No 8 - June 1999
How long must we bury all we feel?
Yes, and turn in the face of what is
For the willow of your smile is showing
You’re aching for the words we never use
Editorial notes - The following was sent to me by William Sherman and I’d like it to serve as an editorial for this issue of FIRE -
W.S.MERWIN’s THE FOLDING CLIFFS is a major achievement of twentieth century poetry in the English Language. It is a long (300 pages) textured narrative meditation which re-tells the story of the 19th century Hawaiian Na Pali outlaw Ko’olau and his wife Pi’ilani. Refusing to be constrained by the order confining sufferers of Hansen’s Disease to Kalaupapa on Moloka’i, Ko’olau chose to escape to the wildest most inaccessible parts of the island of Kauai, and the story, oft told in Hawaii, becomes a masterpiece of poetry of the order of HELEN IN EGYPT or Zukofsky’s A, but more immediately accessible than either. GUNSLINGER with the comic parts omitted except as they are interwoven with the aloha. It is comparable to the strongest narrative portions of THE CANTOS and PATERSON and MAXIMUS. Ten times the length of BRIGGFLATTS, or A DRUNK MAN LOOKS AT THE THISTLE, there is nothing, in British poetry it resembles except perhaps the most lyric parts of IN PARENTHESIS or THE ANATHEMATA. One has to go back to THE RUBIYAT or SOHRAB & RUSTUM to find narrative skills of this order. OMEROS earned a Nobel for Derek Walcott, and THE FOLDING CLIFFS elevates Merwin to the position of America’s foremost candidate for that award. THE FOLDING CLIFFS is an ennobling work. All poets should be proud of what he has accomplished.
The book is dedicated to Olivia Breitha, author of the heartbreaking autobiography, MY LIFE OF EXILE IN KALAUPAPA.
Poets from Britain and Ireland who might want to check out the most cutting edge American poetry would be well-advised to attend not the middle-class white academically-oriented Language and post-Language ways of composition, but a recent collection by the native-American poet Adrian C. Louis, BLOOD THIRSTY SAVAGES, and the first book by Hawaiian-Japanese poet Lois-Ann Yamanaka, SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE PAHALA THEATRE.
For those interested in Hawaiian history and politics, Michael Dougherty’s TO STEAL A KINGDOM is essential reading. Eurocentric Britain seems little interested these days in Pacific culture, and there was no bookstore in all of London to which I went with Mr. Dougherty’s paradigm-breaking book that was interested in stocking it. Nor are you likely to find Hawaii poet Haunani-Kay Trask’s first book of no-compromise hard-core political and lyric verse, LIGHT IN THE CREVICE NEVER SEEN, in British outlets.
Remembering that William Carlos Williams was not published in the UK until 1964, one year after his death and fifty years since his first work appeared in the US, and remembering that Bunting’s first work was also published in the U.S., it is time for serious UK and Irish poets to read what working-class indigenous peoples of the U.S. are writing today.
The Hawaiian “pidgin” of Lois-Ann Yamanaka, for example, is as alive and vibrant as Irvine Welsh’s language in FILTH or in, say, Tom Leonard’s UNRELATED INCIDENTS or Agard’s LISTEN MR OXFORD DON. Yamanaka's use of the word “kine” - that which is native, not introduced from the outside, the real thing so to speak, a word which as Robert Bradon has pointed out is also onomatopoeic, is delightful and authentic.
Merwin’s deep achievement on the other hand is informed at all points by his respect for what is sacred in Polynesia. The scope and the depth of THE FOLDING CLIFFS, and its quiet presentation of cosmology and myth, within the context of the retelling of a beautiful and tragic story, makes it “a truly original masterpiece, on a very big scale”. (Ted Hughes)
Robert Creeley of course continues his work as one of the fine masters of American poetry, and his new book, LIFE AND DEATH, cannot help but to impress the reader with its tonal weight; the resonances of the words are as strong, in his tough tender way, as are the words of R.S. Thomas’s great newish poem, GERIATRIC, in his first octogenarian book, NO TRUCE WITH THE FURIES.
William Sherman has sent me an expanded version of the above note, with a more detailed commentary on W.S.Merwin’ s new book. Please send me £1 in stamps, coin or cheque if you would like a photocopy of the longer piece.
There are many new writers in this issue, and another pleasant editorial task is to introduce one or two of them - BILL GRIFFITHS will be known to some readers, but others perhaps won’t be familiar with his very individual use of language in which the energies and rhythms of our own indigenous communities, the working class, the oppressed, the marginalised, come to life through the keeping alive of a thread of continuity between past and present. One of our best and most original voices. The language of ALAN WHITAKER’s poetry conveys discontinuity and loss. Haunted by the vanished industrial landscapes of the West Yorkshire of his childhood, he nevertheless achieves an uneasy fusion of past and present which gives his poems a truly contemporary edge. Three non-UK poets I’m very pleased to publish are CLAIRE MALROUX, a poet originally from the S.W. of France now living in Paris, JESSE GLASS, an American writer living in Japan, and most of all PAULA GREEN, a New Zealand writer who I believe is about to become a major voice in poetry worldwide, a woman's voice for the 1990s and beyond, drawing, like Williams and Oppen before her, out of the fragments and specifics of a life lived, a music of love and warmth and connectedness.
Acknowledgements - Paula Green’s poem home appeared in Poetry New Zealand 17, and appears here with the kind agreement of the editor, Alistair Paterson.
Cora Greenhill’s Borrowed Grace was previously published in If Not a Mother (Clare Butler 1994), and Differences in Writing Women Vol.II no.I.
Gillian Stone’s The Mares of Lisbon has been broadcast on Radio 3’s Poetry Now.
Peter Tomlinson’s Journey With My Grandfather was published last year in Quantum Leap, edited by Alan Carter.
Alan Whitaker’s poems Chapel Demolished and Primrose Days appeared in the anthology Spirit Of Bradford, and Earth Hymn and Redemption will be included in his new collection Snow In June, to be published by Redbeck Press this autumn.
Books to note - Bill Griffiths has written a long poem, Mr Tapscott, to support the campaign to free Ray Gilbert, one of the Toxteth Two whose conviction in 1981 has been seriously questioned, but who remains in prison. The poem draws on a wealth of Liverpool sources, written and spoken, contemporary & historical, and is available at £3 a copy from Amra Imprint, 21 Alfred St. Seaham, co Durham SR7 7LH
From Redbeck Press, 24 Aireville Rd Frizinghall Bradford BD9 4HH - A J KRYSINSKI Journeywoman, PHILIP CALLOW Nightshade and Morning Glory both £5.95, MARGARET SPEAK The Firefly Cage, SUE BUTLER Via Leeds to Lake Ladoga, S.W. RHYDDERCH stranded on ithaca all £3.95, JIM GREENHALF The Dog’s Not Laughing £9.90.
From Mammon Press 12 Dartmouth Ave Bath BA2 lAT, NICOLAS JOHNSON’S Land
From Stride, 11 Sylvan Rd Exeter EX4 6EW A.C. EVANS colour of dust £11.95 SARAH LAW bliss tangle £6.95
From Maquette Press 3 South Street Sheepwash Beaworthy Devon EX 21 5 LZ, HELEN KIDD Origami FRANCES PRESLEY Private Writings, both £2.50 From Etruscan Books 24a Fore St Buckfastleigh Devon TQ 11 OAA, SEAN RAFFERTY Poems £8.50, etruscan books VI and VIII - both £7.50
VI - ROBIN BLASER / BARBARA GUEST / LEE HARWOOD
VIII - TINA DARRAGH/DOUGLAS OLIVER/RANDOLPH HEALY
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