Saturday, 14 April 2018

For FMC


Image may contain: outdoor and water
Photo courtesy of FMC
I didn’t know her well
I didn’t even know his birth name
Just her nom de plume
that said so much
that hid so much.

She was elegance personified
Hair flowing free and unrestrained
An easy mover never at ease
She graced the beach
one sultry Indian summer night

with balletic flights of fantasy
freed from the formality of form
Long arms emoting Ms Hepburn
Being what he desired
no duckling but a beautiful swan.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Friday, 13 April 2018

Review: Poison

Poison by Henrietta Rose-Innes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short story is available online at http://caineprize.com/s/2008-Poison-H...
It won the 2008 Caine Prize.

I found this story gripping as the main character finds herself trying to drive out of CapeTown after a huge chemical explosion only to be stumped when she runs out of fuel . I really related to the description of fuel shortages and queues and the desperate straights this leaves people in, and the unscrupulous profiteers it brings out of the wood work - very reminiscent of my experience of such shortages in Nigeria :)

ashrmablinsg verdict 4 * Thoroughly engaging read. I have now read pieces by Rose-Innes and what strikes me is this writer really does know how to set a scene, and in doing so entraps the reader into the place of the story and hooks you in.

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Review: Semiprecious

Semiprecious by Henrietta Rose-Innes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully written short memoir piece from South Africa giving a glimpse into the reprecussions of apartheid. What do we think of the people who previously lived in our homes? Who were they? Why did they leave? As a child the writer sees Mr R's name on the wall of her home "still faintly visible under several coats of white paint" - as she grows up a "sickly realisation surfaced" and finally comes back to bite.
ashramblings 4 * I'm not normally a memoir reader but I loved this piece


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Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Miner’s Minor

His hands bear the grim of the long day well into the next
His back the burden of toil
His eyes the ever black of pit and shaft
His shoulders weigh the weariness of working hunger
His face sheds tears of sorrow and of joy
As his arms hold his first born son’s innocence.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Review: The Colour Forty by Lucy Grace

 Derbyshire Miners Coal-getting at the Bolsover Face. Drawn by D Macpherson. The Sphere | 22 March 1919
This story is the winner of the Writers & Artists Short Story Competition in 2018. It is available to read online at https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/2018/03/short-story-competition-2018-winner-revealed .

The narrator is the child of a single parent dad, a miner, in a working class pit village. Her days are ordered by the care given by “Auntie Shirley” – Saturday is  market day, Sunday is the day for roast dinner, Monday’s are wash days. This is turn means Tuesdays are for drying and ironing  - days when fragrance fills the air. Like all children, the child has taken something that is not theirs and is in fear of being found out by the father. As readers we know this from the beginning of the story; we know there were 40 and there are now only 39; but we know not what they are until much later. 

***SPOILER ALERT *** As the child comes home from school she expects to be accosted and chastised, perhaps even beaten, but instead is scooped up by Auntie Shirley to a house full of neighbours and grief to face her father, laid out, dead from a mining accident. Later she steals back to the coffin to ‘post’ the 39 into his coffin. These colourful drawings that her father had secretly, tenderly and patiently produced in his evenings with a delicateness hidden within the “sausage” fingers of his “rough hand”, “grimed in coal dust”, become a blanket of love over her lost father. The fortieth, hidden under her mattress, she keeps – a memento of the colour that was her father in such a black world. 

Whilst some passages are for me overflowing with excessive adjectives, there are other really quite impressive passages
“ ..it was as if all the colours of a typical day were saved up in his mind whilst he was working in the black, and only in this his quiet, secret time was he able to let them flow out”

ashramblings verdict 4* Some beautiful passages in this story of love, of loss in hard times as seen through a child’s eyes. 

PhotoCredit: https://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/2017/08/30/occupations-19th-century-coal-miners Derbyshire Miners Coal-getting at the Bolsover Face. Drawn by D Macpherson. The Sphere | 22 March 1919 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Review: Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This story is available to read and listen to online at https://uncannymagazine.com/article/c... narrated by Amal El-Mohtar.
It has been shortlisted for the 2018 Hugo Awards.

I found this story extremely challenging. I am not at all sure I understand it. It appears to be about a visit to a museum, perhaps a Natural History museum wiht specimens, like butterflies and bugs pinned out in display cases. At times it felt like the first person narrator was one of the exhibits, that the visitor was on some type of trolley. They tour through various rooms, which denote sections to the story - the Entrance with the Ticket Booth, A Hallway of Things People Have Swallowed, A Radium Room, A Room of Objects That Are Really People, Our Curator’s Special Collection, A Room of Objects That Are Very Sharp, The Hall of Criminals and Saints, This Way to the Exit. It took me ages to work out the word "that rhymes with eek" ***SPOILER ALERT *** must be " freak" and that the story has something to do with being different, being differently abled. Was the narrator, the guide, differently abled, was the visitor, were they both?


ashramblings verdict 2* This story went completely over my head :( I'm clearly missing something and would love to hear from others who have read it and have some insight, else I'll be conluding that the author has not got her message across.


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Upland essence

It slithers and slides like an eel over granite
rocks encased in soft springs of moss beds
banked by lush riparian green.
A twig floats then tumbles then floats again
down whitened eddies fade to black
as birdsong stars the canopy.
I drink it in
Clear water, soft and sweet, nourishes my body
Its mother land nourishing my soul.
© Sheila Ash
image

Photo Credit : @lynne_francis1 https://kentishramblerblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/the-importance-of-location

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Review: Henosis by N.K. Jemisin

Henosis by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I stumbled across this story when going to the Uncanny website to read/listen to another story from the same volume

It is available online at https://uncannymagazine.com/article/h... to read and to listen to - it is narrated by Stephanie Morris

The author's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was nominated for Hugo Award and others in 2010

This is a near future set story about writers' legacies. Harkim is an award nominated writer, he does the rounds of book signings, he turns up for awards ceremonies, but not all awards ceremonies are equal. Some indicate an end to the writer's work. Will he win? What will be his legacy?

ashramblings verdict 3* This story has a non-linear structure - its numbered chapters come in a distorted sequence. Unfortunately for me although the story was OK I didn't grasp any reason for this1` structure, which didn't seem to lend anything to the tale - perhaps I missed its point. It has some good parts while it talks about the legacy of different writers - Vonnegut, Mishma - and how their lives had ended - but on the whole it didn't really hit my buttons.

Footnote: is the classical Greek word for mystical "oneness", "union" or "unity"  


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Review: Carnival Nine by Caroline M Yoachim

Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This story has been shortlisted for the 2018 Hugo Awards according to https://www.tor.com/2018/03/31/2018-h...
It is available to read and listen to online at http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.co...


ashramblings verdict 5* A heart wrenching story of a mother's love for her son, the sacrifices she makes. But there is a twist. No spoiler alerts but from the begining you realise this is no ordinary woman, there is talk of a maker, or springs and turns, each person having so many per day.

