poetry

READ THE WORLD – Fiji: Memoirs of a Reluctant Traveller by Sudesh Mishra

A poetry collection about travelling and the places and people a traveller encounters.

This is an incredibly short poetry collection at 52 pages and every poem is a dizain stanza – meaning it has ten lines and each are a complete poem. Though, because of the theme of travelling some feel more connected than others. Also, the order of the poems does seem like a conscious choice as some really flow well together.

The poems I enjoyed the most were the ones about the travelling experience; whether that was by plane, train, or bus. I haven’t been to any of the places mentioned in the poems so while they did paint a good picture, I couldn’t connect with them. However, I could relate to the poems where it was full of gripes about travelling and how with each mode of transport there are different things a person experiences. They captured the monotony of travel really well.

There’s nothing else I can really say about this poetry collection because it’s so short. Each poem gives a snapshot of a place or an experience and some of them work better than others for me.

READ THE WORLD – The Marshall Islands: Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner

A collection of poetry covering themes like history, personal experience, and the Marshallese people and their culture.

I’ve read about a dozen poetry collections for my Read the World Project and I still think it’s an often interesting way to get a snapshot of a poets culture and interests. I think that Iep Jāltok is one of my favourite, and the best, collections I’ve read in a while.

The style of the poems differ. Some are in simple stanzas, others the words meander across the page or is just one big paragraph. There’s a few that are concrete poetry – written in the shape of a boat or a pot.

I knew nothing about the Marshall Islands before picking up Iep Jāltok and even now I still know very little. The poem “History Project” (which is also the name of one of the four sections of the collection) is about how when Jetn̄il-Kijiner was in school she researched how the United States conducted nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands. That in and of itself is something that I never knew about but how the poem goes into the images and statistics she found, the lasting effects on generations of people from the radiation, how Americans protested animals being used as guineapigs but not the people of the islands – it’s all so sad, horrible, but also not that surprising when you consider the history of the USA. It’s a really effective poem and after that one there’s mention of radiation and the sickness it caused in members of Jetn̄il-Kijiner’s family in other poems.

It’s the poems about the history of the Marshall Islands, its people and the effect climate is having on them that I really liked. There are poems about how the Marshallese are lumped together with other people from different small island countries in the Pacific Ocean. The racism Jetn̄il-Kijiner has experienced and how she feels that she and her people are forgotten by the rest of the world – especially when it comes to climate change. “Two Degrees” is about how the increase in temperature of two degrees will affect the Marshall Islands, and how the rising sea levels is already flooding the islands. Terms like rising sea levels often seem abstract and hard to comprehend, whether because you live away from the coast or it’s genuinely hard to image a beach or land no longer being above water. Having the effects of climate change laid out in a poem makes it seem so simple and real.

Iep Jāltok is a thought-provoking poetry collection with a lot of powerful poems. It shows history and issues from a point of view I had not seen before and demonstrates how unfortunately universal things  like racism and climate change affect people differently when they’re from different communities. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Dominica: Nature Island Verses by Alick Lazare

A poetry collection split into three parts; Love, Life, and Politics. This collection has a mix of poetry, some rhymes, some don’t and the rhyming schemes used aren’t consistent in the collection.

The first part of this poetry collection had poems about love. Maybe it’s because I’m not a particularly lovey-dovey person but these poems didn’t do a lot for me. I don’t think it’s Lazare’s poems specifically, just love poems generally. The poems about life and politics were more interesting to me.

Of the Life poems, “By the Lake”, “Epitath”, and “Hurricane David (August, 1979)” were what really stood out to me. They seem to encompass the theme of life very well and almost seem to be about different stages of life. “By the Lake” is quite beautiful with its descriptions of nature and belief, it’s almost like rebirth or the start of life – especially in comparison to “Epitath” which is about death and the acceptance of it. “Hurricane David (August, 1979)” paints a vivid picture of the destruction and beauty of a hurricane; before, during, and after it wreaks havoc.

I found the poems in the Politics section interesting though I feel like there was references to people and events that I’m unaware of so some probably didn’t have the same impact as if I did know those bits of Dominican history. “A Chronicle of Events Untold” was a great poem to end the collection on. It’s a narrative, rhyming poem that tells the history of Dominica; the different people who tried to colonise it, Columbus, slavery, independence, the rise and fall of democracy. It’s an interesting and affecting way to get a very broad overview of Dominica’s history and what the people have gone through.

READ THE WORLD – Mongolia: The End of the Dark Era by Tseveendorjin Oidov

Translated by Simon Wickhamsmith.

The End of the Dark Era is the first book of Mongolian poetry to be published in the United States, and one of the few avant-garde collections to have come from the vast steppes of Mongolia.

