Sunday, 22 February 2015

Review: The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller

This was another random pick up from Wrexham Library (a wonderful place in a town that really needs it - I can't speak highly enough of this place).  The title struck me first, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, initially we are stuck with this battle between the physical and the mythical and so we go into no mans land to watch each sides interaction. In my work at the moment I'm trying to map both a people and a place that no longer exist in the same forms; whilst tying their Welsh language and it's clash with the development of the English language around them. So this collection is speaking to me on many levels at the moment. 
       The poems jump of the page with their use of language, the layout of the poems coupled with the rhythm of the language opens the voice within your mind; allowing you to hear the battle between them. Interestingly, Miller has a wealth of experience in Slam Poetry, I wonder if the combat between the two speakers is a natural rhythm for him to write in.
    The blend of language is beautiful. On the one side we have the Cartographer who is trying to anchor himself and his location, pin his own language onto this land,  he says 'my job / is not to loose myself... My job / is to untangle the tangled', a wrench apart of physical place. If we think about our own placement in the world and how tangled that is to our emotional response, our memories, this is a very sad image indeed.  This is combated with the rastaman's mixture of Rastaradianism and patois, drawing the reader into his colloquialisms as he responds 'draw me a map of what you see / then I will draw...  Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?'. 
    The battle between what is physically there, and what a place actually represents is outlined clearly in the series of poems that begin Place Name. particularly Flog Man where 'Blood did sprinkle the ground like anointing' - as a poet I find it difficult to allow myself to admit that there are many things, places, paths even people that can not be described accurately by any use of language, things that 'are' cease to be graspable, and that is their beauty. Possibly by describing the world around them we can outline their shadow; but they will never flesh out. This is the debate that the Cartographer and Rastaman find themselves entwined in. 
      Miller's use of his heritage is captivating. Knowing nothing of Jamaican literature or much of its culture I was hesitant, but Miller guides us through. At the beginning I felt myself clutching to the Cartographers poems, finding within them debates that I contemplate daily. Within the Rastaman's narrative however, is a lilting acceptance of things that come and go, an acceptance of not knowing and not having to show others evidence of its existence. 
      The rastaman leaves us gently,  he 'Bids you, Trod Holy / To I-ly I-ly I-ly'


Friday, 20 February 2015

Review: Mandeville by Matthew Francis

After having picked this collection up on a whim at my local library my first port of call was to research a bit on Mandeville; in order to understand the poets source material, the linguistic differences, the subtle nuances of change between Mandeville's original and Francis' reincarnation.
    What i found fascinating was the aura of mystery that surrounds John Mandeville and his travels, an excellent jumping board for any creative to explore. Did John Mandeville really travel to these exotic and completely unfamiliar destinations? Are his accounts anywhere near accurate? Questions that have no necessary answer but that leave space for both the poet and the reader to jump into.

In Francis' collection there are lots of avenues. The imagery is often luxurious, at time's sufocatingly rich such as in Of Circumnavigation where the reader is traded between lands along with 'wool for spices, grey sea for blue, our brass for gold', to the point where the reader becomes almost travel blind with description.
    There is very little subtly about each poem, the over arching journey is at best unessential. Instead I would look towards each poem as a case study, the arch being held in John Mandeville's own writing, this taking one fantastic element of each stage of his journey and unfolding it until it becomes something other than what it was, baring a tenuous likeness.
  The collection is an intoxicating synaesthesic blend of 'cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg..culminating in a virgin sulphur.'. I've read many poetry collection that take the reader on a physical tour, but this is another experience that is tangibly liked to the earth in a way that conjurs the fantastical from familiarity. Francis' description of the dead sea uses familiar images and locations but uses anthropamorphism to conjur the spirit of the sea, as it has ' swallowed its tears and become parched by the salt'.  - so beautiful!
    The relationship between Francis and these objects is one of almost ownership, a claiming of their relation to other things, there is little delicacy, little right to their existence without his observing them. There is something harsh about the poem that is 'now tarnished ' by five hundred years of sandstorms' - of poets that alter colour.


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Living with Irlen pt 3

I broke my glasses. A simple fix but it has taken me the better part of a week to get around to it, and I've been reminded how hard it is sometimes. I haven't read for a few days, on trains or on buses, which is usually my ideal reading nook! I've had terrible headaches, felt sick and nauseous constantly without them. The physical reality of Irlen is quite severe sometimes. If you've ever been very tired you'll know the heaviness of your eyes, imagine that constantly, as if you haven't blinked for an hour, as if a lens is constantly refocusing in your head. Some days I am very frustrated with my brain, it definitely doesn't work the way we're told it should.
      On a lighter note; I work in secondary, and it fills my heart every time I see a child using their glasses, or their overlays, or even hear other children refer to these resources - not with prejudice and misunderstanding like I had just 7 years ago - but with acceptance and at times just interest. There are a lot of children and young people being listened to and diagnosed, which can only progress knowledge and understanding of these conditions. I wish they had known when I was 12, think of the books I could have read in those 4 years!!
       I am also happy when children see me wearing my glasses on the bus, and when I teach. It shows them that this is a grown up difficulty as well, and that we can still make it places. Sometimes I hear children hiding behind their difficulties, because that is what we are taught to do, but I hope that is one child remembers the mental, ginger, supply teacher who wore her Irlen glasses on top of her head at every moment, they'll think they can get through the difficult patches.
        I'm very open about my Irlen, and now and again a child will ask me 'Miss, why are you wearing sunglasses inside?' and I'll blag their heads, and answer honestly. I like to think they respect me for that; these teenagers have a lot more in their heads then we give them credit for.