What I loved about this story was how it is never actually stated, only as you read does the setting, the context become apparent. Very cleverly done.

Beautifully read by Tina Connolly

Althought it is the first of the Hugo Shortlist I have read I could not give it less than a 5* rating.


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Monday, 26 March 2018

Review: Clearing the Bones

By Bank Square Books - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Celeste_Ng_at_Wheeler_Library_(37313134021).jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66541284
Clearing the Bones by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is available on the BBC Short Story Podcast https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p061... read by Laurel Lefkow (Twitter: @laurellefkow ) .

An older sister questions her younger sibling's choice of partner.

****SPOILER ALERT ***** her doubts about John turn to an envious acceptance and a view of a different sister than she had guarded and taken care of when young, a meat eater now no longer a vegetarian.

ashramblings verdict 4* This is my first read of anything by Celeste Ng. I loved the double meaning ending as she views the meat in the butcher's  "How solid this muscle , how nourishing, how simple. You could live on this richness"

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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Review: To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is this Woolf at her best? The consummate guide to people looking. Go with the flow. Beautifully narrated by Juliet Stevenson, whose vocal tone I find entrancing.

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Monday, 19 March 2018

Irish Solitaire

Green velvet
draped like northern lights
swings soulfully above towering spires of red stilettos

Alone, she ascends the staircase
in a silent sweeping caress
with no backward regard.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Match Dot Com

Ad: Reasonably good looking ex professional sportsman, 6’, slim-average built, eats healthy, likes the outdoors, sports, seeking a slender, attractive lady, size 10-12, who lives within E Mids.

This cardigan charlatan
Bills himself as a sporty man
Camouflaging truth and face
in Faustian pact. He pays his dues
for unlimited access to schmooz
for unsuspecting dates.

He prowls the social media streets
A tom cat on heat
Looking for the unsuspecting
A 10 or 12 in size, a slender
beauty to greet his eyes
each morning and each evening.

Several pseudonyms disguise
his twisted whims. His roving eyes
implore from ladies’ gracious favours
Pursues his pleasures hedonistic
Seeking diversions sybaritic
to his own goal he never waivers

On Eharmany and Match Dot com
On Tinder and Badoo - A marathon
of choice dating
Each one made enticing
sounding fun and most exciting
his ad lies baiting

With eloquent abbreviation
bagged in easy flirtation
His conquests are a formality
With each passing of his role as cupid
his bank balance lushly boosted
a change of personality

another email another ipad
another site another ad
another soul lost and sad
another fool to be had

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Review: The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux

The Mystery of the Yellow Room The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is available online at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_My...
I listened to Audible recording narrated by Simon Vance.
I've been told this is often regarded as one of the best novels based on the locked room scenario n which the perperator of a crime appears to have escaped from a locked room. Most of us will have heard of the author, Gaston Leroux, before via familiarity with The Phantom of the Opera

ashramblings verdict 4* I was certainly in the mood for a good yarn and found it a thoroughly compelling listen.

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Monday, 12 March 2018

Erotica - Three Poems

The challenge for my Creative Writing Group was to write something erotic!

Congress

My hand has five fingers
Every one of them is for you:
The thumb to brush tears from your cheek
The index to trace the curve of your back
The second to enter your sanctum
The third to play falsetto to the melody of the second
The pinky to promise my eternal faithfulness
My hand conducts our concert.

Inamorato

Approaching dawn
Sleep lingering like the blanket of the night
You slumber on
White linens drape your back
My finger traces initials in an imaginary heart
carved for eternity in English oak
Forgetting our infidelity lies in pieces on the hotel floor.

Jay’s Euphoria

Forlorn I found it in the corner of Jay’s Antiques Emporia
Surrounded by military memorabilia, garden tools, and 60s psychedelia.
A departed dressmaker’s wire frame, set to fit a 50s starlet without a name.
This potential pre-Raphaelite Ophelia lay hidden in rust and dust
The buried paraphernalia of my imagined lust.

I vinegar away the ancient grime from joints oxidised by time
I lubricate and adjust the points that size the waist and bust
With Master’s hands I work away to mould a face from potter’s clay
with true artistic guile, I Max Factor in your favourite ‘Marilyn Sunset Red’ smile.

I nourish life into my design
I clothe her in the Calvin Klein dress I bought for you
Her tiny feet inside your bridal Jimmy Choo’s
I chose the wig with great affection – brunette of course
Combed and styled in consummate perfection.

I raise her up, the music’s on. The band is playing our song.
We swing and sway and in its passion perish
Transmuted into cherished fetish
I disappear among your breasts
Your body yields to my request
”You’re here! You’re here! My wanton sweet desire.
Come, come, and come again my shameless fire.”

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Shakti run GlobalGiving Project to improve Old Age Home, Rayagada

I spent 2 yrs with Shakti (http://www.shaktiorg.com/)   in Rayagada, India. They are funding their second project through Global Giving, to improve the conditions in their old age persons home. This may not be the Exotic Marigold Hotel, its the other end of the spectrum, but provides care and a safe environment for these elderly people. It is great to recognise some of the people in the picture from when I was their in 2009-2011.  Hoping you can find it in your hearts to help them make their target , every little helps and will make a difference.

https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/home-away-from-home-support-the-old-age-person/

Review: Dead People on Facebook by Roger Ley

Dead People on Facebook Dead People on Facebook by Roger Ley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flash fiction available online at https://literallystories2014.com/2018...

This is a Tragicomedy story of grief regressing into fantasy courtesy of social media.

ashramblings verdict 4* Well worth the under 10 minute read over your morning cuppa.

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Tuesday, 6 March 2018

A child’s dream of adventure

Languid days when I would lie in prairie grasses nine feet high
gazing long and hard upon a dream land fresh and sweet
I’d trace the peaks and valleys there and walk its silken streets.

I’d swim in waters fresh and clear and dance from cloud to cloud
I’d take repose and rest awhile upon the billows deep
where fast and long I’d slumber on in unimpeded sleep.

Revived, refreshed, to do my best the hero I would rise
to fight the daemon dragon king with murder in its eyes
with fiery breath that blasted nigh it roamed across the skies
but with my crossbow I would cause its ultimate demise.

Or, like Jim Hawkins, I would be a runaway to ship and sea
I’d climb the rigging, raise the sails, perhaps like Ahab find a whale
or better still a secret map that told a buried treasure tale

Of places lying undiscovered, more imploring than later lovers
to the Barbary Coast with buccaneers, to the Amazon jungle with pioneers
I explored the world’s exotic places, travelling with Stevenson to Samoa,
riding the Silk Route with Marco Polo, going into space aboard Apollo.

Like Robin Hood I’d take an oath I’d never break or disavow
to help the poor subjected ones, those bent in deep kowtow
those shackled to another’s will, the crestfallen, and the cowed.

I’d run the gauntlet, forge the brook, see off invaders mean
I’d hunt the deer and track the boars that roam the forests green
Steal tarts with the Knave of Hearts, play croquet with the Queen.

