Friday, 17 June 2016

Poet in Cleary Garden - 18-19 June


This weekend, 18-19 June 2016, I will be in Cleary Garden, City of London as their poet-in-residence  in association with the Poetry School, and as part of the Open Garden Squares Weekend.

The address is: Cleary Garden, Huggin Hill, City of London, EC4V 4HQ

I expect to be there around 11 AM-3 PM on both Saturday and Sunday (though it could possibly be more like 11:30-2, especially depending on the weather!) If you stop by, you may get a personal or group poetry reading, a handwritten poem, or a chat about poetry and gardens...

There will be many other wonderful poets-in-residence around London this weekend, and you can find a full list here.


Cleary Garden, London, 2016. Photo by Clarissa Aykroyd

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Poetry in Our Kind of Traitor: Unreal Cities





I recently saw Our Kind of Traitor, the new film based on the 2010 novel by John le Carré. A story about the Russian mafia and corruption in the highest levels of British society, it may not sound like anything particularly out of the ordinary - but although this was not my favourite le Carré book nor film, it was still very good (in both forms) and it does have the vivid, ironic writing and the complex ambiguity of his other works. The film is visually beautiful and has some excellent performances, especially the tour de force by Stellan Skarsgård, who plays the Russian money launderer Dima.

In the novel, the protagonist Perry Makepiece is a teacher of English literature, and there are references to poetry, but it isn't necessarily his main area of expertise. In the film, he has become specifically a teacher of  'poetics', which he also describes as "so boring" (to a Russian, who predictably tells him that poetry isn't boring. He then adds that it's only boring "when it's put under a microscope.") I had to wonder if Perry became a poetry instructor for the film, rather than just an English literature expert, because to many people poetry would suggest a particularly high level of detachment from reality. Alternately, he could be a poetry instructor because of poetry's peculiar insights into the nature of reality. In one scene, Perry is giving a lecture on TS Eliot's The Waste Land, quoting some of my favourite lines:


  Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.


The film also ends on a rather beautiful visual reference to these lines. In the lecture room, however, when Perry goes on to 'Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,' the camera lingers on the bored faces of the students. In his lecture, Perry speaks of the "corrupt listless societies" described by both Dante and Eliot, populated by "lost souls". His wife Gail points out to him that the Russian vory recruit "people who are disillusioned with their lives and have lost their way." 

The irony is that Perry's life shifts from the unreality of the poetry lecture room to a cascading hierarchy of power games and violence (often referenced with games such as tennis, chess, and even children's hide-and-seek), the secret world of the spies, and the unreal cities of London's chrome and glass to Switzerland's beautiful sterile music-box towns, which hide uglier realities (or unrealities.) Nothing in le Carré's works is entirely free of corruption or ambiguity. Criminals and traitors on both sides show deep, sincere love for their families. Loyalty comes in unexpected forms. Everything slides away and resists definition. The MI6 agent Hector makes reference at one point to the Polish philosopher Kolakowski and his stern definitions of good and evil, but the film suggests that things are not always so black and white.

This isn't the first novel or film from le Carré to feature poetry quite prominently: The Russia House quotes poets including Boris Pasternak, Stevie Smith and Theodore Roethke, and Our Game alludes to Osip Mandelstam. Smiley, his most famous character, is fascinated by the German poets. I think John le Carré understands how poetry hangs in the balance between realities and unrealities, and how - as in the best poetry, or simply the best writing - people and situations can be both intensely metaphorical, and intensely real-world.



Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Alberto de Lacerda at the Poetry Library


The Poetry Library at London's Southbank Centre recently had an exhibition about Portuguese poet Alberto de Lacerda and his relationship with London.

Alberto de Lacerda lived in many countries in his lifetime, but London was his greatest love and he lived here for years, also working as a BBC presenter. His friends and colleagues included Edith Sitwell, TS Eliot, Alec Guinness, Christopher Middleton and many others.

