Afric McGlinchey: The lucky star of hidden things (Salmon Poetry, 2012) – a review

Afric 

 

Sadalachbia is the lucky star as referred to in the titular poem – it appears glimmering to mark the arrival of Spring, equating to nomadic uprooting and moving on and Afric McGlinchey certainly expresses some wander-lusting escapades throughout this fine collection.

The entire first section colourfully resonates with the poet’s African connection: she spent her first few years in southern parts of this massive continent. Her imagery is particularly strong given the poet’s youth at the time: now her seventeen poems in this section are reflected as remembered in dreams – and I am back there – as much as in ‘real’ memories. The very name Afric has to be reflection of here time there! Thus we hear the:

men, dark as squid ink, drink chibuku [beer]

And taste the;

tongue-curling kapenta [dried fish]; sadza nyama [maize meal], hand-rolled

There is plentiful African (both Shona and Afrikaans) discourse here too, for which there is an ample glossary at the back of book. McGlinchey later bursts back to Africa much further on in the third quarter, when she returns to Zimbabwe to see the spectre of what once was, in her On the soles of their feet. Things have deteriorated considerably: No lights, no water from the taps…since she lived there.

Keeping on with the wandering star ethos – the second section of 15 poems, after all, is entitled The Road – finds McGlinchey now forming and formulating relationships and reminiscing wryly about missed relational opportunities, near misses, one-off hits – take, for example, Sparks, where she lusts after the virile masculinity of a tyre mechanic as her vision of him recedes in her rear-vision mirror. Here too are her maternal recollections of her own kids growing up, as in Charge of the white paint brigade and On not flicking my tea towel at his departing behind.

Only in the relative stasis of the third section of 12 poems do we find a slight downwind into the poet’s reflections about epistemological and cognitive aspects (ways of seeing and interpreting visual and mental appearances.) There are also the two poems dealing with blighted betrothals – Shotgun and Damned, where;

Above me lies a vast black space

trailing an abandoned veil  

Momentum stalls a little here in fact until the titular poem (which rounds off a group of odes which is somewhat curiously entitled We who saw in the table of contents, yet is entitled What we saw at the commencement of the section.) This concluding piece jerks us back toward the closing 7 poem sequence as McGlinchey awaits a man to lead on further: she, in fact, will be his Sadalachbia. He will be her mentor, her partner in time.

Throughout the collection there is a lot to do with man-woman relationships – especially in this final rather settled section as compared to the early booming poem Dessert where she caustically belittles her soon-to-be-ex. For now she is a mature family woman. She has found her man and they are united through all (his) potential temptations:

But that blonde is not going

to make it better, and you know

we’re better than this – so

hold on.

That’s why this final quarter is titled Leaning into your [his] world – indeed. The whole book culminates in the wonderful James Joyce rip-off (in the best sense of this term) of Yes.

 

All in all a segueing from the exotic to the erotic. Yet we must also mention here the poet’s decision to also commemorate the deceased – as in her own parents (her late father receives several warm accolades – take the sad Last conquest), a certain Danny Murphy (in the lilting and lovely Under the heart, a horseshoe shape) as well as those anonymous suffering under the brunt of ‘modernity’ and its meanness and lack of empathy (the dead birds caught in oil slicks in Scraps and the three refugee jumpers into unnecessary death in Red Letter Day.) That the poet is a representative of modernity’s qua Western aloofness and ignorance – here via the cold lens of a camera is nowhere more apparent than in her Invasion, with its snap lines:

she [a girl in south Sudan] passed the cool mouth

of my camera,

growled her rejection

 

while there is a tendency throughout also to pronounce and denounce (men’s) mendacity, such as:

 

What are we but beasts of prey

when all that doesn’t age

is the venom of desire.

 

This from the poem ‘about’ sleazebag gerontins titled No banquet for old men.

All-in-all, good stuff. Afric McGlinchey writes well with lots of excellent imagery, as mentioned earlier. But there is lush imagery throughout – not just re: the African vista. Take this example, when describing wild goats:

A bearded billy

flaunts boomerang horns,

 

does a rock gavotte,

concubines in attendance.

And floribunda figures of speech – take the similes:

I unearth a history,

Sifting, like flour, old memories…

 

And:

 

…The stars came floating down

Like paratroopers…

 

And:

Our bodies trapeze

like laundry

cavorting on lines.

& what about the nuances and enchantments of these wondrous metaphors:

…as she steals to the feast

of his back. [his being a wild horse]

And:

…I make my way on a pot-holed road,

…………………..with bare feet, read

Its braille…

And:

We drive down forest roads

branches scissoring the sun

into the green depression.

 

Other stylistic ploys also filter through these steadily stanza-ed verses – there is the ‘found poem’ that is All roads. There is a circular effect resonating through several other poems also, whereby the last line tends to if not repeat, at least to strenuously echo the first. There are repetitions of the same lines – as in After the sand storm. Then there is the multi-couplet dance that is He was – where each couplet begins with those same two words. Worthy of mention also is the deft concoction of food-words filling us up as we digest the poem Dessert: spoon, starved, dinner, main course, dessert in a metaphorical stirring against her shamed partner.