I’d drive the giants from out their lair with heavy heart and grateful prayer
I’d rescue the young maiden fair and bring her safely home
then drink and wench the night away fight well in bar-rooms brawls
Have minstrels write me into songs sung late banquet halls

Then in the morning I would wake and off to school I’d go
behind me lay unfinished tales of glory and of woe
tales of heroes , tales of yore, a vampire one of blood and gore
but after class you’d find me back, nose in a book once more.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Monday, 5 March 2018

The Wreckage of the Earth

From cuttlefish to Cutty Sark
From shopping bags to plastic parts
The waste that fills the land piles high
The sea distressed gives out a sigh
Its waves cry out in constant pain
Shoring our debris as solid rain
Upon the beach where once we tread
The remnants of life on Earth now dead

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Did you see #BluePlanet2 exposé on plastics in the environment? Then support  research to #plasticfree world. Support @CuanTec #crowdfunder for ecofriendly sustainable alternatives #noplastic #plasticpollution lnkd.in/gGGVXE9


https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/pollution-kills-cuantec-saves 


Flotsam and Jetsam - geograph.org.uk - 736943
Photo Credit: Nigel Mykura [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 26 February 2018

Ephemera

Junk is other people’s collected ephemera
amassed over years
accruing dust on shelves
un-tended gardens of spiders
inhabited by unfamiliar ghosts.

These physical renderings of pasts lack passion
their meaning lost to others.
Seen only in the reality of now
the stone is just a stone:
not our walk, hand in hand, along the beach at St Cyrus Sands.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

clip_image002

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/133457
© Copyright Ian Cleland and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Guardians of the Galactic Jewel Box

The Southern Cross
guards the opening carved in the heavens
by the galactic arm of the Milky Way stretching far across the night sky.

A silk cut on velvet black
bleeding constellations of colour
into our eyes staring in awe from the edge of Fish River Canyon.

© Sheila Ash, 2018


Notes:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewel_Box_(star_cluster)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crux

If you want to see a picture of the southern sky from the canyon take a look at the following photo http://www.skyandtelescope.com/online-gallery/southern-milky-way-namibia/ from Photographer Jean-Claude Merlin jcmerlin@wanadoo.fr

Much better than my camera and photographic skills which could only manage https://www.flickr.com/photos/jesjaspers/11426253673/in/album-72157638711336556

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Last Party

When I’m the last one standing
All nine bottles gone
All eight lives lived to the full
The ninth will be a song of remembrance
Toasted with the tenth

© Sheila Ash

At 17

“And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball”
© Janis Ian, 1975
https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/janisian/atseventeen.html


At 17, I was like Janis Ian’s song
the name not called for basketball
the mince pie left upon the plate
the one stood up on a blind date.

At 27, I ambled on adrift
sauntering tryst to tryst
waiting for Prince Charming’s kiss
lost with Morgaine in Avalon’s magic mist.

At 37, quite dejected,
career in tatters, Unperfected
lovers lost to better others:
never to become a mother.

At 47 am reinvented
I let the pass die unlamented
forgot the emptying mobile phone
forgot the lunches twice postponed.

At 57 I’d faced my greatest fears
said farewell to angst in Algiers,
found a world that welcomes smiling faces
that ageless beauty Time embraces

a 67 more content than ever
a vibrant spirit never bent, never severed
an inner strength that does not depend
on the transience of so called friends.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Review: A Mexican Story by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

A Mexican Story by Alberto Barrera Tyszka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is available online at the Words without Borders website

Javier and best buddy Lencho work in the movie industry - Javier in lighting, Lencho in minor acting roles which have only twice been speaking parts, with the same few words before his character is murdered. Javier finds he is becoming infatuated with Lencho's wife, Hilda. "Which is stronger, friendship or desire?"

***SPOILER ALERT *** They begin an affair and are found out. There is a confrontation of sorts between the two men. This is a story of overtaking passion turning to apprehension and fear. There's just a hint of Mexico's troubles - the story Lencho tells of the drug lord, the home surveillance. The writer navigates this storm of emotions very well. I loved both the opening paragraph
My friend Lencho Mejía has been murdered thirty-seven times in Los Angeles, five in Tijuana, and once in a Romanian-Argentinian co-production filmed in Honduras, which came very close to being nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Only twice, though, has he had the chance to say anything before dropping dead: “You fucking bastard!” On both occasions. He had to say it quickly and quietly, but he put a lot of feeling into it. Everything he learned from Stanislavski is encapsulated in those three words. Or so Lencho always says when, at home, after his fifth tequila, he gets out his videos and forces us to watch all his deaths, one after another.
and the ambiguous, linked, ending - did Javier pick up the "large sharp knife" in the kitchen or not?

ashramblings verdict 4* A really well crafted story. Alberto Barrera Tyszka was not an author I had come across but am impressed enough to seek out more. I believe this story is in his collection Crímenes. It is translated from the original Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa, whose name I do recall from translations of the works of Fernando Pessoa and José Saramago. There appears to be one minor aberration in the translation on the Words without Borders site which is when Javier descibes the green dress he has imagines Hilda wearing the text strays for a few short sentances into the second person pronoun, "you" when talking about Hilda, instead of the third person "she" used elsewhere in the text.



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Monday, 19 February 2018

The Shepherd

The fulcrum of the night
balances dark and light
The hope of a new day
pivots against a past
laid to black.

Tequila sunrise oranges and reds
rise from the green flash.
Eyes a daze
he stands and stares ahead
into the wide expanse
of old horizons.

Sorrow buried deep in white
clouds of time gone by,
A love let go
in pain and anguish,
A life taken
way before its time.
Remembering refills his eyes.

Verdant meadows sway with
gentle puffs of spring
colour awakening to the wind
brushing its green rain
over the high mountain plateau.

Snow caps linger on
like the last remnants of the old man’s hair.
Clinging to the peaks
as the sun
heats the mountain’s brow
heralding a new season.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Opinion : Cortland Review, Issue 78, Feb 2018 (Part 1 of 2)

Why are poetry books so expensive? At 10GBP PLUS per short chapbook pamphlet this keeps poetry elitist, out of reach for the stretched pockets today, especially if you want to read a cross section of modern poets this cost would soon mount up and easily get out of control even for the well off. Further many poetry books do not seem to ever make it to the e-book format.

Magazines aren’t much better. In today’s global internet based world, the printed issue which frequently doubles in price for international postage also becomes unobtainable, and many are not available in digital format.

I have decided to explore a number of online Poetry Magazines which are free. I’m not doing these in any particular order other than the order I come to the  magazines.

