Ghost of the Fisher Cat

Ghost

Honoured and thrilled to receive this generous close reading of my collection, by Abigail Ardelle Zammit. I hope you’ll indulge me if I post it here. Ach, I can’t resist! Besides, it’s also a great example of how to write a review. 🙂

Ghost of the Fisher Cat by Afric McGlinchey (Salmon Poetry)
Review by Abigail Ardelle Zammit
Appears in Issue 58 of Ofi Literary Magazine (Mexico)

Poetry is often considered to be difficult because it challenges the mind to pin down language into units of limited signification, opening it up, not only to plurality, but to the bizarre, the surreal and the unexpected, where the word is more connotation than referent, the verse more music than signification, the whole poem more like a symphony than the unravelling of some secret meaning. The extent to which poets play on this subversive use of language varies enormously, but in Afric McGlinchey’s second collection, Ghost of the Fisher Cat, the reader is often at the far end of the spectrum where the juxtaposition of unusual metaphor and conceit, the surprising lexical connotations, the tight stanza forms and highly-charged line breaks demand the reader’s trust in the poet’s ability to inspire feelings, sensations and emotional turbulences, even when the meanings or narrative layers are not immediately cohesive.

Occupying a liminal space between fable and reality where the dead and the living converge, it is necessary for these poems to reach towards a linguistic and thematic otherness. In ‘Shadow’ therefore, which comes with a nod to Hans Christian Anderson, it might be less important to pin down the speaker and the mysterious ‘she’ who moves ‘to the sun’ than to savour the beauty of the sexual pull ‘towards/the body of the world’, the delicious tearing following ‘a catapulting leap’ where the speaker, simultaneously cat and human, discovers ‘passion’s bounty, a lover’s tongue’. In this poem, the recurrent motif of open windows suggests an escape into a surreal space where the characters can merge into their shadows or their ghostly incarnations, but also where the writer can swim into the embryonic freedom of her creative self.

In ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, ‘ John Mayer’s love song allows the first person narrator to ponder why she is attracted to ‘the unknown / of the known’, to savour her lover’s proximity, feeling her heart’s push against his body. She must move around ‘blindly’, vulnerable to the light and the openness that freedom brings: ‘the doors, both back and front / are still open, and the yellowwood floor / is glowing’. Even in the well-executed villanelle, ‘Alchemy of Happiness’, which is dedicated to the poet’s son, the boy ‘flies through doorless rooms / across a private ocean’; imagining this joie de vivre is more rewarding than trying to pin down the precise question that his body asks, or the way it ‘gives an answer’ as the young limbs float into the airy space of childhood and half-tamed wilderness. The poem is indeed a ‘song of slanted movement’ because of its circular re-telling and reaffirmations and its refusal to pin down meaning. In the poem that precedes it, ‘The Importance of Being’, the epigraph from Wilde suggests that the soul can soar beyond human comprehension, so that in trying to imagine its metaphysical orbit, one has to talk of ‘slanting rain’; once again, the conclusion is an indirect commentary on the role of the imagination:

Each reflection
takes him far beyond

these four-walled days,
floats his soul

through this tiny window
into illumination.

Doubtlessly, ‘Ghost of the Fisher Cat’, which comes toward the end of the collection, continues the trajectory of the very first poem, ‘Cat Music’ – the transformation from cat gut to violin strings – which is also the exploration of art’s capacity for transcendence. The poem starts with a rhetorical question – ‘How to describe the topography / of the imagination?’ Despite the speaker’s directions to the readers: ‘Let your eyes go soft,/ sense peripherals / like an animal tracker’, there will always be those whose mind’s eye does not capture the ghost-cat, ‘her sinuous spring, back / into the shadows’ for this is always a fleeting moment and mental conjuring is not for everyone:

You didn’t catch her?
Well, there are always losses and gains
as with any fishing expedition.

It requires a certain leap of your own
to jump out of one world
and into another.

Sometimes, we are told, it is just ‘A Matter of Persistence’: again, the conditions must be propitious, light and weather being a recurring feature in this collection: ‘aftermath of rain’, ‘certain slant of streetlight’. So the lads in the poem become merged with the superstitious young vigilantes in ‘Familiar’, the ones who drowned Dom Perlet’s diabolical cat. In this poem, the black cat is reincarnated, struggling ‘for days and decades / until this evening’s new constellation – lynx’, and the mind picks up its half-presence, tenuous but real enough to acquire the charge of a ghost story. The way the poem moves rapidly from observation, to narrative, to conversation – ‘just an illusion’, scoffs the taller one to his staring friend’, is very much indicative of the poet’s own attempt to break into the reader’s world, pointing at that ‘bristling, vivid, green-eyed / density’, which is so clearly visible to her that she wants to gift us a glimpse of it, as if lifting the veil onto some other world.

