Four Books from Hesterglock

Four Books from Hesterglock (2018)

50 // fifty by Michael Harford and paul hawkins

Cocktail Kafkaïne by Mustapha Benfodil translated by Joe Ford

The City Itself by Billy Mills

logbook by hiromi suzuki

 

50 // fifty by Michael Harford and paul hawkins

This short collection of 50 fifty-word poems by paul hawkins with 50 collages by Michael Harford was written as a constraint-based project during Hawkins’ 50th year.  For the constraint, paul wrote a fifty-word poem every day for 50 weeks of the year, sending one text to Michael each week. Harford responded with a collage for each text and the results are collected together here.  The process of collaboration features not only in the constraint but also in the way the texts and images are presented, and, visually, in the collages themselves.  Each page features a single colour collage above a short numbered text, running through from #1 to #50.  The collages immediately alerted my eyes to the juxtaposition of disparate p/arts – each collage being composed of several cut-out images placed together within its own square perimeter to make an ostensible whole, and the overall project being a placing together of individual pieces – both visual and verbal/textual – to construct the whole.

The images and poems are placed together with varying degrees of harmony and dissonance.  Knowing that paul’s previous projects have focused on dissonance, it’s interesting to note the resonances and dissonances between certain texts and images in the collection.  For example, #13 riffs on the idea of ‘painbirds’ mentioning sparrows specifically and swallows obliquely.

‘same old same old

sparrows dive bomb

peck at your ears’

‘drink swallow inhale’

The collaged image depicts two sparrows hanging upside down from the top right corner – in a potentially dive-bombing location as they point towards the two human figures across the centre.  But their body-positions suggest that they’re sitting rather than diving.  The movement in the image is suggested by the postures and gestures of the two human figures, who in the poem are seated. There’s a line of sheet-music and a cut-out letter (as in missive) – perhaps alluding to the poem’s ‘voices without mouths’.  In the background – maybe sand – and a textured stripe of something evoking the ‘front seat of a renault clio’ in the front.

These resonances are oblique and have to be worked at – readers are invited to make connections between two seemingly disparate and dissonant artefacts brought into the juxtaposition of a single page, or book.  Yet we’re also asked to notice where that resonance ends and the dissonance begins.  Neither the images nor the poems are designed to be directly translatable to each other. This book presents readers with many ways in to a potential conversation, but always reminds us that the interlocutors are distinct and individual subjects: each with their own particular language and way of speaking.

50 fifty

 

Cocktail Kafkaïne by Mustapha Benfodil translated by Joe Ford

Conversation and the ‘(un)translatable’ feature heavily in Cocktail Kafkaïne, a collection of Algerian poetry in French by Mustapha Benfodil with accompanying translation by Joe Ford.  The book presents the texts in mirrored translation, with the original French on the verso (left-hand page) and the translation on the facing recto (right-hand page).  This is, in part, to raise questions about the (un)translatability of poetry, and also to give readers access to a full collection of Benfodil’s body of poetic writing in both its original French and in English translation.  Benfodil, a poet whose name English readers may not be familiar with, performs poetry as protest on the streets of Algeria at considerable personal risk.

Giving ‘wild readings’ in public places has led to his repeated arrest and questioning by the police. While some poems, such as ‘#Tract’ and ‘TATATATATATATATATA’ refer explicitly to politically radical events and perspectives, other of Benfodil’s poems are personal musings – such as ‘Asset Declaration’ and several poems to his daughter.  Regardless of the content, he tells us in the introduction that it’s possible to be arrested and questioned simply for the act of reading poetry or an extract from a play in a public place without a permit – hence Benfodil founded and developed the concept of ‘wild readings’: unlicensed public poetry readings.  Poetry, in Algeria, is in itself an act of wilful political defiance.  ‘A bullet in the narration’ testifies to the threat posed by literary arts in a fundamentally religious society, culminating in a list of the names of writers murdered for their art since 1962.