The opinion given herein, and in following opinions, is my own, first impression both of the Magazine and the poems. Readers of this blog will know I write Reviews of books and Short Stories as much as a reminder to myself of the individual story and which ones I have read, however I am novice when it comes to reviewing poetry so feedback welcome.  Here goes.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Today’s is the Cortland Review Issue 78 February 2018 http://www.cortlandreview.com/issue/78/index.php @CortlandReview 

Its editorial claims it has “new poems by Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Collier Brown, Grant Clauser, Ann Conway, Robert Cording, Chris Crew, Matt Daly, Roger Desy, Mark Dow, Glenn Freeman, Beth Gylys, Julia Leverone, Valerie Nieman, Simon Perchik, Todd Robinson, John Sibley Williams and Philip Terman” and fiction “by Juan Alvarado Valdivia and Jade Freeman.”

Each poem in this quarterly journal comes with its own audio reading. I really like this as it lets me, as a reader, also listen to how the poet reads her/his own work – their tone, their emphasis, their breaks and pauses – this greatly enhances my own read, my enjoyment, my understanding. Its the two together which make the differences hearing it read and seeing the poem’s layout, together.

Today I have read the poems by

Sally Bliumis-Dunn
Collier Brown
Grant Clauser
Ann Conway
Robert Cording
Chris Crew
Matt Daly

none of whom I have read before. Here’s my initial thoughts on each. My thoughts on the others from this Issue will follow in a subsequent post.

********

Snow by Sally Bliumis-Dunn

6 stanzas each of 3 lines in which she recalls the aftermath of her a loved one’s death in hospital in terms of the removal of the body, the renewing of the white bed linen. The trigger for this being a snowfall in her back yard covering all the items left there – the trowel, the rake, the dog’s ball , just as the black vinyl bag covered the body on the hospital gurney. Contrasts of what is hidden by the white and black in that moment of vacant staring about at the world during grief.

********

Brother by Collier Brown 16 lines Can’t say I relate to this poem. It seems to be about hunting, is the Brother of the title the hunted fox? . What stands out are the sounds employed in end of line rhymes and mid line lines and visual rhymes - aabbccddxxxxffgg Lines 1-8 are rhyming pairs, as are lines 12-16 although the reading  doesn’t force the rhymes it shows them. Lines 1-8 show the rhythm of the hounds circular territorial walk round the places where it has buried its kills and left its scent.  Lines 9-12 has the rhyming “choke” “speak” “teeth” “creek” and I suspect the jarring of “choke” is an intentional hard “k” echo into “speak” but I fail to understand why the poet should have chose this ‘discord’ in the middle section of his poem.

********

Trouble Light by Grant Clauser

This is a beautiful memory of a past father found through thinking about all the things the speaker witnessed his father doing when he was a child – fix the broken station wagon, fix the dog’s trapped leg. All this trouble, which needed a father to fix, happened in the dark, a child’s fear we can all relate to. I loved the phrases

“when the dark
was a problem you could solve
with tools and anger”

and the finale, where he still sees, recalls his father

“his light,
hanging in the shed, the garage,
keeping the dark cracks
from getting too large.”

Probably my favourite of the ones I have read thus far.

********

My Friend, Lost by Ann Conway
Another poem I just don’t get. On my reading its 15 lines didn’t run smooth and this is where the author audio really helps – it gave me the momentum of the poem.

It seems to be about someone who has lost a friend, possibly to war?  Whereas the town has moved on, forgotten its dead, the speaker has not. The friend is now only present in the speaker’s dreams, as noises haunting the kitchen, But why the final line “I was sick of those goddam Yankees”? There is no other hint, to me at least , of this being set in the US Civil War time, although I suppose “cicadas” only to be in the US South. Lost on this non-American.

********

Two Photographers by Robert Cording

A poem in 2 parts, each about an art photographer – the first Josef Sudek’s Egg, the second about Diane Arbus’ Vineland photographs. I knew neither artist, so how did reading this poem inform me about what to expect when I ‘googled’ them?

Josef Sudek appears to have a preoccupation with eggs! But more his work is post war still lifes with mundane objects such as an egg, a glass of water, placing these in different situations equally mundane and everyday  - a table, a saucer - and  using his skill as a photographer to capture the line between “light and shadow” – the before and after of the war? But also the singularity, the “selfhood”, the defined outline of the egg shape as a “focus to quiet the mind” amidst the turmoil past and present. Having ‘googled’ him, his photographers are stark – bread, water, egg – pretty basic nutrition – stark reminders of destitution, poverty and necessity, of hard times and survival. He was a Czech photographer born 1896, died 1976 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Sudek 

I also learnt a new word “gnomen”

“On a saucer, the egg
a gnomon shadowing the line

between before and after. “

According to the dictionary gnomen is
(1) the projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow.
Astronomy - a structure, especially a column, used in observing the sun's meridian altitude
(2) Geometry - the part of a parallelogram left when a similar parallelogram has been taken from its corner.

The second part, entitled Transparency (Vineland photographs, Diane Arbus), is a complete contrast. The photographs are about people it is not clear who, but the photographer  appears to be in the picture with her subjects, reminiscent of an anthropologist encountering a primitive tribe.. The result a sensation of who is looking at who in the zoo. As voyeur we ‘see’ elements of ourselves in these subjects

“in those mismatched, out-of-date,
ill-fitting outfits we recognize as our own”

But their  “stare at her camera” remains childlike, unknowing, primitive and

“even if we tried to be

this naked and vulnerable, could never escape
the awareness that has us looking at them

as if we were relieved for being who we are,
then apologetic for that failure in ourselves.”

Imagine my horror when I ‘google’ the photographer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_Arbus and this series of photographers and find they were taken at Utah State Hospital for the institutionalized mentally retarded. https://www.americansuburbx.com/2012/12/diane-arbus-essential-mysteries-excerpt-2011.html

Did Robert Cording do a good job?Yes, for me his poem captures the essence of both these artist’s works and the two pieces sit well together in one poem - the sheer contrast between the distinctly different styles, approaches, and subject matter.

********

From a relief pitcher's death, I learn by Chris G Crew

On first seeing this poem I thought it must be some kind of mesostic, text found within another piece, but it  lacks the meaningful central vertical line . Instead, after reading it, I am of the opinion it is diagrammatic of the boat propeller’s shaft, central to the poem’s narrative, the circumstances surrounding the swimmer’s death.

I loved the phraseology that painted the picture of boats which “turtled along the beach” , the cyclic nature of  “all movement is borrowed from stillness” , the boat’s propeller as “the windmill toward home” .

I have difficultly with the beginning and the end – the initial “the same day we washed February from my father’s body” would appear to be self explanatory but what relation does it hold to the rest of the poem, except happening at the same time? And the point of the finale  escapes me “the finer points visible only to those living each turn of those astronomical years”

On doing a bit of investigation I found this 2015 story of Caracas Lions / Seattle Mariners pitcher Victor Sanchez which may have been the inspiration for the poem http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mariners-prospect-dies-hit-boat-propeller-article-1.2167042

********

After Tony Write to Me About Dogen by Matt Daly

Even with the title of this 11 line poem I had to consult the oracle – Google told me who Dogen was, a Japanese writer , poet and philospher from the 13th century who wrote the first Zen monastic code  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C5%8Dgen ) . Having that piece of information this poem is a reflective, contemplation on diet and lifestyle choices. The speaker considering himself appreciative of his breakfast of  “granola with almonds, walnuts, cranberries and milk rather than plain oatmeal” which it is to be assumed is what his probably vegetarian friend Tony of the title and other advocates of Dogen’s Zen lifestyles would be having , even though his non-vegetarian stomach remains wishing for something more substantial.

********

ashramblings verdict – I like the format of the Cortland Reviw on the web., especially approving of the presentations of audios. My favourite poem of those read thus far is Trouble Light by Grant Clauser   - its language is very accessible, and I think anyone who has grown up with a father figure around in their childhood can relate to its narrative and sentiment.




Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Review: Kelemo's Woman by Molara Wood


Kelemo's Woman by Molara Wood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short story can be found at http://www.eclectica.org/v11n3/wood.html and in Molara Wood’s short story collection Indigo

This is the story of the choices made by a young Nigerian woman at the time of a military coup. Her mother has died and she is alone except for Kelemo who is a political activist. They have to spend their lives 'ducking and diving' trying to keep one step ahead of the authorities. She has nothing and has no identity outside of being “Kelemo’s Woman”. On her death bed her mother bemoans her own life spent in the wake of men “Iriola, trust no one. Allow yourself to be pulled down by no one. I mean, no one. Don't be like me, slaving all my life to stand by men and for what? To die of a wasting disease before my time? Iriola, I beg of you. If the house is falling or the boat is sinking, secure for yourself a safe landing. A comfortable patch. Now you will have no mother. The person to watch over you, is you." When the soldiers come to her supposedly safe house what choices does Irioko make? How does she survive?

I think this story is one of those "glass half full - glass half empty" reads depending on how you read it, whether you read the mother's death bed words as urging Iroko to take the safe comfortable route to survival or to find a secure landing from which to get out from all the chaos.
Only in the direst conditions are we faced with the burden of such choices, we have no time to consider their consequences, no power to forgo making them, for they are placed on us by those weilding power. Only if we survive can we tell, can we expose. Think Sophie's Choice, think #MeToo.

For me its a story about survival, about the costs of survival, for the voiceless multitudes. It is about a Africa lost , be it to the wasting of HIV/AIDS, be it to post colonial vacuums caused by trying to continue the "British sitcom" only to end up being taken over by a game of chess, power played by groups of wannabees who are but boy soldiers exercising petty power. Tongue in cheek it may be saying it is time for change #NoMore

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My life in shoes

At first there were a pair of handmade crocheted bootees
Surpassed, for the photographer hired to capture my christening, by white round toed Mary Jane’s.
At 5 I was in red leather Clarks Joyance ‘school’ sandals, T barred with a pattern of holes
At 11 I chose white leather moccasins with 1in rubber heels.

My very own ballet shoes replaced the shared black canvas gym pump pile that fell out of primary school cupboards
A pair of flaming flamenco red dance shoes with Tone King taps brought colour to my cheeks
The elegance of strappy sparkling gold “Strictly” ballroom heels to spin in.
But the true pleasure was playing out in the wet and mud in Wellington boots.

Disco nights in Mod white leather knee high Go-Go boots
mock André Courreges, no ‘Pretty Woman’ Cuissarde over the knee boots for me,
No Dr Martens either, instead the black and white canvass
of American baseball boots and sneakers.

I klomped around in wooden Scholl’s
Craving the comfort of my Birkenstocks skin
Beachcombing in my jelly shoes
Slipping lately into Oakley ‘jangles’ to flip flop my way bravely to bare feet.

I loitered in Loafers, ran in Desert boots and Reebok Pumps
Proudly polished my Charles Jourdan brogues.
I suffered wide fit Van Dal’s for work – a token gesture to office conformity
Preferring my riding boots, their Cuban heels, my Moon boots in the snow.

Today I live in a rainbow of Merrells
Boots, shoes and sandals
Comfort from first to last
slipper of my evening.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Makemo

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A mirror’s edge horizon
cuts the endless blue sea and the endless blue sky
defining difference only by a scattered motu, a motionless cumulus.

Velvet blue waters team with life uninterrupted
as the soft melodious chug of the engine takes us in
and rouses the morning watch.

The dying embers of a fisherman’s fire
-yesternight’s warmth waning-
signals the dawn of the coming day.

© Sheila Ash, 2018clip_image001

Friday, 9 February 2018

Cheddar Man

https://www.w3livenews.com/News/ReadArticle
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/09/hes-one-of-us-modern-neighbours-welcome-cheddar-man

Unveiled
A pair of sapphires sparkling with joie de vivre
Lighthouses from another era
Beaconing forth below his long dark hair
Uncut by modern vanity
His meat eater’s embouchure
Taught and strong
The hunter gatherer of yester-year
Stands proud in his dark skin
While is paled ancestors gaze in bewilderment
At their reversed image.
© Sheila Ash, 2018


Thursday, 8 February 2018

Review: The Dancer by Bashir Sakhawarz

The Dancer The Dancer by Bashir Sakhawarz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thsi stry is available online

In the #MeToo age here is a sad story about paedophilic abuse of a young 8 year old boy struggling with hunger and poverty on the streets in a war torn Afghanistan. His need for food makes him susceptible to the whims of an older powerful man, Akram with the position of army Commander, who traffics him far away. The boy's naivety makes him confuse the receipt of food and drink, a place to stay and schooling in dance as love, the abuser as more than the forgotton father who had abandoned him in a now forgotton place. He lives with Akram "in a big fortress with his children and wives, guarded by his private soldiers" in "a big room at the entrance of the fortress" and learns "the art of dancing from the best dance teachers, accompanied by excellent musicians."

***SPOILER ALERT *** Shrouding the older man's abuse in illegal same sex marriage bought with a brib to the mullah, the young boy is painted and dressed as a woman, dances for the men's entertainment, performing like a well taught pet. Now 14 years old, he is the best dancer "in the province of Farkhar" But in his cloistered life, he is the only one who does not know his ultimate fate
"He doesn't know but the moon above the cloud, the cloud above the mountain, the mountain on the shoulder of the earth, the earth on the back of a dragon know that some years later when the boy is just sixteen years old everything will change. But at the moment he is the moon on the calm water of the lake, the sun behind sutton cloud, the gentle breeze in the summer, the canary, the music. He walks on the heart of the men and his footprint remains. They have seen many boys before him but not like him from heaven, a ghilman. He is king and queen at the same time, king of dance, queen of Akram."

The boy's life will turn full circle when he is too old for the Commander's desires, becomes the discarded play thing, flung out onto an unknown street without friend or food once again. Although set in Afghanistan, the impact of what the story tell is universal - the cyclical sadness of poverty, the cruel disregard by the perpetrators of abuse for the humanity of their victims.