One of my favourite things with translated poetry is when on one page is the poem in the original language and on the opposite page is the translation. Even if you can’t read the original language, or make much sense of it at all when it’s in a completely different alphabet like here, it’s cool to see how the poem was originally laid out, how many lines there were and how much space it took up.

The first half of The End of the Dark Era is poems from between 1975-1983 and they’re all about a page long. A lot of them are about nature, or paint vivid scenes of the ocean, rocks or forests through them. There’s a distanced or almost dreamlike quality to a lot of them, and some feel like little mini stories being told to you.

The second half of the collection is called “Advantgardism” and is a collection of short fictions. Each poem or fiction is no more than five lines long and each are accompanied by an illustration by the author on the opposite page. The illustrations are all line drawings of horses in different poses. Personally, I found the illustrations more interesting than the writing, they were just unlike any illustrations I’d really seen before and they manage to make the horse look animated which is impressive. Though I did like how the words and image complemented each other.

I think the poems of Tseveendorjin Oidov are not for me. A few are brief but effective, but most seem to be the kind of poetry that I just don’t understand or would better understand if I had someone to guide me through them. Apparently, Tseveendorjin Oidov is considered to be the first Mongolian modernist and modernism is something I could never really get my head around – even when I studied it a bit at university. Maybe if you’re a modernist fan you should try some translated Mongolian modernist poetry and see how that compares to Western modernism writing.

READ THE WORLD – Federated States of Micronesia: My Urohs by Emelihter Kihleng

A short poetry collection from Pohnpeian poet, Emelihter Kihleng.

I think this was a very interesting collection. A lot of the poems were almost short stories or small snapshots at life, and I feel I learnt things about the Federated States of Micronesia from these poems, which is an achievement considering how short they are. For instance, I never knew about the connection between the Federated States of Micronesia and America, that many people live or work or have connections to Hawaii especially. In the poem “Destiny Fulfilled?” it covers how people from the various islands joined the US Armed Forces and its “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. I also liked how it gets its title from a Destiny’s Child album and uses lyrics from the song “Soldier” to show the differences between pop culture and actual war.

I liked how the poet had footnotes in the poems, explaining a word or phrase that was in a different language, or adding context when a poem is inspired by real events. I believe Pohpeian is the language used throughout the collection, with many of the poems being in a combination of English and Pohpeian. Some are like a dialogue between two characters and there’s the English translation after each phrase, while in others it’s just the odd word or line that’s not in English.

The poems in My Urohs are about the people, the culture, the food, and the connections and differences between people who live on different islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and their different languages, stories and culture. It’s an interesting little collection and a great insight into a place I’d only ever heard of and knew nothing about.

READ THE WORLD – Democratic Republic of Congo: Beneath the Blue Sky: A Short Book of Poetry by Frederick Yamusangie

A short poetry collection of less than 80 pages.

I won’t say I’m an expert in poetry, because I’m most definitely not, but I have read some poetry collections over the past few months so I’m starting to get an idea of what I like and what does and doesn’t work for me.

Unfortunately, Beneath the Blue Sky doesn’t work for me. There’s no theme or anything running through this poetry collection, making each poem insular and has very little effect. It’s also then hard to derive any meaning from them because they are so varied in what they are about, or what point of view a poem is from. The poems themselves are often very short, and as there’s nothing connecting them, it’s just like you read five lines and then that’s it.

In the latter half of the collection there were two poems that stood out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were the poems which were longer and had more substance to them. The first is called A Jungle which was about how a town is called a jungle and how and why that is when a physically jungle is so different. The second is called Oh! My Congo! which is about the Congo, how it’s changing and the people there. These two poems were ones that felt like they meant something and were from a point of view that was more unique.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy Beneath the Blue Sky. It’s a short yet meandering poetry collection that really didn’t work for me and I’m struggling to find anything else to say about it. 1/5.

READ THE WORLD – Papua New Guinea: Cultural Refugees: Anthology of Poems by Julie Mota

This poetry collection is an exploration on whether cultural immersions and transitional processes are producing cultural refugees in our midst. The different perspectives represented in this collection opens up dialogue on how Papua New Guineans look at their society, the changes that are happening and challenges them to discuss, embrace and pave a way forward for further exploration on the themes raised.

The majority of the poems in this collection are in English but there are a few that aren’t. I googled “what is the language of Papua New Guinea” so I could say what language it was, but Wikipedia says there are 851 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea and though it’s likely to be Tok Pisin as it’s the most widely spoken, I don’t want name the wrong language that’s featured in this collection.

Cultural Refugees is split into five section each titled, Mother, Father, Children, Social Issues, and Petty Ramblings. The first three sections especially are both from that perspective and are about that type of person. It’s interesting to see that breakdown of family dynamics and compare poems in the Mother section to some in the Father section for example as you can see how differently those roles are seen.