His work was new to me, but from the handwritten manuscripts and short poems displayed at this exhibition, it was extremely beautiful, personal but with the breadth of the light and the sky. Southbank was one of his spiritual homes, and apparently he was living a lonely existence in Battersea (my area) when he died in 2007 at the age of 78.

Looking at the exhibition, I felt as though I were shaking hands with this poet across years, or as though he were someone I could have smiled at or chatted with on one of my many visits to Southbank. There is something special about writers who loved the places you love.

Here are some photos from the exhibition:







Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Return of Poet In a Garden


This year I will once again be a poet in a garden, as part of a residency program from London Open Garden Squares Weekend and the Poetry School. The Open Garden Squares weekend takes place on 18-19 June 2016.

I will be resident in Cleary Gardens, an extremely historic site in the City of London near Mansion House. Much like last year, the plan is to write some poems and probably do some readings in the garden on the weekend...but I don't have details yet about readings and other activities. Watch this space...

Here are a few photos from the garden:













Sunday, 22 May 2016

50 Years of Modern Poetry In Translation


Founded in 1965 by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort, Modern Poetry in Translation has led the way in bringing the poetry of non-English-language cultures to readers of English, and in fostering connections and collaborations between poets, translators and readers from different countries.

When I started seriously reading poetry in translation a few years ago - and even translating a little myself - I realised that it was a much broader field than I'd imagined; not just in terms of languages and styles explored, but in terms of starting points, end results and journeys. Poets can (in the traditional way) translate directly from the chosen poet/language. They can also create a poem from a literal translation (without knowing the original language). They can translate alone, in groups, with or without the original poet. They can translate closely, striving to maintain accuracy and form, or they can create loose "versions" which are more like completely new poems taking inspiration from the originals. They can also delve into film-poems and other multimedia. Of course, there can be controversy over these varying methods, but they all have their validity, and this diversity means that any poet, translator or reader can find their place. I also feel strongly that they should find a place, even if it's just an occasional corner; the frequent lack of interest about international poetry and poetry in translation in English-speaking literary circles is sometimes depressing.

This kind of diversity has also been reflected in the various events and projects organised by Modern Poetry in Translation for their anniversary. They have released Centres of Cataclysm (Bloodaxe, 2016), an anthology of work from across MPT's history, edited by current editor Sasha Dugdale and previous editors David and Helen Constantine. They also held launches and events in various places, including the London launch of the anthology on 5 May at King's College Chapel, and two 'study days' in Cambridge and Oxford.

I was fortunate enough to attend the King's College launch, and the Oxford study day on 14 May. At the King's College launch, readers and those present included Carol Hughes (Ted Hughes' widow), actor David Bradley (who read Hughes' translation of 'The Boy Changed Into a Stag Cries Out at the Gate of Secrets' by Ferenc Juhasz), Malawian poet Jack Mapanje, Ingeborg Bachmann's brother Heinz Bachmann, Ruth Padel, Frances Leviston, and many others. The moment that hit me particularly hard was Helen Constantine reading Ingeborg Bachmann's 'Days in White' (translated by Daniel Huws):


There on the horizon,
brilliant in its destruction,
I'm aware of my fabulous continent
that dismissed me
in a shroud.


The Oxford study day on 14 May, at Queen's College, was a feast. I was able to catch up with some new and old poetry friends during the many tea and coffee breaks. We started the day with a couple of workshops, having been given a few to choose from. My first workshop was about translating from German, with German poet Ulrike Almut Sandig and translator/scholar Karen Leeder. Ulrike Almut Sandig's poems were fascinating - we watched a film-poem of her collaboration with New Zealand poet Hinemoana Baker, and heard/watched her perform her poem 'The fairy tale of Schlauraffenland', a weird, beguiling, disturbing game-show-set work about contemporary Germany and the refugee crisis. My own problem with trying to translate from a literal translation was that, although I don't speak German, I do have an inkling of it, and thus I felt a bit over-tied to the original without it being really useful (if that makes any sense at all...) Ulrike Almut Sandig and Karen Leeder spoke about the visual dimension of poetry, how 'mistakes' in translation can be part of the aesthetic (or, in the film-poem, geographical mistakes on an inflatable globe of the world), and how orientation in the poem and in translation involves both gathering and losing (like the inflatable globes being chased and taken by the wind...) When confronted with very culturally specific idioms or concepts, the poet may need to find an equivalent in their own culture, or go for the meaning, or go for the sound. Translating is so often about choice and compromise.

