Tag Archives: Bloodaxe

Wild Nights: New and Selected Poems by Kim Addonizio (Bloodaxe, £12)

Even by their own standards, 2015 has been a particularly strong year for Bloodaxe. Standouts include a definitive J.H. Prynne volume, a bilingual Hans Magnus Enzensberger edition, and stunning debuts by Rebecca Parry and Jane Clarke. Now, at the turn of the year, Bloodaxe gift us with yet another essential addition to the poetry lover’s bookshelves.

Kim Addonizio is already widely anthologised courtesy of her seminal, full-throttle poem ‘For Desire’, and she’s published half a dozen collections in America, along with several novels and works of critical non-fiction, yet this is the first time there’s been a UK edition of her work. It’s long past due; but well worth the wait.

Addonizio belongs to that school of American poets whose work is direct, almost conversational, and indelibly keyed in to personal experience. I’d be tempted to compare her to Raymond Carver or Fred Voss, only I can’t imagine either of those gentlemen rocking a pair of killer heels and the kind of red dress that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lana Del Rey song. “I want that red dress bad,” Addonizio writes in the rhetorically titled ‘What Do Women Want?’; “I want it to confirm / your worst fears about me / … I’ll wear it like bones, like skin, / it’ll be the goddamned / dress they bury me in.”

Wild Nights offers nearly 200 pages of compressed and provocative poems on love and loneliness, desire and bad decisions; poems that have known too many blurry sunsets and too many hungover sunrises and still go out looking for love in all the wrong places; poems that hang around neon-soaked bars with a broken heart and might well break yours by the end of the night.

But there’s more than just Bukowski-style barfly philosophy to be found in this collection. Addonizio is ferociously honest and has the talent and bravery to nail down painful subjects and thorny life lessons in precise but finely nuanced language. She can also be wildly (and inappropriately) funny. Take these lines from ‘Penis Blues’:

A penis has taken flight.

Probably gon’ fly all night.

There’s a flock of penises headed south.

Their cries recede over the distant car dealerships,

over the darkened pleather interiors

and the stoned janitor, slopping his mop

in a bucket of dirty water.

The imagery is low-brow and ludicrous but chucklesome for all that. Yet there’s an undertow of melancholy. Apposite, really, for a poet whose work returns inevitably to the rhythms and imagery of blues music, be it explicit homage to Robert Johnson (“Look down into the river, I can see you there / Looking down into the blue light of a woman’s hair / Saying to her Baby, dark gon’ catch me here”) or the poignant sequence ‘Suite pour les amours perdues’. But if her individual poems are three-minute odes to the human condition, Wild Nights as a cohesive whole is more akin to the immersive emotional experience of a Mahler symphony. One where the conductor rocks a pair of killer heels and flocks of penises wheel above the concert hall.

Neil Fulwood

Tender Spot: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye (Bloodaxe, £12)

Expanded from her 2008 Selected Poems, this comprehensive volume of Naomi Shihab Nye’s sharply intelligent and clearly expressed poetry includes a wealth of material from her 2011 collection Transfer as well as fifteen new poems.

Nye was born in Missouri but remains deeply connected to Palestine through her father, the journalist Aziz Shihab, to whom the volume is dedicated. His memory, his influence and his humanitarianism provide a constant thread. In the gently ironic ‘My Father and the Fig Tree’, she recalls how “In the evenings he sat by our beds / weaving folktales like vivid little scarves. / They always involved a fig tree” before ruminating on the various homes her father occupied, never quite getting around to planting said tree until  “There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas, / a tree with the largest, fattest, / sweetest figs in the world”.

In ‘Blood’ and ‘Knowing’, a profound sense of Shihab’s moral and cultural identity comes to the fore, while the achingly poignant ‘For Aziz, Who Loved Jerusalem’ weaves history, religion and the specificity of loss into its tightly constructed lines: “Three religions buried inside a city’s walls. / Some kiss the walls. / Some walk beside them, emptied of belief. // My father dies with two languages / tucked inside his head. / Now we will never learn Arabic.”

Through these pieces, Nye demonstrates a remarkable kinship and sympathy for a ravaged land and its much oppressed people. Yet her work never declaims itself from a soap box. Hope, rather than hatred, is the currency of her art; this is most effectively articulated in the prose poem ‘Gate A-4’ in which the melting pot of a departure lounge is the scene for a coming together that transcends skin colour, language or background.

Having said that, Nye’s post-9/11 poetry is defined by, if not a combative stance, then certainly one of challenge against cultural and racial prejudice. In a socio-political, media-defined climate in which Arabs were cast as some kind of all-purpose enemy, Nye’s poetry provided a quiet but emphatic no, an act of resistance in the name of multi-culturalism. The opening lines of ‘Jerusalem’ spell it out clearly: “I am not interested in / who suffered the most. / I am interested in / people getting over it.” Nye re-establishes a truer picture of cultural characteristics in ‘The Sweet Arab, the Generous Arab’, while using satire to challenge American neo-liberal attitudes in ‘He Said EYE-RACK’ and ‘Letters My Prez is Not Sending’.

There is also moral outrage, at the sheer waste of children’s lives, in ‘For Mohammed Zeid of Gaza, Age 15’, in which she rounds on the mealy-mouthed terminology of news reports (“There is no stray bullet, sirs. / No bullet like a worried cat / crouching under a bush, / no half-hairless puppy bullet / dodging midnight streets … // So don’t gentle it, please”), and ‘Landmine Kills 10 Girls Collecting Firewood’ (“They hadn’t lived long enough / to figure out what was going on”), Nye eulogises the victim, mourns the loss and tries, in the face of the most awful tragedy, to focus on the good. This is what makes her work so immediate, affecting and important.

Neil Fulwood

The Hundred Years’ War, edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe, £12.99)

the-hundred-years-war-anthology-001Marking not only the centenary of the Great War, but acknowledging that conflict – be it global, civil or religious war – has been a constant for the last century, Neil Astley’s major new Bloodaxe anthology takes us from the trenches to post-millennial terrorism.

As a discourse on both people’s inhumanity and the struggle to retain humanity in terrifying and desperate circumstances, The Hundred Years’ War is best read in sequence – though at nearly 600 pages this presents a daunting challenge. Daunting, but rewarding.

Opening with a 100-page selection from the Great War that eclipses the recent Faber 1914: Poetry Remembers anthology, the expected works by Owen, Sassoon and Rosenberg are supplemented with French, Italian, German and Russian perspectives: poems by Albert-Paul Granier, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Wilhelm Klemm and Aleksandr Blok are hugely powerful and will deservedly find a larger readership. In particular, the twelve no-punches-pulled lines of Klemm’s ‘Clearing-Station’ are an unflinching distillation of his subject.

Poems on Ireland and the Spanish Civil War (Machado’s ‘The Crime was in Granada’, a threnody to the murdered Lorca, is a poignant inclusion) take us up to World War Two. Of the English poems in this section, the weary pragmatism of Keith Douglas and the brutal directness of Randall Jarrell are startlingly distinct voices. Pieces by Brecht, Akhmatova, Zbigniew Herbert and Miklós Radnóti widen the demographic and deliver unforgettable images and eye-witness accounts.

World War Two accounts for almost a quarter of the book. Smaller sections follow on the Korean War (William Childress, Keith Wilson and Thomas McGrath provide American viewpoints, but the weight of this section is borne by Ko Un) and the Cold War.

 Vietnam, The Troubles, and the continuing Israel/Palestine/Lebanon situation offer a broader spectrum of work. The excerpts from Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘A State of Siege’, a piece written more than a decade ago, could have been shaped from this week’s news coverage. Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘For Mohammed Zeid of Gaza, Age 15′, in which she rails against the throwaway term “stray bullet” sets up a forceful precedent for Brian Turner’s ‘Here, Bullet’ later in the anthology. Turner, of course, writes from the perspective of a US soldier serving in Iraq. Ditto Kevin Powers. Their pieces dominate the Iraq Wars section, although Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef is well represented. Still, the book isn’t about us-and-them dynamics and Astley keeps what Owen called “the pity of war” foremost in mind for the majority of his selections.

The Hundred Years’ War is balanced, sober and reflective. Astley provides a general introduction as well as introductions to each section. Annotations on the poets’ lives and personal experiences of war are informative and unobtrusive. This could easily become the keystone war poetry anthology for this generation.

 Neil Fulwood


Pelt by Sarah Jackson (Bloodaxe)

Pelt by Sarah Jackson“Today, I find I can see through my eyelids.” Which is a good thing, as I need to read Jackson’s debut collection (published by Bloodaxe) with my eyes shut, and I can’t put it down. Her poetry is deliberately unheimlich (the opposite of what is familiar), it profoundly disturbs at the same time as it draws us in. We can hear “The Ten O’Clock Horses” coming down the street, we can feel the “devastating wind” in that deserted hotel in Bulgaria. We reach the end of the book and realise we have to ask ourselves the same terrifying (yet exciting) questions about ourselves and the world around us, which are not quite explicit in the poems but at the same time shout clearly in our minds. And then we start reading again. Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and winner of the Seamus Heaney award for a first collection, this promises great things to come from Sarah Jackson.

Pippa Hennessy