Thursday, 14 April 2016

'Infuriated Palimpsests': Guest Poet: Natalie Katsou

 There is a buzz about Greek poetry at the moment: quick on the heels of the impressive Penned in the Margins anthology Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis comes a Penguin compilation Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry (ed. Karen Van Dyck). I haven't read it yet, but the review in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago implied the book captures an exciting resurgence precipitated by economic turmoil which rather than bemoan current social hardships does what “poetry does best: offer new ways to imagine what can be radically different realities”.
   I'm pleased to introduce a further Greek poet today, Natalie Katsou, a multi-talented and polymathic young writer, theatre-director and teacher I worked with until recently. I find her poetry ambitious and disarming, a collage of giddy imaginative jumps full of cathartic drama and dissonance. I reprint here a sequence from her third volume Nymphalidae (Kedros, 2015), followed by her brief bio:
                                          Cartes Postales

   a mouse jumps on the bench with the frozen shrimps its eyes widen become glass from its ear crops up a tail till it becomes the head of a cat

 the dreamy woman lies down on the bench with the dead shellfish she wags her tail shines her teeth with the tongue her black bitten tongue

 behind fear there is a smile

 when the painter wakes up he’ll seize the knife on the bench and stick it in her breast for spring to flow he will cut her into thin slices place her on lumps of salted rice and share her out among the orphans
  Left like a gabardine on the table of an entrance dripping a lake after the rain on the wooden floor as on the grass with the thistles and a bunch of poppies that will shed their petals before nightfall soaking the red linen on the sleeve and the last rays hitting the lining while a bag of fresh trout slips gently off the table onto the lake on the floor.  The impending moment of return to this spot stretches and hovers and gathers wind-like in corn till the lake dries up the trout falls among the thistles sweeping the linen to cover it with a red cast-off garment.

Left on an entrance hook she slides towards the lake till a red cast-off garment covers her. 

Left on the grass with the thistles she stretches and hovers and gathers.  Like the wind.
Arranging flowers and the weight of transparency while horseshoes in copper pots overflowing with boiled snow like a midnight kiss with a guitar’s empty belly for a pillow with a long exotic arm straining the cold in the hive exhaling between the chords as momentarily a swan.

Grief tears the lonely apart

thoughts rust in the isolation and smell a cage to protect them

wind Eumenides worms in windstorms
In the light’s parting the brain’s woolly parcel

bloats an octopus in the nest and climbs up while the eyes wriggle half-blind against the bats that swoop down with visions behind the fleshy

The earth is a square mat to sharpen the fingertips exorcizing the flapping of wings

The dream-haunted woman who dares not sleep appears ornamental

A head sleeps beside her swearing to the form of sleeplessness as a spot of an irrational ocean and giving it a comrade’s name

Dead beauty
observing a water lily caught in a white transparent ice cube

mouths crystallize or a long straight line with two human ends

disappearance within another – a future

sustained of exhaling

is the emptiness between the days that passed with nothing

silences in a cloud ostensibly heartless
Lying prostrate on the grass with yellow hair

bearing a quiver with a pomegranate in the pocket

barefooted and a deep cut full of dry blood

hiding blades and secrets under her breast.
She had the look of a dead fairy.

Or a blue entrapped dragonfly.  
Dripping a thick green the branches catch fire

with the rain

the earth jolts

short-lived psychopomps like seasons

dissolve before eyes spotted from the past

and closed
the butterflies flee in packs
homeless guards of those who don’t return

words flying with paper wings exchange

captive skies
 Dragging a parachute ripped round a branch

ready for a hideout.  A map made of pencil sharpening and

cotton bread.  The ticket is cut again and again

into smaller pieces.

Repatriation is a vanilla and salt ice cream in an ancient newspaper

next to the map with the ticket.  The teeth break with every attempt.  Buried there it never melts.  Without a kiss.
Wearing the parachute for a nightie.

