Haibun: Compassion

She was a wild cat really. She never moved inside the house, but would show up at feeding time and sleep on the veranda. She used to be a pristine ball of white fluff. Now she can no longer clean herself, big patches of dry skin show through. She used to be playful and loving. Now she cannot hear so well, jumps and scratches when you come upon her from behind.

I looked at her ageing, diminished body in disgust. I thought of all the unsavoury germs and told my younger child: ‘No, don’t touch!’ But he ignored me. ‘Poor kitty-kitty!’ he said, bending down to caress her, not at all dismayed by decay. I love the fact that he is a better person than me. I hope he will be as tender with me one day.

When frost crackles bones
how sweet to find a warming
spot in river’s flow

A lovely prompt about compassion based on the poetry of Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) from the dVerse Poets Pub.

Mood Indigo

It’s time once more for that most joyous of occasions – linking up and joining the discussions at the dVerse Poets Pub. This time I have a dreamy love poem inspired by Greek poet Kavafis (known as Cavafy). Don’t they say we should never talk about the moon in poetry, that it’s too commonplace? In celebration of World Poetry Day (which was yesterday), I will break such rules.

Thin sliver all that’s left of the moon
over Alexandria’s port tonight.
We map out each other’s body
on scented sheets in shuttered rooms
your heartbeat in my palm
then slink into the shadows
complicit in their deepening
to journey so far from our generous beginning.

If This Be Nostalgia, I Am Guilty

I want to be once more on the land
when April brings a frosty surprise,
where even August can powder with snow.
September smiles indolent and clement, umbrellas are pointless.
Lime trees put on a show as they fall in our hair,
as we hide in their tunnels, as we skip class at school.
I want indigestion with memories both false and true.
I want clothes for all seasons,
and not just babies with fuzz-ripened skin.
Sharp-clawed darkness, the wolves howling from forests
that linger primordial near clean-ploughed fields.
I want you and I to be younger,
not necessarily a happy end.

I am linking this to Open Link Night at the dVerse Poets Pub, where the living is easy, the drinks are plentiful and the poetry is magnificent!

Haibun: The Feather

You are the colour of slate, you smoke in husky float, you describe a butterknife arc. I pluck you out of obscurity from under a bush in my old hometown. Supple-smooth, tripartite with frazzled edges, worn white with grief, you lie supine in both of my hands.

You were once the pinnacle of aviation engineering, now less purposeful than you appear. November, surplus to requirements, your bird doesn’t want you no more. Just like this town doesn’t care if I come or I go.

All I can do: comfort you.
Always knew this day would come.
Soothe through boxing-gloves.

Linking this to Haibun Monday over at dVerse Poets, where we are talking about hometowns. I feel sadly out-of-place in my ‘official’ hometown and am not necessarily welcome in the hometowns of my heart. Like a feather, I’ve been transported across many countries and towns, and I’ve left a little bit of me everywhere.

Come bounce with me, let’s bounce, let’s bounce away…

A joyous prompt today over at dVerse Poets Pub: it’s all about the bounce! I apologise to Sinatra for mangling his original lyrics with my bouncier version.

Be my bouncy Valentine!
Come bounce with me, let’s jump down to the Strand-
A walk along the river, then off to dizzy Theatreland.
The audience will cheer when we stand so near.
‘Kiss, kiss!’ they will cry.
Who’s to disappoint them? Not I!

Start As You Mean to Go On: With Poetry

Didn’t I promise that I would write more poetry this year, whether it gets published or not? Here is a wonderful warming up exercise – participating in the Quadrille challenge over at dVerse Poets Pub. A Quadrille is a poem or flash of precisely 44 words and this time it has to include the word ‘leap’, as we bound unfettered into the New Year.

Replay

Each year I fall-
blunder blind through cold
air vents, no second
sight, no wasteful bite.

Each year the marvels glimpsed on the way down
string peacock feathers and black pearls around my skull,
unexpected bonus, befriending hearts given
too often short shrift.

So, each year I leap.

Photo by Kekai AhSam on Unsplash.

Other Bookish Favourites of 2017 and Plans for 2018

After sharing with you my favourite books in translation, my favourite untranslated books, and the best of both translated and English-language crime fiction, including my Top 5 on Crime Fiction Lover, what is left? Well, all the other favourites, of course, which don’t fit into any of these categories. They fall mainly into the fiction category, with a couple of non-fiction mixed into it. (I will discuss the poetry separately, as I tend not to list the poetry books on Goodreads).

Now, what do you notice about this list? That’s right: it’s all women writers. I believe I’ve read roughly equal amounts of male and female authors, but it’s the women who have really appealed to me in this year of finally living on my own.

Rachel Cusk: Outline

Hard to categorise, I see this as a book of ideas, where essay and stories blend, where the narrator becomes a camera recording other people’s thoughts and reactions. A very Anglo-Saxon way of dealing with grief and separation, slightly detached, masking the heartbreak with cold detachment.

Katie Kitamura: A Separation

In many ways, the mirror image of Outline, but with more abandon. Once again, Greece is the backdrop, almost an excuse for a story about break-up and grief and self-recrimination – to a much more self-excoriating extent than with Cusk. A clear story arc, but also a novel of ideas, of reflection, but inwardly rather than outwardly focused.

