Revolution. In staccato rhythms and colloquial language, the poem evokes a winter blizzard in revolutionary Petrograd; twelve Red Guards marching through the streets seem like Christ’s Twelve Apostles. Many of Blok’s fellow-writers hated this poem for its apparent acceptance of the Revolution; Bunin, for example, dismissed it as ‘a jumble of cheap verses… completely trashy, clumsy and vulgar beyond measure.’ Bolsheviks, on the other hand, disliked the poem for its mysticism. One of the few positive responses was Leon Trotsky’s: ‘To be sure, Blok is not one of ours, but he reached towards us… “The Twelve” is the most significant work of our epoch.’

Blok’s biographer Avril Pyman writes, ‘Blok had spent two months prior to his composition of ‘The Twelve’ walking the streets, and the snatches of conversation written into the poem, the almost cinematic, angled glimpses of hurrying figures slipping and sliding over or behind drifts or standing rooted in indecision as the storm rages around them work as in a brilliantly cut documentary film. […] The different rhythms are unified by the wind, stilled only in the last line.’

During his last five years Blok’s chronic depression deepened. For nearly two years between 1916 and 1918 he wrote nothing. After writing ‘The Twelve’ and one other poem in less than two days and noting, ‘A great roaring sound within and around me. Today, I am a genius,’ he fell back into a still longer silence. To the poet Korney Chukovsky he said, ‘All sounds have stopped. Can’t you hear that there are no longer any sounds?’ During the last three years of his life, Blok wrote only one poem, ‘To Pushkin House’ – an invocation of Pushkin’s joy and ‘secret freedom’ – and several prose articles.

Boris Pasternak tells how, towards the end of Blok’s life, Mayakovsky once suggested they go together to defend Blok at a public event where he was likely to be criticized: ‘By the time we got (there). . . Blok had been told a pile of monstrous things and they had not been ashamed to tell him that he had outlived his time and was inwardly dead – a fact with which he calmly agreed.’

In spring 1921 Blok did indeed fall ill, with asthma and heart problems. His doctors wanted him to receive medical treatment abroad, but he was not allowed to leave the country, in spite of Maxim Gorky’s pleas. Blok died on 7 August 1921.

Blok was the best known figure of his time and is still considered one of Russia’s greatest poets, but there have always been doubting voices. D.S. Mirsky writes, ‘But great though he is, he is also most certainly an unhealthy and morbid poet, the greatest and most typical of a generation whose best sons were stricken with despair and incapable of overcoming their pessimism except by losing themselves in a dangerous and ambiguous mysticism or by intoxicating themselves in a passionate whirlwind.’ Only four years earlier, Mirsky had said that if he had to choose between ‘The Twelve’ and all the rest of Russian literature put together, he would hesitate.’ Few poems have had such power to polarize opinion – let alone the opinions of a single person.

Akhmatova referred to Blok as ‘the tragic tenor of the epoch.’ She also wrote, ‘I don’t really need Blok any more, but when you begin to read it, Blok’s poetry is as compelling as music.’ He himself, in ‘To the Muse’, had once written:

And I knew a destructive pleasure
in trampling what’s sacred and good,
a delirium exceeding all measure –
this absinthe that poisons my blood!
.

Back to poet list…

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.