Impersonating sleep. 
 A far-off scream in the sand dripping on and on and echoing the stars’ asphyxia for there they don’t know of the twin band binding us to chaos its yellow imprint runs among the bare trunks

as though pleading to be uprooted
infuriated palimpsests of inner flesh fissures of touches shrinking in a broken vase of sand I stand and sweep it up clean it tidy it and with my fingers I lay each grain on the tip of the tongue

the blood afire and instantly white mercury shoots me up to the clouds

I swear to be contained in this doom before the cut off word dawns on the forehead

electrifying the moment and casting it as thunder in the mind
 Hand and foot battle in a woven basket of moulded cherries.  Eyes gagged, sleeves pinned in a line, thoughts in chains.  A groan and a kick towards the exit.  Suction and dissolution.   Birth        


Ultimate performative act to bring about the raising of joy and catharsis

 Place Japan

Place imagined and necessary

Place everywhere

 Time excluded

Time the self
                                                                          Translated by Yiannis Goumas

   Natalie Katsou was born in Athens. She studied Law and Theatre Studies at the University of Athens and she had her Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Directing at East 15 Acting School, University of Essex under the Minotis Scholarship by the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece. She lives and works as a theatre director and a drama lecturer in London; she is the Artistic Director of Operaview.Magodos” (Kastaniotis Publ. 2008- nominated for the DIAVAZO Literature Prize) , “Cochlea” (Kedros Publ. 2012- nominated for the ANAGNOSTIS Literature Prize) and “Nymfalidae” (Kedros Publ. 2015).Her poems have been translated in English by Yiannis Goumas,  in French by Michel Volkovitch and in Spanish by Mario Dominguez Parra. Her poetry features in magazines such as POIHSI,  and poihtiki and in various e-zines such as poeticanet.gr, e-poema, Mediterranean.nu, Quarterly Review and others.
  You can hear Natalie reading with two other Greek poets, Nikos Erinakis and Haris Psarras, in both Greek and English this Sunday 17th April at The Proud Archivist in Haggerston. More details here.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Celebrating CM

 The new edition of PN Review is a particularly enthralling one, containing as it does a festschrift of critical appreciations celebrating the life and work of Christopher Middleton, who sadly passed away at the end of last year. He was a poet of profound importance to me almost since I began to take an initial stumbling interest in literature. I remember first coming across him in the Penguin anthology British Poetry Since 1945 (ed. Edward Lucie-Smith) which was one of our set-texts for English A-Level and not making head nor tail of the poem 'Climbing a Pebble'; nor could my well-meaning teacher begin to elucidate its themes.               
  Equally I'm not sure if I've come fully to grips with that poem even now (is the Nares in "my Nares and Keats" really the obscure 18th century prosodist I came across in George Saintsbury? And what's the allusion to the Life and Letters of Joseph Severn about the lark-shooting cardinal with his glass tied to an owl doing at the end of the poem, although intriguingly leading back to Keats?) Such elusiveness is one of the many qualities one treasures in Middleton, the sense of an inexhaustible interplay of source-materials, ideas and connotative currents keeping the poem vibrant and inviting however many times we return to it, this well-tempered jouissance (meted out with sly Metaphysical wit) working in tandem with an almost tactile, exploratory yet always dexterous feel for language and form.
    As well as warm reminiscences from friends such as Michael Hersch and Marius Kociejowski  and a few very late Middleton poems, there are more measured perspectives on the work from Drew Milne and Tom Lowenstein but the piece I like most is John Clegg's comparison of CM's 'Coral Snake' with Lawrences' 'Snake', tracing where the two poems converge and diverge and bringing in a personal note at the end where he regrets not contacting Middleton and missing his chance "with one of the lords of life".
    I also have a piece in PNR 228, a review of The New Concrete:Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (ed. Chris McCabe and Victoria Bean), a beautiful thick art-book full of fascinating, eye-catching vis-po and really illuminating as to the possibilities of haptic text-images within the scattershot , "semantically-bleached" media-barrage of today. Christopher Middleton, who dabbled in concrete poetry himself (cf. Our Flowers and Nice Bones), would surely have approved.