Many of the poems in Cultural Refugees are super short with some being only a stanza long. While compositionally interesting the content of most of the short poems didn’t really resonate with me much. Some of the longer poems were in the Social Issues section and those are the poems I found more interesting because (as the title suggests) they were about events in and the society of Papua New Guinea.

I think Cultural Refugees is a poetry collection that would offer more impact if you are someone from Papua New Guinea, or maybe even the Oceania region in general, as you’d pick up the cultural references better.

READ THE WORLD – Nicaragua: Life for Each by Daisy Zamora

Translated by Dinah Livingstone.

A poetry collection from Daisy Zamora, a Sandinista combatant during the liberation struggle who ran the clandestine Radio Sandino which broadcasted the call for a general insurrection in June 1979.

Life for Each is a super short poetry collection of only 70 pages. The collection is split into four parts. The first is a study of different people Zamora has met and connected with, the second has more personal poems, the third and fourth parts explore her family and friends and how they connect to her political love and anger.

Something I really liked about this poetry collection was how on the opposite side of the page to the English translation, was the poem in its original language. It was nice to be able to see the original text how the author wrote it and, if you know any of the language, being able to get some extra meaning from it. I’ve read a few books on my Read the World Project that have done this and I think it’s a great way to present a translated work.

I still find it difficult to write about poetry collections. As I said it’s a short collection and most of the poems themselves are short, only a few stanzas long, and to the point. They are punchy and affective but equally some of the longer poems are moving. “Lullaby for a Newborn Girl who Died” is about the death of Zamora’s newborn baby and it’s very bittersweet.

The poems in the latter half of the collection that are about politics, revolution, anger and desperation were the ones that I really liked. They’re small insights into political upheaval and how Zamora viewed those events. The final poem in the collection – “Families of CIA Victims Protest Outside the United States Embassy” – does a great job at showing the desperation of the families and the cruelty of those in the Embassy because they really just don’t care. This poem, like a lot of them in the collection, is passionate and heartfelt and eye-opening.

READ THE WORLD – Trinidad and Tobago: Difficult Fruit by Lauren K. Alleyne

A poetry collection that is a journey which includes coming to terms with sexual violence and loss, with celebrating love and connection, and bearing witness to the world that shaped that journey.

I don’t often read poetry, mainly because I feel I don’t “get it” and don’t get enjoyment from it. With Difficult Fruit however, I found the poems to be affecting and easy to connect with and understand.

The poems deal with growing up and loss, how someone feels when burying a friend or dealing with an assault on their body and mind. Some poems are quite upsetting or uncomfortable as it doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities people go through, especially women as they grow up.

The poems in the collection are short, often no more than a page long and they are written in different styles. Some with one long stanza, while others are broken up in parts.

One of my favourite poems in the collection was “The Hoodie Stands Witness for Trayvon Martin” which personifies the hoody that Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was shot and killed in 2012, wears. It’s short and unsettling and really affecting, especially as it’s about a real event and person that’s shocking and unjust. I don’t think I’d ever read a poem before that was so obviously about a certain event or person and it made me really stop and consider the poem and what it was saying.

I often find poems easy to just read and move onto the next one without much thought because they’re short and are about different things. However, with Difficult Fruit I found myself stopping to consider the meaning of a lot of the poems as while they were short, they were impactful. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Albania: Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku

Translated by Ani Gjika.

A collection of poetry from Luljeta Lleshanaku examining the space between objects and people, how things balance together and the different human emotions.

I’m not someone who knows a lot about poetry, but I found a lot of Lleshanaku’s poems beautiful yet bleak. There’s a loneliness to a lot of them, when someone is the subject matter of a poem they often can’t connect with others and there’s a distance between the subject and what they’re doing. Many of the poems aren’t tied to one specific place or time, instead the “story” flows from different perspectives, almost always focusing on the mundane.

Most of the poems here were about a page long, but there were a few that almost played out like short stories – Homo Antarcticus and Water and Carbon are two examples of this. They are both sad, haunting poems about people who are at a distance from others, through they choice or not. I enjoyed the poems that were more like short stories rather than the page-long ones as they naturally had more depth to them.

The poems in this collection are quiet peculiar and haunting. Whether it’s because they have been translated into English or because they’re from an Albanian poet, they don’t quiet fit with what my preconceived notions of poetry are. It makes reading these poems an interesting experience and I could see myself going back and rereading some of them to see if they have a different affect on me.

This is my pick this month’s Monthly Motif “Read a book that has won a literary award, or a book written by an author who has been recognized in the bookish community” as Negative Space is the winner of the English PEN Award and Luljeta Lleshanaku received the 2009 Crystal Vilenica award for European poets.