Monday, June 25, 2012

Nontsizi Mgqwetho

Nontsizi Mgqwetho is South African poet of the Xosha language. Her poetry frequently appeared in a Johannesburg newspaper between 1920 and 1929. Little is known about her beyond what surfaces in her significant body of work.

The enemy she confronted was often as much the apathy of black men, as the unequal treatment by whites. She struggled with the irony of being a Christian, exploited by whites, when whites had brought Christianity to her country in the first place. She speaks with the voice of a preacher, although the newspaper provided the only pulpit a woman would have access to in her day. She would never have been allowed to be an “imbongi” (a rural praise poet) speaking in the presence of the chief, for that role was always a male one; however the newspaper gave her a platform where she could challenge tribal leaders.

The following poem, translated by Jeff Opland, is from The Nation's Bounty: The Xosha Poetry Of Nontsizi Mgqwetho (2007).

Show Me The Mountain That Packed Up And Left

“Come back,” mountain that left.
There are your people frantically scrabbling,
knowing full well that this country
will stand to the end of time.

Mercy, she-dove of Africa!
Distinguished elephant commanding an army
stretching from earth to the skies,
tall as an ironwood safe from the axe.

We raise our cry, saying “Come back!”
Though you disdain it, ochre suits you.
We’re befuddled because we’re adrift,
like plains cattle lost in the mist.

Mercy, she-dove of Africa!
Furry spider of Mthikrakra’s place!
Christians still favour courtship dances,
they say “Come back” but they don’t come back.

We Christians tend to see
the mote in another’s eye.
Africa, today we make a forest of you
in which to conceal all our sins.

And yet even Jesus, who bore our sins,
was a man, cracked on the cross;
He was the Word, and He became flesh:
through Him we wear a crown.

What do you want of Africa?
She can’t speak, she can’t even hear;
she’s not jealous, not vying for status;
she hasn’t squandered her people’s funds!

Where is this God that we worship?
The one we worship’s foreign:
we kindled a fire and sparks swirled up,
swirled up a European mountain.

This is the wisdom of their God:
“Black man, prepare for the treasures of heaven
while we prepare for the treasures of Africa!”
Just as the wise men of Pharaoh’s land

commanded the Jews: “Use grass to bake bricks,”
leaving them empty-handed at sunset,
so it is for us black people now:
eager at dawn, at dusk empty-handed.

So come on home! Remember your God,
a borer of holes in cracked ships,
Ancient Bone which they sucked for its marrow:
may it still yield them marrow in Africa.

So come back! Make a fresh start!
Remember the Crutch you leaned on as lepers,
let Him lead you dryshod through the Red Sea.
Food from another man’s pot makes you fart.

Please listen!!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, June 18, 2012

Paul Mariani*

Paul Mariani writes in the mode of American confessional poets, as exemplified by John Berryman, and Robert Lowell. This style fits well with his Catholic faith, although it also proclaims his own short-comings. He’s a skilled story-teller, quick to share how he neglected his dog on the day he was dying (“Landscape with Dog”), how in anger with his sons he made a fool of himself (“Sarcophagus”), or of a youthful, drunken fight the night before writing his Ethics exam (“Manhattan”). Such extreme self-revelation and honesty, also gives Mariani the right to express the deepest truths of his own spiritual life.

He has just released his seventh poetry collection, as part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books, entitled Epitaphs for the Journey: New, Selected and Revised Poems. As the subtitle states, it harvests the best from his extensive body of poetry, fine tunes it, and adds a selection of strong new poems that can proudly stand alongside the earlier work. He has taken great pains for this volume to improve poetry that has already been highly acclaimed. I am honoured to have been able to serve as editor for this excellent project.

Mariani’s first collection Timing Devices (1979) featured engravings by visual artist Barry Moser; their relationship, both personally and professionally, has continued through the years. Moser has generously contributed powerful engravings for Epitaphs for the Journey. It is available from Wipf & Stock.