The French workshop with Stephen Romer was of the greatest interest to me because I actually can translate directly from French. He explored the different types of writing in French poetry and their difficulty or ease of translation into English. For example, the poetry of Verlaine, Hugo and Baudelaire tends to have a smooth, orchestrated, soft sound which translates with difficulty (although anything is possible...) Poets such as Gautier and Corbière featured a more staccato sound with more to "grab on to" in order to "English" the poem. These were invaluable tips and suggestions for finding poems which will translate well. We then worked to translate poems by writers such as Jean Follain and Valérie Rouzeau, and I made some discoveries both in terms of approaches and in wanting to look more deeply into these wonderful writers.

Lunch was in a magnificent hall in the college, in good company, and then there was a launch and discussion of Centres of Cataclysm and translation. The readers and speakers included Sasha Dugdale, David and Helen Constantine, Karen Leeder, Nikola Madzirov, Pascale Petit and Ulrike Almut Sandig. Pascale Petit read her fascinating response 'At the Gate of Secrets' to 'The Boy Changed Into a Stag Cries Out at the Gate of Secrets', while Ulrike Almut Sandig's poem about the Holocaust and the translation by Karen Leeder were particularly moving for everyone, including the readers themselves. This was followed by a session on Playing Brecht, where David Constantine and Tom Kuhn discussed the translation of Bertolt Brecht. Composer Dominic Muldowney, actor Claire Brown and director Di Trevis ran us through a fascinating rehearsal/staging of a Brecht song.

The final session was a launch of the new microsite dedicated to the first issue of MPT. This is an elegantly presented resource featuring extraordinary poems by the likes of Czeslaw Milosz, Zbigniew Herbert, Vasko Popa, Miroslav Holub and Yehuda Amichai. Karen Leeder spoke about Ingeborg Bachmann, who appeared in MPT 3 (there were no women poets in the first two issues) and the importance of highly literal translations in the earlier editions. Macedonian poet Nikola Madzirov read a wonderful poem written in tribute to Vasko Popa, which was a particularly awesome moment for me as Madzirov and Popa are two of my favourite poets. Vasko Popa, a Serbian, was a Yugoslavian poet because of the times he lived in, while Madzirov was coming of age when Yugoslavia was coming apart; thus, he said, there was a distance between them, but "there was something that brought us closer - it was the darkness" and the way Popa's use of mythology and symbolism was like "looking through the darkness and seeing the shapes of souls and objects." Madzirov, while (to me) a more tender and less potentially frightening poet than Popa, is a worthy successor. Ulrike Almut Sandig spoke about refugee movements and their parallels/reflections in changes of language, also reading a tribute to German-Icelandic writer Helga Maria Novak.

This was a really rich, warm occasion which I was delighted to be part of. I didn't get many great photos, but here are a few:


Ulrike Almut Sandig and Karen Leeder



David Constantine

Nikola Madzirov


Saturday, 23 April 2016

Shakespeare 400: Jim Newcombe on the Bard


Illustration by Jim Newcombe


Today is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death. (It may also be his birthday, but that remains a matter of tradition rather than confirmed fact.) The multi-talented poet and essayist Jim Newcombe has kindly contributed this piece on the Bard.