Here, to finesse this rather glowing review, is a fine example of not only the sheer poetic craftwomanship of Afric McGlinchey, but also one of her main thematic and emotive strands.

Eighteen

When I was eighteen
I swam four lengths underwater;
he kissed me, told me he loved me..

I let him touch my breasts;
walked along the ridge of the sofa
as he proposed.

What would you have been,
my little one, who beat
inside me for five months,

remained nameless, have no grave.
Yet your presence is felt in wordless
whisper, and on this day, in sunshine,

rain or fog, I listen for you, the hum
of your shape cradled between pelvic bones.
You would be eighteen.

I believe this to be just one of many fine poems in this collection by this Irish voice: charming, striking, sometimes bewailing, always with a distinctive lyric brogue that we are all going to hear much more of, reflect on more. Especially as we scan the astral plane as we scan her lines.
Review written by Vaughan Rapatahana

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John Swain – White Vases (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2012): a review

John Swain – White Vases (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2012): a review

 WhiteVasesJohnSwainv10

This slight (21 pages) chapbook is interesting for a variety of reasons. I will adumbrate them here, rather in the fashion of a summary, so as to make especially clear the distinguishing features of Swain’s work.

–       Each of the sixteen poems takes up a separate page, but more often than not less than a whole page is utilized.

–       There is no evidence of stanzas or rhyme throughout each and every poem, except one titled Synchrony Lens: this is not meant as criticism by any means, but is a distinguishing feature. Then there is his elementary punctuation!

–       As related to the point immediately above, the impression is of density: compact lines and line lengths tautly sequestered onto the pages.

–       The notion of density extends to the methodology involved in this collection as well. For each and every poem primarily consists of an image or images, but more than this, of some abstruseness of language and language sequence to the extent that one is often left pondering what exactly the poet is attempting to say, if indeed there is a message involved at all and not ‘merely’ the rainbow glow of the imagery involved. Examples of this obscurity abound – take, as just one, this from the titular poem:

as if I burned

a completed work

to unchain today

then enter liberated

like an unhinged door

lying flat in the grass…

–       That said, there is indeed a concentration on Nature and physicality – not only of Nature and its inhabitants, but also of man-woman relationship(s), and in particular of a specific ‘me’/’you’ bonding. Yet, given the abstruseness of language and its interpolation with image, the actual reference to the elements of Nature remain simple: mollusk, urchin, jellyfish, fish crow, osprey run free and abundant throughout Swain’s arboreal aquariums.

–       A further mighty concentration on God, Christ and religious motifs (tax collectors, locusts, plague, wilderness pervade as in Neither Eating) also pervades these poems adding to the melding of who quintessentially is represented in the ‘me’/’you’ conundrum previously outlined: indeed, in some poems, all three reams of theme prevail – religion, nature, gendered relationship.

–       The overall summation by this critic is, then, that Swain weaves in a Christian mystic vision. He concentrates less on the craft of writing poetry, given several effective similes spread throughout his lines (examples being: The world like a claw was too red; A lion crawled upon the hydra like a man torn between warships) than on his impelled gushed epiphanies, one of a spirited spirituality springing from the cascades and torrents of springs and the animated antics of flora and fauna, permeated by close readings of both Testaments in the King James Bible. Another extrapolation:

I jumped from a high rock

and the water let me become you

indeed!

Interesting. And what better way to present the song-poetry of John Swain than to actually present the song-poetry. Let it be for itself rather than attempt to dissect it, perhaps:

Thorn

 

I traced the branch

of feathers and leaves

sewn with ink

down your lithe back.

smoke from your mouth

wrote a psalm,

as I plea for release

and endless captivity

in this room

where you bare yourself

holy in darkness,

we knotted like thorn

forehead to forehead

over our bent arms.

 

Enough said

Review written by Vaughan Rapatahana

still trying

still trying to snare
that poem.

you know the one:

it
winces your eyes;
jackhammers your brain;
cartwheels your tongue.

can’t quite tame
the brute though.

won’t cower in the corner
won’t slink to submission,

let alone be trapped
inside
the ^ alphabet cage.

it’s out t h e r e
s o m e w h e r e
l
u
s
i
v
e
mewling & slewing

&
cheshire
catting me
still.

bit of a worry, eh

in some skanky
suburban overgrowth
lies the n e x t
king of his realm –

a billy bunter clone
munching
on a BIG mac
while
grokking its
apple namesake;

palpitating how
he will
over
throw
this regnant
episteme [he googled that]

via
some
coup d’etat coup de grace,

then
instilling an age
of ‘electrostatic
persuasion
gadgetry’…

where we’ll
all be fried.