That this kind of seeing is bitter-sweet, making one subject to suffering and vulnerability, is also a thematic concern. The man in ‘The Glass Delusion’ has to protect his glass-body from breaking; in this reading, he is not merely a self-absorbed individual who forgets his duty towards the society where he belongs, but an artistic soul who has to live with the terror of isolation; he is a fragile presence made alien and invisible as a result of his heightened sensibility: ‘though you see right through me / like the glass in that window, I remain invisible?’ It is why the poem is followed by ‘Pareidolia’, the tendency to perceive a meaningful image in an apparently random visual pattern; it is these seers who carry within them apocalyptic fears of otherworldly proportions so that even the setting sun becomes a metaphor for a collapsing world: ‘the arc / of the sun, in the silent moment / before the plummet’.

What this kind of vision entails is a keen awareness of otherness in all its forms, not least its political ramifications. The fisher cat, together with his owner, the alchemist canon, might lend themselves to contemporary migrant narratives because they also represent whatever seems foreign or alien to a particular society; the vigilantes may be an expression of the callousness or cowardice with which we destroy that which we fear, particularly when it appears strange or uncanny. In ‘I is Not Always Me’, winner of the 2015 Poets Meet Politics competition, the female speaker is an immigrant and a victim of racism, but what hurts her the most is the erosion of her own identity because of the violence of linguistic imposition:

In Advanced, we talk about erosion,
cliffs giving way, landing in the sea.
I think of how a foreign language percolates your own
until its idioms even permeate your dreams;
that’s not acquisition, but erosion too.

The speaker is very much like a poet, safeguarding the silence inside her head, seeking the tranquillity of river banks, recuperating her primal language from the flotsam of loss. If McGlinchey too is a migrant and lifelong traveller, then she can better understand what it is to live in so many places and never to belong, a theme which is played out in ‘Blink’, where no house is a home. Moreover, she is less prone to judgment when confronted with difference or seemingly bizarre behaviour. In fact, in ‘Holy War, the speaker could very much be Joan of Arc, ‘traitor, heretic, idolater’ who refuses to ‘betray’ her Voices, just like the poet who has to conjure the voices of others in order to sing variously in couplets, tercets, sonnets, villanelles, free verse and a variety of structural possibilities. Because the language she uses is so multi-referential, the title and the conclusion of the poem may remind readers of all those others, the suicide bombers, for instance, who, like the Maid of Orleans, are utterly convinced of salvation through martyrdom and self-sacrifice:

Though thick stone walls, I hear the bells again,
lifting me beyond this earthly fear. Like death,
my fate is certain, and Paradise awaits!

This is a writer who, like Karen Blixen (who features in the epigraph to ‘Contact’), can truly understand why ‘God and the Devil are one’; it is this subversive destabilization of a well-established dichotomy that allows her to play with language in the way she does, albeit a bit too madly at times, as in ‘Fin de Siècle’ where the speaker can ‘tweak’ God ‘out of you / like Medusa’s hairbrush snarl’, but alluringly enough to keep us engaged in her unique poetic language. It is in poems like ‘Sonnet in B Major’ that the powerful rhythm and oomph of her language are most apparent. As readers, we must hold our breath and accept the speaker’s invitation to Promethean courage, doing ‘magic, like feral creatures turning quick to a language,’ which is full of auditory energy:

A wet black semi-quaver opening up
the fanatic eye of an arbitrary Icarus.
Oh, these bells. But I digress.
If we must die, ingloriously, let’s first
rise up like snakes from the monumental pit.

*

This review originally appeared in Issue 58 of Ofi Literary Magazine, edited by Jack Little.

To order a copy of Ghost of the Fisher Cat, please click on the link: http://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=380&a=221

Abigail Ardelle Zammit

Dr Abigail Ardelle Zammit is an English Literature at the University of Malta (Abela Junior College). Her most recent poetry collection is ‘Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin’ (Sentinel, 2015).

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Tipping my hat to female poets

Books

I’m doing an inventory of my poetry books in anticipation of preparing my writing room for a tenant who’ll be moving in while we move to Zimbabwe for a few months. In honour of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d do a roll call of the female poets on my shelves: the 178 full collections and chapbooks together are the works of 148 poets (damn, I bet I have one or two lurking elsewhere in the house…) I picked up most of these books at festivals, as well as a few gems at the Time Travellers’ Bookshop and also the Salmon Poetry Bookshop in Ennistymon, which has a great second-hand section; a number were sent to me for review too. Another favourite bookshop is the Book Stór in Kinsale.

Each of these poets has been an inspiration in one way or another, and I just wanted to say thank you! Here are the names:

Aifric MacAodha
Alice Oswald
Alice Walker
Alyson Hallett
Amy De’Ath
Andrea Mbarushimana
Angela T. Carr
Angela France
Anna Akhmatova
Anna Journey
Anne-Marie Fyfe
Ailbhe Darcy
Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh
Anne Carson
Anne Fitzgerald
Anne Rouse
Anne Sexton
Bethany W. Pope
Breda Wall Ryan
Brenda Shaughnessy
Carol Ann Duffy
Caroline Smith
C.D. Wright
Chrissy Williams
Daphne Gottlieb
Deborah Tyler-Bennett
Deirdre Hines
Denise Blake
Denise Levertov
Djuna Barnes
Doireann Ní Ghríofa
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Eileen Casey
Eileen Sheehan
Eleanor Hooker
Elizabeth Bishop
Ellen Kombiyil
Emilia Ivancu
Emily Berry
Emily Dickinson
Eva H.D.
Fiona Moore
Fiona Sampson
Fran Lock
Frances Horovitz
Geraldine Clarkson
Gill Andrews
Gillian Allnut
Gillian Clarke
Grace Wells
Hannah Lowe
Helen Farish
Helen Mort
Ileana Malancioiu
Ingrid de Kok
Isobel Dixon
Jackie Kay
Jane Clarke
Jane Kenyon
Jane Hirshfield
Jane Weir
Jannice Thaddeus
Jean O’Brien
Jessamine O’Connor
Jessie Lendennie
Jessica Traynor
Jenny Lewis
Jodie Matthews
Joan McBreen
Jo Shapcott
Kapka Kassabova
Karen Press
Karen Solie
Kate Noakes
Katherine Kilalea
Kathryn Simmonds
Kathy D’Arcy
Kerrin McCaddon
Kerrie O’Brien
Kerry Hardie
Kit Fryatt
Kimberly Campanello
Kim Moore
Leanne O’Sullivan
Leeanne Quinn
Leontia Flynn
Lianne Strauss
Lo Kwa Mei-en
Maeve O’Sullivan
Maggie Harris
Marcela Sulak
Marie Howe
Martina Evans
Marion McCready
Mary Mullen
Mary Noonan
Mary O’Malley
Maya Catherine Popa
Meg Bateman
Medbh McGuckian
Meredith Andrea
Minal Hajratwala
Michelle O’Sullivan
Molly Minturn
Monica Corish
Moniza Alvi
Moya Cannon
Natasha Trethaway
Nell Regan
Nessa O’Mahony
Nicki Jackowska
Nina Karacosta
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Nuala Ní Dhomnhnaill
Orlaith Foyle
Paisley Rekdal
Pascal Petit
Pat Borthwick
Paula Cunningham
Paula Meehan
Renée Sarjini Saklikar
Rita Ann Higgins
River Wolton
Robyn Rowland
Roisín Kelly
Rosemary Tonks
Ruth Padel
Robin Houghton
Sandra Ann Winters
Sarah Clancy
Sarah Howe
Shirley McClure
Shikiha Malavia
Silvia Secco
Sharon Olds
Sinéad Morrissey
Sophie Hannah
Sujata Bhatt
Susan Millar du Mars
Suji Kwok Kim
Sylvia Plath
Tania Hershman
Theresa Muñoz
Ulrikka S. Gernes
Victoria Kennefick
Virginia Astley
Vona Groarke
Wislawa Szymborska
Zoë Brigley

Why would anyone in their right minds write a memoir?

IMG_20170926_182336 (3)

So, as you may have gathered, if you read my blog, I’m writing a memoir. Of sorts. Call it a series of remembrances. But in the absence of diaries – all of which were lost in the process of many moves – I have to rely on my very shaky memories of experiences and how they felt. Mostly what I’m interested in is capturing what it felt like to live a peripatetic life as a child. The memoir (because it might become a trilogy!) will cover the years up to when I graduate from Rhodes University.

It’s quite terrifying, I’ve discovered, writing a memoir. With poetry, there’s a screen. With memoir, there’s no place to hide. Already I’m beginning to feel really exposed and vulnerable.

Also, what if friends from Ireland or Zimbabwe or university read my book and throw it down, saying, ‘Ugh, she got it all wrong’? Not to mention extended family members.

Or, which may be worse, what if nobody reads it at all? That is, if I even find a publisher!

And then, if it does come out, I’ll be asked intrusively personal questions. Because much of my story is set in a colonial country and era, and describes a privileged white girl’s experience, it’s certainly not going to receive a sympathetic reception. And so little has been written from this perspective — there isn’t much at all out there, or certainly not from an urban point of view. So research is difficult.

As for the process of writing, I’ve been struggling with form. Do I write, as I originally intended, lyric prose poetry (behind which I can hide) which some readers will find baffling and alienating, or go for straightforward narrative with dialogue (where readers can actually follow a story)?

Most importantly, my major concern is crossing a line in terms of family loyalty. How to protect family members and their right to privacy?

So why am I writing this? Because it seems to be a compulsion. Something I’m trying to work out. Maybe by writing my life, I’ll pull it into some kind of whole.

I’ve decided the best way to go about it is to blend forms – go for both prose poetry and narrative. Write what I want to write, and not worry about outcomes.

I can deal with them later.

Next up: an African road trip

Zimbabwe strip road

Thrilled and excited to have been awarded an Arts Council bursary, which will enable me to travel to Zimbabwe and South Africa to research and write my next book. I leave next week! I plan to keep a reading record and a weekly journal, describing my two-month trip. I had been feeling some trepidation about returning to a country in a state of economic crisis, but now that there’s an atmosphere of jubilation and hope about future prospects, I can’t wait. As Aristotle said, ‘There is always something new coming out of Africa.’ Let’s see.

Oread By H. D.

Hdpoet

Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.

H.D.(1886–1961) was an American poet, novelist, and memoirist. She was part of the early 20th century avant-garde Imagist group of poets that also included Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington. A prolific writer of prose and poetry, her most notable work was Helen in Egypt (written between 1952–54), an examination from a feminist point of view of a male-centred epic poetry. Her writings have served as a model for poets working in the modernist tradition, including Barbara Guest, Denise Levertov, Hilda Morley, Susan Howe, Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley. ‘Oread’ is one of her earliest and best-known poems.

EVE & ADAM by Rethabile Masilo

Rethabile Masilo

This is a reading of this poem
because this poem yearns to be read.
‘Read me’, it says to girls passing with clay-pots
on their heads, bangles on wrists. Monica
read it to Bill, pausing between lines for this poem
to sink in, the way Camilla kissed Charles
with her tongue when this poem revealed itself
to her. And so this poem is barred from Poems
on the Underground. This poem
is read by women whose husbands
haven fallen to cancer, voices trailing the lines
like sound behind light, or mechanical waves
chasing photons, or the sound of an aeroplane
you can no longer see. Our neighbour
kept reciting this poem every day
till the moon of her mind moved
into her window, and she lay in the arms
of a gentleman’s kindness again. Strauss-Kahn
missed the point of the whole thing, but Eve
read it to Adam on the eve of their sin.
Suddenly aware of the lock and key design
of genitals, he said this poem back to her,
spat in his hand and rubbed her crotch.

Lesotho-born Rethabile Masilo is a Paris-based poet whose first poetry collection, Things That Are Silent, was published by Pindrop Press in 2012. His second book, Waslap, was published in 2015 by The Onslaught Press.Blog

More than this by David Kirby

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MORE THAN THIS

When you tell me that a woman is visiting the grave
of her college friend and she’s trying not to get irritated
at the man in the red truck who keeps walking back and forth
and dropping tools as he listens to a pro football
game on the truck radio, which is much too loud, I start
to feel as though I know where this story is going,
so I say Stop, you’re going to make me cry.
How sad the world is. When young men died in the mud
of Flanders, the headmaster called their brothers out
of the classroom one by one, but when the older brothers
began to die by the hundreds every day, they simply handed
the child a note as he did his lessons, and of course the boy
wouldn’t cry in front of the others, though at night
the halls were filled with the sound of schoolboys sobbing
for the dead, young men only slightly older than themselves.
Yet the world’s beauty breaks our hearts as well:
the old cowboy is riding along and looks down
at his dog and realizes she died a long time ago
and that his horse did as well, and this makes him
wonder if he is dead, too, and as he’s thinking this,
he comes to a big shiny gate that opens onto a golden
highway, and there’s a man in a robe and white wings,
and when the cowboy asks what this place is, the man tells
him it’s heaven and invites him in, though he says animals
aren’t allowed, so the cowboy keeps going till he comes
to an old rusty gate with a road full of weeds and potholes
on the other side and a guy on a tractor, and the guy
wipes his brow and says you three must be thirsty,
come in and get a drink, and the cowboy says okay,
but what is this place, and the guy says it’s heaven,
and the cowboy says then what’s that place down
the road with the shiny gate and the golden highway,
and when the guy says oh, that’s hell, the cowboy
says doesn’t it make you mad that they’re pretending
to be you, and the guy on the tractor says no,
we like it that they screen out the folks who’d desert
their friends. You tell me your friend can’t take it
any more, and she turns to confront the man
who’s making all the noise, to beg him to leave her alone
with her grief, and that’s when she sees that he’s been
putting up a Christmas tree on his son’s grave
and that he’s grieving, too, but in his own way,
one that is not better or worse than the woman’s,
just different, the kind of grief that says the world
is so beautiful, that it will give you no peace.