These collected poems, written over a period spanning twenty years, have a Beat-style aesthetic: irreverent, radical, personal; in the form of spontaneous-seeming long lines of free verse and variations on the list-poem.  And they’re a brave testament to free-thinking and radical self-expression in the face of a repressive regime.

Cocktail Kafkaine

 

The City Itselfby Billy Mills

‘words for this space

a space to frame them

concord of sorts’

The texts framed within The City Itself invite readers’ speculations towards a ‘concord of sorts’, as suggested by the book’s epigraph, above. Comprising poetry, prose and quotation, the mixed genres speak to one another in moments of both accord and discord. The section of fragmented quotations called ‘A Short History of Dominick Street’ immerses readers in the streets of Dublin.  Evoking not only geography and history, but also voice and vernacular, the sounds of the streets are heard in the telling.  The following section, ‘Pensato’ (meaning ‘thought’ in Italian, but also – in music – an imaginary note that is written but never played or heard), presents slight poems often arranged in couplets or single lines that I first expected to be echoes of the language found in the History.  Reading back, however, I couldn’t find a lexical connection. Thinking on it now, I wonder if it’s not the echoes of the language, but the act of listening itself that creates a concord between the two.

‘listen

do not

 

sing

it is

enough’

The poems in this section reflect on sound and silence, stillness and movement, while Mills’ deliberate use of spacing – both the space of the page and the spaces in between lines – invite readers to experience these qualities in the act of reading. The texts weave subtle materialities, often allowing readers to pause and experience ourselves living for a moment. Yet also gently demanding that we do the work of being with these words.

The City Itself

 

logbook by hiromi suzuki

This book of Hiromi Suzuki’s collages is an understated collection of ‘visual poetry’, which, for Suzuki, ‘means invisible poetry’.  The poems, whose text is invisible, are hinted at in the delicate weave of colour, shape and texture with occasional figurative images and fragmented typography of each collage.  Some collages are titled, others untitled.  Some seem linked by resonant images, such as the prevalence of hands in the gesture of holding, while others form loose narratives in concert or alone.

Like the invisible visual poetry of these pieces, Suzuki says the stories are also ‘invisible … in the faint moonlight’, while she hears ‘a voice and melody from the page’.  Each page is a record of daily memory and ephemera, yet each is open enough to speak to us in myriad ways.  These collages rarely reach for mimetic depiction, and instead offer gestures of space and movement by which we might construct our own narrative or poetic resonances with the work on the page.

There’s a youthful and innocent playfulness in the language that is used, sparingly, to give occasional titles and to provide context for the collage work.  One pairing, ‘Where troubles melt like lemon drops’ and ‘that’s where you’ll find me’ depict splashes of light and dark textures with sharp, angular intersections that lend weight to the apparent linguistic levity. Another pair, ‘m for mortal’ and ‘e for embrace’ evoke both visual and textual poetry in their wordplay and images. Displayed together, the two collages read ‘me’ – suggesting the self can be identified as a ‘mortal embrace’ – while sandpaper-like textures in black and white conjure the sense of an abyss.

Suzuki likens her collages to ‘automatic writings’ – creating one each night before sleep.  The simplicity of this gesture belies the depth to be found in the collages, making this a tender and inspiring collection, richly represented in colour by Hesterglock.

logbook

Click here to find these books at Hesterglock.

About the Publisher:

Hesterglock publishes work from poets / artists / writers of any/all gender(s), colour(s), sexual orientation and dis/ability.  Work that is anti-systems of oppression, intersectional, across form(s) and across discipline(s).

Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow researches and writes utopian poetics and performs poetry as ritual to open up [r]evolutionary space for positive transformation.  She teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of Westminster.  Her poems have been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf.  Chapbooks to date: The Unfinished Dream (Sad Press, 2016) and Atha (forthcoming with Knives, Forks and Spoons). Find her on Twitter: @Spaewitch.

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