Note https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghilman Ghilman (singular Arabic: غُلاَم‎ ghulām ,plural غِلْمَان ghilmān) were slave-soldiers and/or mercenaries in the armies of the Abbasid, Ottoman, and Persian Safavid, Afsharid and Qajar empires.

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Review: Girls Fine as Beeswing by Elaine Chiew

Girls Fine as Beeswing Girls Fine as Beeswing by Elaine Chiew
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short story is available online

A young 15 year old Gracie is taken for a slap up lunch by her grandfather whom she loves and whom she likes to see enjoying himself in her company. She tells him about school , her art projects. Their meal is indulgent - Pouilly-Fuissé, Bordeau, Beef Wellington, Bresse pigeon with Savoy cabbage - this old grandfather likes the finner things of life, he considers himself something of a connaisseur of life's indulgences "Beeswing is the filmy crust on old port". He drinks a bit too much, gets annoyed as she tells him of her first kiss and encourages her instead to tell him more about her girl friends. As a good grandfather he gives her a gift, one which brings her to tears of delight "The box was embossed in fine papyrus; inside lay a quill ink-pen. The feather was long and elegant, speckled with daubs of brown. The pen's body was a rich mahogany red, the nib a dull gleam of gold."
***SPOILER ALERT*** But the glorious quill is never used, it is abandoned "deep in my drawer with all my girlie hair things" Why this should have happened is in the partially exposed under story, written just enough into this story so that the reader can envisage what happens outside of this scene in the restaurant. Nicely done.

ashramblings verdict 4* The strength of this work lies in what is partially exposed, partially hidden, behind and within this story of a grandfather and grand-daughter's lunch.

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I

I am the other inside
The doubt, the fear, the apprehension
Lying hidden behind a gregarious charade masque.

I am the other inside
The strident, the assertive, the outspoken
Concealed in a gormless gomeral’s gaze.

I am the other inside
The hermit, the recluse, the monachal
Obscured in a nomadic djellaba of the knight errant

Outside I am the sum of many others
Balance forged like tempered steel
In the furnace of life.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Review: The Lament of Hester Muponda by Petina Gappah


https://www.flickr.com/photos/das-blaue-sofa/30603050355/
The Lament of Hester Muponda by Petina Gappah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very poignant, quite short, story of a women's life which I fear is all too common. Hester Muponda looses 5 children one by one, then her grandchildren one by one, then her husband moves out and moves in with his mistress. Each time the gossips talk, her church people encourage her to have faith, but no one gives her any sympathy. She is surrounded by the "stench of grief". ***SPOILER ALERT *** Destitute, she starts to cook sadza, chicken stew and vegetables for the bus drivers who come to a cigarette and newspaper stall. There in a neighbourhood changed beyond recognition since Independence, she finally dies and the only people who "felt her absence were those drivers and conductors who missed firm but soft sadza and the chicken stew"

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The Beautiful Dawn

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I once dreamt of her, The Beautiful Dawn,
Softly humming James Blunt
While watching you sleep.
The white voiles breeze in the open windows
Caressing the morning’s silent entrance
The sun stirs as you should be
The coral sands and blue waters call
The sail is up, the wind astern
Outward to the ocean
To the endless horizon of dreams
We set sail.


© Sheila Ash, 2018

Monday, 5 February 2018

Vampire Crossing

I gorge on their succulent and juicy flesh
To satisfy my thirst
And live another night


To fly free with the wind
Across the campos and barrios
Till daybreak’s repose.


I hunt alone
Stalking the mean streets of Tijuana
Waiting for them to slip


Down the desolate desperate alley cuts
To a home which never comes.
Instead my gift -

a bloodied oblivion
Or deliverance to the Lord of the Eternal Night.


5th February, 2018

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Elegy for Ursula Le Guin

No time left now
The light is extinguished
The chair unoccupied
The pen abandoned.
Their tales of earth, sea road,
of fire and stone. Ever read immortals
Unlocked the air of admiration
in the altered I.
The city of illusions lies
Shrouded in darkness
As the unreal and the real collide
We hear the dispossessed voices
Render the language of the night
When wild angels rode the wind
To rob us of the truest name

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Review: Chekov and Zulu by Salman Rushdie

At the Auction of the Ruby SlippersThis story can be found online at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/08/22/chekov-and-zulu


All I can say about this one is that it is a pseudo spy story which is constructed via a fantastic merger of western pop culture by using Chekov and Sulu two characters from the sci-fi series Star Trek as inspirational nicknames for two Indian residents in the UK during the time of the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi. The story shows the friendship between old school friends now working within the Indian Secret Service The choice of names reflects how they see themselves "not the leaders....but the ultimate professional servants". But their friendships is put under strain following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards following the Indian State's attack on the Sikh Golden Temple at Amritsar. They never meet again. One resigns, returns to Bombay to work in private security and lives out a good, prosperous life; the other continues to work in his diplomatic position in London unable, unwilling to take a stance on terrorism. Ultimately this becomes his downfall as he is caught up in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by Tamil Tigers some years later. "The tragedy is not how one dies. It is how one has lived"

I read this story as part of Salman Rushdie's short story collection East, West. My Book Review

ashramblings verdict 4* Very, very clever. Whether it is too clever may depend on your knowledge of both Star Trek and Indian history.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Review: Don't Let Them Catch You by Molly Patterson

Don't Let Them Catch You Don't Let Them Catch You by Molly Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Upfront I shall say that the author is the daughter of an ex work colleague. He proudly shared with me the publicity surrounding her first novel Rebellion. So I thought I would check out her writing. I found her website http://www.mollypattersonwriter.com/s... and this story available online at http://ir.uiowa.edu/iowareview/vol42/... .

This story is narrated in the voice of 11 year old Kaitlyn. She lives with her 14 year old sister, Brandy, and their mostly absent mother and attends piano lessons with Mrs Duncan which have been organised by her Uncle Mike before he left for military service in Afghanistan. Brandy is supposed to collect Kaitlyn from her lesson but doesn't and instead the young girl has to walk the 9 blocks home.

Her imagination runs riot, taking the story of a local kidnapping of a girl, Kaitlyn doesn't like the look in the eyes of car driver at the stop sign as she crosses the 4 laned street, in the man smoking on the stoop who scans her as she walk along the street. Patterson creates the voice of the young girl very well and her pacey prose sweeps you along as Kaitlyn walks home, her imagination tempering her fear by creating romanticised stories of her own abduction at the hands of a man whose house is "on top of a waterfall, somewhere in Italy or maybe Japan" who wants her "to play music for him for the rest of his life" Her beautiful playing makes him weep and "he has to set me free"

Once home she finds the door key is not in its hiding place and so she hides behind a bush until her sister returns home having been out with her much older boyfriend Chaz. She doesn't like being out in the dark as this is "when the thieves come out" and "the crazy people who could run up to you from behind and push you down on the ground". Kaitlyn is a typical latch key child, but not old enough, not responsible enough, to have her own key. She doesn't want to be alone in the house, she hates the TV being on with no one watching it, her sister too preoccupied 'making out' behind a locked bedroom door with Chaz. She know about not going anywhere alone with a stranger. But who consitutes a stranger? At school the teacher had asked if the mailman was a stranger and the class had chorused a resounding 'yes'. But outside of the classroom, just who does consitutes a stranger?

ashramblings verdict 4* Pacey prose, authentic voiced story of growing up alone.



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Review: Lederhosen by Haruki Murakami

Lederhosen Lederhosen by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story is available online at https://granta.com/lederhosen and in Murakami's short story collection The Elephant Vanishes

A man's wife's friend turns up very early for dinner, as conversation begins to run out she tells him the story of how her parents divorce was "all because of a pair of shorts" or more correctly lederhosen. Her mother had gone to visit family in Germany. She'd never travelled alone in all her 55 years of life. According to the friend, her father was a hard worker, and although her parents never argued, there had been rows over him and other woman. Her father asks her mother to bring back a souvenir, a pair of lederhosen for him, she agrees to do this ****SPOILER ALERT*** but he never gets his lederhosen.

Lederhosen are often viewed as comical apparal outside of their cultural context, layer this on top of that the vision of a Japanese man wearing them and you get the picture. Murakami's writing often contains a moment of epiphany. Unable to buy lederhosen because the store will not sell them without the wearer being present to ensure correct fit and maintain the stores proud reputation, the mother finds a stranger as a standin. Watching this ludicrous lederhosen clad man provides that pivotal moment in the mother's life allowing her to reflect upon her marriage and her feelings for her husband.

ashramblings verdict 3* Why she tells this story we never know. Are there any parallels between the daughter, the friend's husband and his absent wife and the daughter, her father and absent mother? This is a story about how a novel experience has a profund effect on the mother who never returns home to her husband and daughter, but leaves us wondering exactly how profund an effect this also had on the daughter who never married and fill her time teaching electric organ and playing tennis, skiing and swimming.

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Thursday, 1 February 2018

Review: Acuérdate - Remember by Juan Rulfo

Acuérdate Acuérdate by Juan Rulfo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is available online in the original Spanish at http://www.literatura.us/rulfo/acuerd... and in English at https://latinamericanshortstories.fil...

Not until the end of this story is the reason revealed for the narrator's rambling on about how "we" must remember Urbano Gómez. We hear about who is is, what he did, that he was more or less our age, and who his parents and sisters were. It is as if the narrator is speaking directly to us, that "we"are the recipient of the narrator's urging to remember Urbano, that "we" knew him, and ***SPOILER ALERT*** ultimately that "we" had a part to lay in his end because it is "us" who taunted him when he was expelled from school, who avoided him and left him to be friendless.

ashramblings verdict 4* The writer relentlessly draws the reader into the collusion and in doing so "we" essentially confess our role in Urbano's fate. Nicely done.

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Review: No oyes ladrar los perros by Juan Rulfo

No oyes ladrar los perros No oyes ladrar los perros by Juan Rulfo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is available online in the original Spanish at http://www.literatura.us/rulfo/perros... and in English at http://teachfreespeech.com/wp-content...

An almost one sided night time conversation between a father and son. The son is unwell, most likely injured, and, slipping in an out of consciousness, is being carried on the shoulders of his father. His father is unable to put his son down until they get to their destination for fear of being unable to lift him up again. He is seeking the village of Tonaya which he has been told lies just beyond the hill he has climbed over. He believes their is a doctor there.
***SPOILER ALERT***There does not appear to have been a good relationship between father and son prior to this time. The focus of the story is less on why the son has ended up in this position than about the father's determination. To keep going the father curses his son, his ill-spent time in bad company, the death of his own wife in childbirth. Bowed under his son's weight and walking at night the father is unable to see, he keeps asking his son if he can see the village, if he can hear the village dogs barking - anything to know how much further he must carry his burden, anything to keep his son from drifting into unconsciousness.

This is a story of parental love, parred back to its bones to capture the father's despair and struggle in just 2 pages.

ashramblings verdict 3*


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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Change

The swish and sway of waves upon the shoreline
The emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis cocoon
The transformation from tadpole to frog

Change is the movement of moment to moment.
A metamorphosis. The metronome of life.

30th January 2018

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Qit’a – inspired by Abbas Ibn al-Ahnaf

The shape of beauty

The pink flamingo stands statuesque on one leg
The ballet dancer pirouettes
The red abaya glides effortlessly between the Abuja traffic.


© Sheila Ash, 2018

Review: Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recenty completed an online course on edX HarvardX: HUM12.2x Modern Masterpieces of World Literature (https://www.edx.org/course/modern-mas...) which introduced me to Lu Xun. I didn't recall having heard of him before and thinking this to be a gaping hole in my knowledge of world literature I have been setting about recitifying it.

First a bit about the author - Lu Xun (1881- 1936) grew up in a family whose wealth was declinging rapidly . He was educated at government schools, went to study in Japan both lack of funds ended this. In his lifetime he saw the long-standing Qing Dynasty Empire committed to ancient traditions give way in 1911 to a revolutionary but flawed republic, which led him, as one of many intellectuals dissatisfied with the direction of the new government, to take part in the New Culture movement. He never joined the Chinese Communist Party. In 1918 Lu wrote the first short story published in his name, Diary of a Madman, for the magazine New Youth. The story was praised for its anti-traditionalism, its synthesis of Chinese and foreign conventions and ideas, and its skillful narration, and Lu became recognized as one of the leading writers of the New Culture Movement. Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe describes him as "The greatest writer Asia produced in the twentieth century". The 3 yearly Chinese Lu Xun Literary Prize is named after him. His stories satirized outmoded and fossilised traditions and conventions while revealing reservations about China’s new directions. His narrative experimentation and use of vernacular language helped to modernize Chinese writing. His work was inspired by his familiarity with foreign languages and literature - the story was inspired by the work of the same name by Gogol whose "Dead Souls" he translated.

The story, “The Diary of a Madman” is available online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/lu-x... . It is highly ambiguous, with an unreliable narrator and unreliable preface. Is it an allegorical attack on ancient Confucian values or the ravings of a delusional voice? Whether you read it straightforwardly as the diary of the man suffering from a persecution complex, or as a more politically charged narrative, it certainly holds yours attention as the narrator's madness spirals onward. 13 short sections constitute the diary read by the narrator of the preface. The diary purports to be that of the now recovered, once sick brother of the narrator's friend. They chronicle the spiralling suspicion he feels for those around him from the neighbour's dog to one of his tenants to a woman in the street to his own brother, analysing it as being due to the fact that they are all man-eaters, even to the point of rationalising his own little sister's death to having been eaten by their brother.
ashrambings verdict 4* Very pleased I "discovered" this author



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Review: Birds Through a Ceiling of Alabaster: Three Abbasid Poets by George Whitman and A Y al-Udhari.

Birds Through a Ceiling of Alabaster: Three Abbasid Poets Birds Through a Ceiling of Alabaster: Three Abbasid Poets by George B.H. Wightman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The informative introduction to this book sets the context for its coverage of 3 Abbasid poets - Abbas Ibn al-Ahnaf (b. 750), Abdullah Ibn al-Mu'tazz (861-908) and Abu al-Ala al-Ma'arri (973 - 1057) by stating that
"One of the effects of the Prophet Muhammad's teaching was to convert people separated by allegiances to their tribes and chosen idols into an organised force united by the monotheistic Muslim faith.....between 656 and 750 the Umayyad family....established a centralised government and extended the Arab Empire as far as the Pyrenees in the west and the border of India and China in the East. The Ummayyad's imposition of hereditary rule gave their government, and the Empire itself, an appearance of stability. But in fact the court was no more peaceful than the Tudor court. After enlisting the support of various dissidents, notably in the provinces, the Abbasid family, who were relations of the Prophet, seized power in 750. The Abbasid Period from 750 - 1258 became the Golden Age of Arab Literature."

Thus the main periods of Arab poetry are
(1) Pre-Islamic - Jahiliya (450-622)
Its best known form is the qasida or ode, a polythematic poem and an example of a poet of that era and style is Imru al-Qais, the "father of Arabic poetry".

(2)Post-Islamic and Umayyad (622-750)
Conquest, trade and the growth of towns influences poets and their poetry. As the idea of individual citizenship grew and tribal status declined the Ummayad poets broke with the qasida and wrote about topics of personal interest. Love poetry, wine poetry, and polemic verse developed as did the naqa'id or flytings a form of satire in which the poet attacks his rivals.
In this period there were two schools of love poetry, both influenced by music and a wish to set their poems to music
(a) Meccan school of lyric which is engaged and erotic, the poetry is typified by the ghazal, written in a simple and conversational manner. The best known poet here is Umar Ibn Abi Rabi'a
(b) Udhri or Bedouin school "practised a more self-pitying, platonic lyric with the poet as the martyr to an unobtainable mistress who idealizes all his hopes". This is poetry characterised by a natural simplicity of the language of country rather than town. Poets of this style includeJamil Buthaina.
But the best known poets of the Umayyad period are the writers of satirical invectives in the form of naqa'ids which were flung back and forth at each otheral-Aktal, al-Farazdaq and Jarir.

(3) Abbasid (750-1258)
The Abbasids built Baghdad which became a wealthy, cosmopolitan city but at the expense of other nations which felt subjugated. Poets not in court wrote poetry of poverty and struggle. These poets typically used natural speech eg Abu Nuwas “openly mocked the qasida, gloried in hunting, wine and boys”
badi poetic technical devices such as metaphor, alliteration, personification, hyperbole, assonance, dissonance, puns and wits.

Over time Abbasid poetry grew more complex “concepts are as important as images; ideas as dynamic as events” Eg Abu Tammam , Al-Mutanabbi is considered one of the greatest Arabic language poets. His poetry “expresses the Zeitgeist – the anguish of the homeless individual personifying the loss of empire” during this time of its decline, and Abu a-Ala al-Ma’arri.
al-Ma'arri‘s work has “philosophical overtones and moral energy” and is considered the “high water mark both of this period of intellectual dynamism and of the Golden Age as a whole.

According to the writers, Abbassid poetry after Ma’arri “was arrested by the dead weight of tradition and stultified by attempts at new forms which lacked the necessary accompanying vision and body”, matching the weakening of central government, a breakdown in trade links, invasion and the ultimate destruction of the Empire by the Mongols in 1258.

A word about translations – the translators and compilers of this book state they have “agreed to sacrifice form, rhyme, metre and sound…. in trying to communicate the spirit, tone, diction and content of the Arab originals into the English of today.”

Now to the 3 poets themselves:

wrote qit’a, or fragments, short descriptive poems, exclusively concerned with love. These short verses tend to concentrate on a single subject or theme.

Ahnaf’s poetry is said to be an “expression of a mature, humorous sensibility and reflects a wide variety of moods”. He wrote many of his poems to be set to music. “His diction is plain, simple and lively. Yet this simplicity is deceptive. His imagery is so natural that we are likely to overlook its originality. When he writes

“When she walks with her girl servants
Her beauty is a moon between swaying lanterns”

the picture he presents is clear, penetrating and immediate. It is also unusual.

In other poems he organises his metaphors and thought into a highly complex whole, but …we are only conscious of an intrinsic aptness. He constructs these poems like a mobile sculpture; the imagery of one line, or bait, is not logically connected with the imagery of another, but placed together the sequence of unexpected relationships establishes an organic sum which in turn creates an overall mood”. Eg

Love has trees in my heart, and they
Are watered by pent-up rivers.

The black-eyed girl who’s so demure
And speaks coyly like a high flute
Nudged sleep from my head. My liver
Turned to fire and I cried with pain.

I loved those tears which swamped my eyes
Two pupils drowned beneath a liquid sky”

Within a poem he often moves suddenly from one subject of address to another, from direct to indirect speech, without warning. This ploy encapsulates in the poem the rapid activity of an intelligent mind under pressure from a variety of emotions. The underlying humour distances the experience and places it in perspective.

My other favourites

"My dear, is your heart true or false?
It is false. You promised
To love me but the evidence
I was shown proves you broke your word.
Don't ask my heart to love you more
From its ground a spring burst like blood."

***
"On the road to her house, I was ambushed
By outlaw Night, then struck by suave Darkness.

A lone star in the quarry of the sky
Became a blind man ditched without a guide.

Who destroyed my sleep by closing her eyes
And won't see the agony her rest causes?

You’ve made my irises uncurtained windows;
Why must they stare? Let my sleep bless your sleep."

***

"When I visit you and the moon
Isn't around to show me the way,
Comets of longing set my heart
So much ablaze, the earth is lit
By the holocaust under my ribs."

(2) Abdullah Ibn al-Mu'tazz
A member of the Abbasid dynasty, he avoided court politics. When this book was compiled little of his poetry was available in translation. He frequently concentrates on an intense visual experience in a surprising metaphor or simile His work have an economy of expression which make us see physical objects from a different angle.


"Narcissus stares without once
Resting its eyes; its back is bent
By still raindrops, its face is pale
Watching how the sky chastens the earth."

(3) Abu a-Ala al-Ma’arri
al-Ma’arri’s poetry reflects the mind of a man who continues to think about the serious questions of life without coming to a final conclusion. Truth and morality are twin obsessions in his moral poetry. He uses wit, satire and epigram to lash out at man’s pretentions and follies. He was notable as being scornful of religion.

Perhaps my favourite has to be the heart wrenching

"The soul driven from the body
Mourns the memory it leaves behind.

A dove hit in flight sadly turns
Its neck and sees its nest destroyed"

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