Helen Garner: This House of Grief

Perhaps it’s not surprising that stories about separations loomed large in my reading this year, but this true crime account of a man who was suspected of killing his children took me to places where I barely dare to tread. Garner has a talent for unpicking not only the personal tragedy but also the judicial system and the way in which a jury’s mind can be made up.

Fiona Melrose: Midwinter

The farming heritage in me thrilled at this story of hard graft and taciturn farmer families.

Jane Gardam: The Stories

Controlled, ironic, melancholy

Alison Lurie: Real People

Writers’ retreats and big egos are an endless source of satire.

Elizabeth von Arnim: The Enchanted April

Delightful escapism, with a real love of beautiful location and a sharp eye for human foibles.

Winifred Watson: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Just as charming, warm-hearted but keeping the eyes wide open and critical.

Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Quite simply one of the most quietly menacing, tightly written and brooding books ever!

Helen Dunmore: Birdcage Walk

Perhaps it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but I still found it a beautiful read about an uncomfortable marriage and a bid for freedom.

Kathleen Jamie: Sightlines

Non-fiction of the highest intellectual and poetic order.

Liz Jensen: The Rapture

Eco-thriller with rich prose and unusual characters which deserves to be better known (full review coming soon).

Reading Plans for 2018

It looks like I will be reading quite a bit of translated fiction in 2018 – 12 titles are guaranteed, since I joined the Asymptote Book Club. I can’t wait to start getting involved in the discussions and all the special features (interviews with translators and authors, book selections, reviews, pictures and so on). Don’t forget you can join anytime during the year, for either 3 months or 12 months.

I will be continuing with my #EU27Project and spend more time planning to cover all of the countries rather than handling it haphazardly as I have done in the past year. After all, I want to show those Brexit negotiators what it means to be well prepared…

I also want to take part in the by now classic reading events such as January in Japan, Women in Translation Month and German Literature Month, although I make no promise about how many titles I can cover: at least one, hopefully more. Of course, I will continue reading and reviewing crime fiction: it’s a habit I cannot kick (nor do I want to).

Finally, I want to read and review more poetry and take part more frequently in the dVerse Poets Pub or other prompts, both to limber up my writing muscles and also to see what others are writing – always inspiring! Speaking of dVerse Poets, I am delighted to announce the arrival of an anthology of poetry from over 100 dVerse contributors all over the world. Entitled Chiaroscuro: Darkness and Light, this surprisingly chunky volume is a testament to our friendship across borders and shared love for the well-chosen word.

The Male of the Species Is Far Deadlier than the Female

Helicopters in Nantes

Cape Town microclimates

violent real estate in Big Apples the world over

Afghan by night he wanders

from one gentrified neighbourhood to slums

crime with a view

he talks about eternal objects of desire

he steals, scrounges, prostitutes self and others

to be talked about

to be successful.

 

It’s the hommes who are fatales.

 

He cannot move beyond his appointed place

his background checks

respect the rules of the universe you are in

don’t test the elasticity of frontiers

this is his kryptonite

or your turn of the dime

when we lunge at monsters we will find

not many imaginary ones among them.

our lives all repetition

ritual

transcription of past conversations

verbatim

what a piddling bore

Linked to dVerse Poets Pub and their fortnightly Open Link Night. 

Inspiration Is a Capricious Guest

The poet of this afternoon died suddenly at end of night,

jostling to pen a word, yawning bile in the long

run-up to the creep of dawn pebble-dashing the curtains.

Knuckled under weight of forms, proof of income, applications

flung in free tote bags he cannot begin to classify,

he’d like to burn but who has fireplaces nowadays, so instead

he snatches at garbled predictive jottings made in ghostly glow,

leave no strand untwisted, no word untravelled,

no innocence.

Divine dictations long since ceased, words do not meet the ear

ready-formed like birdsong. It’s digging in the garden,

toiling in manure for a speck of solid rock.

 

Linking this up to my favourite poetic forum on the internet the dVerse Poets Pub, with their fortnightly Open Link Night.

New Take on Unforgettable (Poetry)

Like honey melting on your tongue… the delicious sounds of Nat King Cole singing Unforgettable.

With apologies for subverting those lovely words and heavenly voice, here is a poem which I wrote with that music (and that landscape) in the background. I’m linking it up to dVerse Poets for the Open Link Night.

Fallen trees, from creeklife.com

Incompatible…

… that’s what we are…

We never danced in rhythm, it’s true,
no ballroom twirls or tango glottal stops for you
suffering in brief acquiescence
for the rewards at the end.

You were fast and harsh, I fell for you
out of nostalgia for my previous dance partner
the tall, dark, unattainable one.
So we came together
went out together
grew apart together.

All the art you didn’t see, all the music you made me switch off.
All the books you didn’t read, all the video games I had to watch.

No one ever changes, they say,
but I know I sprout daily
in all directions.
It would only be a matter of time
before we entwined once more into fresh landscapes
I whispered to myself, oh wistful, oh longing.

But now…

all the forks in forest paths we didn’t take,
all the branches we didn’t climb
all the logs we hid behind
until we jumped over them and stopped caring.

You squeezed the music out of heavenly spheres,
you sapped neutrinos of their poetry.
robbed dark matter of its mystery,
tested me on the law of gravity.

Twenty years I’ve listened to you drone
like the exhaust of those Bugattis you admire so much.

And now I sit and ogle at men twenty years younger.

As if life ever gave one second chances.