Summer 2013 Amsterdam Quarterly Book Reviews
by Bryan Monte
How to Kill Poetry, Raymond Luczak, Sibling Rivalry Press, ISBN 978-1-937420-29-1
Gutter, The magazine of new Scottish writing, Spring 2013, Freight Books, ISSN 2041-3475; ISBN 978-1-908754-13-4
Quiet Paris, Siobhan Wall, Frances Lincoln Limited Publishers, ISBN 978-0—7112-3343-0
A Lioness at my Heels, Robin Winckel-Mellish, Hands-On Books, ISBN 978-1-920397-43-2
I received or became aware of four more books worth mentioning during this year’s unusually cold, wet spring (one of the coldest on record and certainly the coldest and wettest I can remember in twenty years in the Netherlands). Dutch meteorologists are not certain whether this unusual weather is one of the first signs of global warming. I am certain, however, that the less than pleasant weather outside has given me more time inside to read, making my four book selections for this quarter a bit more adventurous. In addition to two books of poetry, I’ve also chosen a photography book and a literary journal to review.
Raymond Luczak’s How to Kill Poetry is book of three parts. The first part is a recapitulation of Western poetry including poems modelled on the works of Sappho, Homer, Shakespeare, Phillis Wheatley, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Arthur Rimbaud, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg and many others. This section shows Luczak’s awareness of literary history (he did, however, as an American, leave out Hardy, Yeats and Eliot) and his mastery of various poetic forms and styles.
The second part of Luczak’s book includes a facsimile of The Warmth of Winter by Roland Rieves, “Winner of the Shughill Poetry Paper Award 2213.” It’s supposedly printed on special paper in a limited edition of ten copies due to the climatic destruction the world’s trees. In this collection Rieves, (aka Luczak), writes rhapsodically about the cold and winters that no longer exist with poems such as “Hyperthermia” and “Jack Frost’s Bite.” In “Hyperthermia,” Luczak also displays his gift for concrete poetry. The lines cascade down the page like ocean waves. His poems entitled, “The Lyre” and “The Hydra” in the third section called “Leaves of Glass, 2363 CE,” also imitate these objects shapes without sacrificing any quality in their description.
In the third section, Luczak provides a history in poetry of what happened to the earth when its climate “reached its tipping point in 2234.” People live in biodomes up north and churches no longer exist. Winners of contests get to wear spacesuits to retrieve books in the Hades of Texas. In this section he once again imitates the poetry of Walt Whitman and Arthur Rimbaud to make his point. In How to Kill Poetry, Luczak gives his readers more than enough to think about regarding poetry and climate change. If you care about the environment, love poetry and only have time to read one book this summer, let it be this one.
Gutter, an anthology of Scottish writing, was given to me by AQ contributor, Iain Matheson, whose slightly surrealist poems “the refreshment trolley is now closed” and “Could be” are included in the spring issue, number 8. Also included is fiction by Nick Brooks, Rodge Glass and Kirsten MacKenzie, poetry by Sally Evans, Brian Johnstone and David Kinloch and reviews of Ron Butlin’s The Magicians of Edinburgh, William Letford’s Bend, and J. David Simons’ An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful among others. Even though Gutter is anthology of Scottish writing, not all of its works are set in Scotland. Kirstin Zhang’s short story, “Rain on the Roof,” for example, takes place in Papua New Guinea and describes that country’s poverty and harshness of its climate. The story is told by, Epi, a gardener and his struggle to keep his plants alive during a drought. There are also some poems on Biblical subjects such as David Kinloch’s “Lilith, ” “Sarah,” and “Ruth,” as well as classical ones “Bacchus and Adriane” and “Diana and Acteon” by Hugh McMillan and “Dionysian hangover” by Stav Poleg. In all, Gutter makes an interesting read which is published twice-yearly by Glasgow’s Freight Books.
The third book I would like to mention is Amsterdam resident’s Siobhan Wall’s photography book, Quiet Paris. This book is the third in a series with Quiet Amsterdam and Quiet London as its predecessors. In Quiet Paris Wall has assembled photos of the tranquil interiors and/or exteriors of the quiet museums, gardens, cafes, shops, bookshops, restaurants, places of worship, etc. that can be found in The City of Lights. Her photos have a sense of balance and serenity (although all, but three, are devoid of people). My favourites are her photos of the rough-hewn stone and simple chairs of the Eglise Saint Severin and the Musèe d’ Art Brut bookshop, whose painted, metal columns and views through its large windows embody fin de siècle architecture and Impressionist Paris respectively. One location included in her photographs which I strongly recommend to Parisian visitors looking for peace and quiet is The Tea Caddy, 14 rue Saint Julien le Pauvre, where I enjoyed a splendid cup of coffee, quiche and flan without hearing one mobile ringtone.
One of the reasons Wall’s photos achieve such as sense of calm is due to their balance and deep focus. Churches and cathedrals are shown with arching vaults or doorways centred as are walkways leading through gardens and parks. Most of the building photos are of interiors. One very successful exterior is that of Restaurant de Lat, interesting for its curved perspective as it rises and also for the clouds in the upper left corner. I think a challenge for Ms Wall in her next book, (if she does another of a quiet city), would be to include more building exteriors in their entirety and more people in the scenes she photographs to see if she can still convey a sense of a “peopled” urban serenity.
And lastly, I would like to recommend Robin Winckel-Mellish’s A Lioness at my Heels. This book of poetry describes scenes and people principally in South Africa but also a few in the Netherlands as well. Her poetry is at its best when she is describing landscapes which function as a metaphor for her feelings. The first lines of “Meditation while waiting for something unpleasant” are: “If my mind wanders/it’s to that stone farmhouse/beside the winding dust road/the ostriches, a few palms/a creaky bridge over a dried up stream.” This is poetry that takes the reader into a landscape which is immediate and real. Her poetry can also reflect a sensual awareness as in “Anniversary eggs,” “Restaurant Mozambique” and “Paper boat.” Other favourites of mine include “Old Rose,” about an aged cook, “Madiba,” about Nelson Mandela, and “The same language,” about returning émigrés, which describe South Africa’s old and new orders. Technically Winckel-Mellish’s poems use a variety of stanza and line lengths that are organic to the subjects described. In addition, the image of the lioness appears three times and functions as a way of holding the book together through its three sections. Whilst reviewing A Lionness at my Heels I read it unorthodoxly—from back to front. I can happily report that I enjoyed it just as much (if not more) as when I read it from front to back. I hope you will too.