The Stone Not Cut by Hand
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Nebuchadnezzar stared while the prophet blazed.
A stone not cut, stormed Daniel, by any human hand,
however self-assured or self-deluded. Understand:
It is the Lord has quarried here. The king’s eyes glazed,

because all he knew was earthly power: kings who razed
entire cities—dogs, women, babies, mules, the very land.
Kings whose subjects, high & low, did their each command.
A stone not quarried by any hand but God’s. Amazed,

the king fell back before the prophet’s words. A stone
that would smash each self-important, self-made idol,
whether built of gold or steel or any other thing their throne
was made of. Yes, whatever insane, grand mal, suicidal
impulse kings could conjure up. A stone by God alone.
Womb-warm, lamb-gentle, world-wielding, tidal.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Paul Mariani: first post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, June 11, 2012

John F. Deane

John F. Deane was born on Achill, an island off the Irish coast. Not only is he the new editor for Poetry Ireland Review, but he founded that journal more than thirty years ago. He is known both for his own poems, and for his translations of European poets, including Tomas Tranströmer. In 1985 he also founded Dedalus Press, which has significantly contributed to poetry in Ireland. His poems have been translated into French, Bulgarian, Romanian, Italian and Swedish. Deane's poetry has brought him many international awards and honours.

He has written a new translation of “The Dream of the Rood” which appeared in his 1997 book, Christ, with Urban Fox. His most-recent collection Eye of the Hare was published by Carcanet in 2011.

Mercy

Unholy we sang this morning, and prayed
as if we were not broken, crooked
the Christ-figure hung, splayed
on bloodied beams above us;
devious God, dweller in shadows,
mercy on us;
immortal, cross-shattered Christ—
your gentling grace down upon us.

Prayer

Bring me ashore where you are
that I may still be with you, and at rest.

Your name on my lips, with thankfulness,
my name on yours, with love.

That I may live in light and know no terror of the
dark;
but that I live in light.

When I achieve quiet, when I am in attendance,
be present to me, as I will be to you.

That I may hear you, like a lover, whisper yes —
but that you whisper yes.

Be close to my life, my loves, as lost son to mother,
as lost mother to son.
But be close.

Come to me on days of heat with the cool breathing
of white wine, on cold
with the graced inebriation of red.
But that you come.

That you hold me in a kindly hand
but that you hold me.

Do not resent me when I fail
and I fail, and I fail, and I fail.

That I may find the words.

That the words I find to name you
may approach the condition of song.

That I may always love with the intensity of flowers
but that I love,
but that I always love.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, June 4, 2012

Edith Sitwell

Dame Edith Sitwell (1887–1964) is an influential British poet. She — along with T.S. Eliot — formed the vanguard of modernist poets following World War I. She published the poetry of Wilfred Owen after his death, and befriended young poets, such as Dylan Thomas — helping them to get established.

When Façade — a collection of her poetry set to music by William Walton — was first performed in London in 1923 it was widely dismissed by critics and audiences, including Noel Coward, who walked out in a rage. When, however, it was revived in New York in 1949 it was enthusiastically received.

In 1953 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She became a Roman Catholic in 1955. She said at the time, “I have taken this step because I want the discipline, the fire and the authority of the Church. I am hopelessly unworthy of it, but I hope to become worthy.” Canadian poet Richard Greene has published a new biography of Dame Edith — Edith Sitwell: Avant-garde Poet, English Genius (2011).

The following poem has been set to music by Benjamin Britten.

Still Falls The Rain
(The Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn)

Still falls the Rain—
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the
-----hammer-beat
In the Potter's Field, and the sound of the impious feet

On the Tomb:
Still falls the Rain

In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human
-----brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us—
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain—
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man's wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds,—those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending
-----dark,
The wounds of the baited bear—
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh... the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain—
Then— O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune—
See, see where Christ's blood streames in the firmament:
It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree

Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world,—dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar's laurel crown.

Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain—
"Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for
-----thee."

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca