Sometimes I write poems & sometimes I write poems is the first English translation of poems from the young Mexican poet Martin Rangel, translated by American writer, poet and translator Lawrence Schimel.
Aside from a few poems which have appeared in Spanish in the collection Luna Hiena, the majority of poems are new. As with all Broken Sleep translations, the original Spanish appears alongside the English translation.
The collection is at points pretty meta – the first poem ‘I translate to steal’, being read as a translation, is itself full of lines worth stealing (or at least be inspired by). “I translate to steal / and I let myself be translated to be stolen”.
Rangel’s poems read like a self aware dark night of the soul, bouncing from sharp insight to bleak truth, helped along by vivid images and killer line after killer line.
“My love dresses in black and goes out into the street with a pistol in each hand ready for everything” (life is prey) “Of all things i’ve forgotten over time how to live is the one I miss most” (“time passes slower when you can’t sleep” science confirmed) The title poem requires you to turn your head sideways to read it (if reading on a computer screen) and might just flip your mind upside down. “sometimes I weep when I write poems by hand but I only do so when I don’t like them / and I want the ink to blur.” If you wonder why some people (perhaps even you reading this) are drawn to write poems, Rangel has as good an explanation as anyone: “Sometimes I write poems about things I feel and sometime I write poems / in order to feel things”. Several of the poems are dark and introspective, almost depressing, but still full of insight “You discover that life doesn’t wait for you” laments Rangel in here’s a blood animal that snores within my chest before asking out to the sky to “explain to me now everything I shall die without knowing” (birds like suicidal arrows) “We keep writing poems” returns to the poetry about poetry theme that Rangel does so well. Having survived his dark night of the soul, lines like “we keep writing poems against everything” cut deeper. “We keep writing poems and find all the doors are closed” until “everything becomes poems”. Rangel is not afraid to expose himself, to show his emotion. He is proud to be a poet, to see poetry as a vocation, and keep at it despite everything. “While we dream / while we are alive… we keep writing poems” These are poems for poets. Poems to inspire poetry. Poems to translate and steal.
Liam Bates’ Monomaniac features 20 poems, all of which have ‘mono’ in the title. The poems themselves sometimes seem a little removed thematically from the titles although I did find it helped my understanding of the poems to look up some of the titles in the dictionary.
Titles range from monosaccharide (any of the class of sugars (e.g., glucose) that cannot be hydrolyzed to give a simpler sugar) to monody (a poem lamenting a person’s death) but the poems themselves have several circular themes, including a huge monolith, daffodils and some kind of doctor prescribed pills.
Bates’ poems are accomplished and he has created a complex, believable world where things are not quite how he expects them to be. And for that matter the speaker’s behaviour is equally surreal. Indeed we are never quite sure if it is the speaker or the world that is at odds with the other.
As in all of Bates’ work, his use of enjambment is at the top of the game, giving double meaning, causing uncertainty and raising a smile.
“I’d like to leave my own body of work beside these giants of toilet wall artistry” (monogragh)
Monosyllabic, as the title suggests, is a poem made up of one syllable words. For some reason I particularly enjoyed this piece.
The acknowledgements name Andrew McMillan, Caroline Bird and Roger Robinson as having helped Bates develop his unique style. His poems inhabit a similar universe to Kafka, Simic, Ian Seed and Msilocz, but he undoubtedly has his own voice, which he uses to create a world that is definitely worth your time to explore and get lost in.
Dirt by Dominic Leonard was the hardest of these pamphlets for me to get into. But I’m glad I stuck with these poems that are full of rich language and hyper real imagery. These are well constructed, thoughtful poems to be savoured, and I’m still getting to know this behemoth of a collection.
Early favourites include O, Enemy of the State, Death Poem and Whether Mortal Men May Attain True Happiness.
Leonard is an Oxford graduate with a love of medieval poetry, inspired by the likes of Chaucer and Biron. Leonard is clearly a well read guy and it comes across in this work.
There is a lot of meat packed into each poem. The work inhabits a world of kings and empires, of bloodshed and magic, in which Leonard is a sorcerer with a huge canon of classic poetry and literature at his fingertips.
One of my early favourites in Dirt is O, where Leonard seems to speak directly to the reader; where the world of the poem seems more like our own, and Leonard himself seems vulnerable and searching.
“i know the rooms within a scar…
its nights like these that make me wish i could do your cold job
for you . keeping the sky upright , washing the heavy hills.”
Similarly, in Whether Mortal Men May Attain True Happiness, Leonard seems to be in the modern world asking timeless questions
“I bite ice-cream with my front teeth & collect badly bound books because danger I adore you”
Dirt encompasses a range of topics, themes and styles, each poem existing in its own universe with its own rules, which is partly why it was initially difficult to find an anchor whilst reading through. But slowing down and taking on the poems one at a time, coming back to them several times, has been infinitely rewarding and enjoyable. The more time I spend with Dirt, and with individual poems within it, the more I am getting from it. These are poems which reward repeat visits. Poems which are mysterious to the point of being esoteric. Poems full of history, blood and horror.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who will feel a buzz of excitement as they open Honey Monster by Bobby Parker for the first time. Following on from 2018’s masterpiece Working Class Voodoo, Parker delivers a whopping 132 pages of his trademark kitchen sink surrealist beatnik stream of hollowed out thoughts. Where Working Class Voodoo dealt with Bobby’s personal and domestic demons (divorce, fatherhood, addiction and mental illness), Honey Monster seems to take on a more ethereal and worldly view. The poems are still confessional, personal exorcisms and tales of the tilted, jilted and heavily sedated, but at points Parker elevates out of his own predicament to speak truths about the human condition, our society and our species as a whole. It’s not glamorous or hopeful but through the sheer brutality and unreservedness of the text, as well as the zany humour and the surreal otherness of Parker’s view on life, it’s as enjoyable and exciting as any other poetry being written today, and the truths Parker imparts are just as hard hitting and head shifting as any other poet, shaman or seeker out there. Rather than quote particular lines or passages, I thought I’d give a few sample of first lines – partly as they stand as great lines in themselves, particularly in terms of immediately drawing you in, but also as the beauty of the poems is how Parker leads you through his nightmarish altered reality – I don’t think quoting last lines or lines midway through the poems will really do them justice.
“Six months before my daughter was born, my doctor/ introduced me to Benzodiazepines.” (Floating in the Harbour)
“The girl who raped me had a really nice mum…” (Spooky Jeans)
“What kind of hell planet is this?” (Sticky Legs)
“Depression is a bit like Tom Hanks” (I’m Going Over the Fence)
“The sausage looked so lonely in the chip shop window.” (Come Down (Three Bad Dreams))
“The bus is on fire again. I watch it burn as I make tea.” (A Haunting in Kidderminster)
At 132 pages the collection could be a bit tighter, but the ‘filler’ material is in a sense light relief from the intensity of the more stand out sections, and more poems just means you get to spend more time in Bobby Parker’s head, getting more value for money.
It’s not often a collection includes helpline numbers and a disclaimer warning. I’ve not really gone into how serious some of the topics are – I’d be here all day if I listed them out – but these topics are dealt with by someone who has experienced them first hand, speaks from his heart, and somehow creates beautiful, chaotic works of art out of the darkness. I hope he finds some light in his life and I hope he continues to create beautiful poetry for a long time, that all of us can appreciate and enjoy.