Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hummingbird: Magazine of the Short Poem 20.1 (September 2009)

Down to 2 issues a year, unfortunately (but understandably).

Still available for $5/issue from:
Phyllis Walsh, Editor
Harbour Village
5600 Mockingbird Lane, Apt D103
Greendale, WI 53129
Worth it on the whole, if only because it's such an interesting little magazine (and I do mean little) of very short verse. A curiosity, perhaps, but a fun one. A bit earnest this time around (perhaps of late? characterizing the last few issues? earnestness does tire me so). Robert Deluty, who placed one of the stronger poems in the last issue, typifies what tends to curdle my insides:
husband and wife
with matching pacemakers:
Oof. That's on page 39. On page 47, though, he also gives us:
mid-colloquim... [sic]
watching the department chair
balance her check book
The strongest -- cheekiest? -- poem of this issue, to my thinking, is David G. Lanoue's (27):
she's barefoot and topless
in the fountain...
and bronze
But really, what is it with all the ellipses?

Get a subscription, read it, reread what pleases, put it on a shelf somewhere for someone else to discover one day, and wait half a year for your next ten minutes of pleasure.

Sammy Oke Akombi, Beware the Drives

Beware the Drives is one of the poetry collections I was able to pick up at this year's African Literature Association conference, held in Burlington, Vermont. Exciting for me as it heralds the emergence of what is to me a new publishing house in Cameroon: Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group (distributed in the US & Europe by the marvelous African Books Collective).

The book is well-edited and produced, and for all those reasons, a delight.

The poetry much less-so.

There are some strong lines, but they stand out for their rarity. Perhaps the strongest of the entire collection are the closing lines of "A Poet's Epitaph": "You too, poet or no poet, sure shall find peace / In doing, pieces, for yourself and mankind" (1).

The opening poem.

I am more than willing to grant Akombi that, "Always there's something to be understood / That hasn't been understood" (from "Poetry" (21)), but on the whole the collection reads more like an old commonplace book than a vibrant new poetry collection; a collection of aphorisms, and rather obvious ones at that, lacking the song and punch of poetry.
When children, innocent and clean
As they always have been
Die in storms and quakes --
Earthwuakes, techno-quakes, hunger-quakes
And then gun and bomb quakes
One can't help but question,
Is that why they were born?
"Victims" (5)

It is lines like these that are, to my mind (and ear), simply inexplicable as poetry. There is real potential in "hunger-quake" -- it could soar -- but... "Socio-politico-ideologico-quakes"??
To me it's yet unknown
Where to place my napkin at meal
Which hand for the fork,
Which for the knife and which for the spoon,
And here comes the chopstick.
"Globalisation" (37)

It's a suggestive trope, and the wonderful start to a set piece. And perhaps by this point in the collection I had wearied, but it's not quite working as poetry. Not yet.

Simon Armitage, Kid

Armitage seemed like a "hot item" when I picked up this collection, Kid, at one of our local Half Price Books for... a dollar.

Yup. A buck. You'd think they'd wring a little more blood from the stone of the next big thing, wouldn't you?!?

But there it was, and Armitage -- who isn't so new -- seemed to be popping up into my consciousness with some regularity. Readings in Stevens Point (??) sponsored by public radio, recent books popping out on the shelves of Barnes & Noble... Who knows why for sure. But there he was. Again. And for a dollar? I'll bite. And buy.

And was so disappointed. Not sure if I just hadn't built up any momentum with the collection. But I read in widely separated fits and starts (and wasn't moved to engage with anything more). I labored. And I stalled. About halfway through. Prepared myself to push through the last half and read, after two weeks? Three? This...
The book, this page, this harebell laid to rest
between these sheets, these leaves, if pressed still bleeds
a watercolour of the way we were.

Those years: the fuss of such and such a day,
that disagreement and its final word,
your inventory of names and dates and times,
my infantries of tall, dark handsome lies.

A decade on, now we astound ourselves;
still two, still twinned but doubled now with love
and for a single night apart, alone,
how sure we are, each of the other half.

This harebell holds its own. Let's give it now
in air, with light, the chance to fade, to fold.
Here, take it from my hand. Now, let it go.
"In Our Tenth Year" (46)

Nothing quite rises to it, though "Great Sporting Moments: The Treble" comes close, and the opening couplet is a delight: "The rich! I love them. Trust them to suppose / the gift of tennis is deep in their bones" (55).

The BBC has a wonderful poetry site (the fact that they have their Poetry Season is wonder enough) which has quite a nice write-up on Armitage -- and him reading his poem "Gawain" (which those of us on this side of the pond are not allowed to listen to apparently). Too bad; might have drawn me into another collection of his. Might still, but...

Alec Russell, Bring Me My Machine Gun

Subtitled, "The Battle for the Soul of South Africa from Mandela to Zuma", Russell's Bring Me My Machine Gun is an excellent account of, largely, the South Africa political landscape since the demise of state-sanctioned apartheid and the election of Mandela.

The subtitle is a bit more portentous than the actual work itself. More than anything Russell is detailing the political machinations of the African National Congress (ANC), and what that party-internal gamesmanship has meant for South Africa since 1990.

It's not a pretty picture.

But politics, anywhere, is messy. And as Russell points out -- time and again -- the ANC (and most importantly, some of its key officials; though not as often as would be hoped, its low-level, in-the-trenches workers, those who both have their pulse on the communities and could make an effective, if localized, difference in the lives of South African) has been able to manage what was, in truth, an almost unmanageable legacy.

It's an enlightening book, for sure, and frankly one of the more unsettling ones I've read lately, in a very understated way. Russell's style and approach is -- fitting, considering his background as, among other things, the Johannesburg bureau chief of the Financial Times -- reportorial... Is that right? He often frames his presentation of events and personalities as "On the one hand... but on the other..." An appropriate nod to the complexity of circumstances, for sure, but also slightly maddening.

Which is, perhaps, the point...