THE STARR-Y POINTING PYRAMID

on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death


The marriage of sound and sense, always in crucial harmony in great poetry, seems to find effortless articulation in Shakespeare, who produced so many times what other poets pursue with butterfly nets all their lives.  I have spent much time over the years wondering how so much indelible music and meaning can be enclosed within his “rough music”, often within the collocation of a few syllables.  The impression one has of his lines is not usually that they have been dwelt upon with meticulous deliberation, but rather that they are made “in the quick forge and working-house of thought.”  Perhaps it is this proximity to living speech, of workaday locutions shot through with the light of wise insight and lively expression, that in part gives his work its endurance. 

Homer, Dante and Goethe are reckoned to be the only authors of comparable stature.  One of the things which makes Shakespeare the genius loci of our language, and what sets him apart from those giants, is an unparalleled gift for metaphor, or what he – the term “metaphor” not having been created in his day – would beautifully evoke as “a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.”  This might be said to be the beating heart of any definition of poetry: protean material that transfigures into something weirdly iridescent or luminous.

Yet the work of Shakespeare has not been irrefutably lauded throughout time.  Both Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw voiced their objections to him.  When Wordsworth, writing of the sonnet form, wrote “with this key / Shakespeare unlocked his heart” Robert Browning wrote in response: “If so, the less Shakespeare he.”  Some of the plays have been bowdlerized:  John Dryden, for instance, reworked King Lear, the play which Samuel Johnson, Shakespeare’s greatest critic (and arguably the world’s), could not bring himself to watch for its harrowing finale.

Shakespeare’s friendly rival Ben Jonson, who gently mocked Shakespeare’s “little Latin and less Greek,” wished Shakespeare had curbed his exuberance:  “I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, ‘Would he had blotted a thousand’… He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometime it was necessary he should be stopped … His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too.”  Shakespeare’s ebullience and fecundity would have seemed excessive to the measured restraint of the classicist Jonson.

Yet Shakespeare is a sun that shines above the other English peaks of Milton, Wordsworth and Blake.  When in Paradise Lost Milton writes of being “imparadised within each other’s arms” the verb is a coinage of Shakespearean genius, more powerfully suggestive than saying “in the paradise of…”  Milton’s work often smells of the lamp and of the archaic majesty of the Ivory Tower: it can be starchy, glacial, monumental, remote, whereas Shakespeare’s is blood-warm, sprightly, inclusive and expansive in its dance, expressing knowledge not just of the court but of the inn and the marketplace, indeed of the whole soiled rabble of humanity itself, like no other writer.  He knows how language works and he is powerfully susceptible, in a super-sensitive way, to the network of duplicitous meanings arising from the taproots of etymology.  He is also aware, long before the age of critical theory, of what writers should be wary of in language: “taffeta phrases, silken terms precise, three-piled hyperboles, spruce affectation, figures pedantical.”

The work of Shakespeare at its best stands rock-sure, foot-firm, and embodies the Socratic trinity of truth, beauty and goodness.  The goodness here is not moral in a didactic sense; there is no moral imperative proffered from the corpus; rather the goodness is one of a fulsome honest portrayal of our complex humanity.  When mere advice comes it is nevertheless wise, even in the mouth of Polonius; but such ethical equations as do arise come implicitly from the circumstances of characters coming into moral collision and the veracity of their actions and wills being tested, as in Measure for Measure, where the virtuous Isabella, who is soon to enter a nunnery, is blackmailed by the strict Lord Angelo to have sex with him in order to save the life of her brother, who is to be executed for having impregnated his lover prior to marriage:

ISABELLA:

…were I under the terms of death,
The impression of keen whips I'ld wear as rubies,
And strip myself to death, as to a bed
That longing have been sick for, ere I'ld yield
My body up to shame.

ANGELO:

Then must your brother die.

ISABELLA:

And 'twere the cheaper way:
Better it were a brother died at once,
Than that a sister, by redeeming him,
Should die for ever.

Like many others, I didn’t immediately warm to our studies of Shakespeare while at school.  It wasn’t until I read Hamlet that I felt my innermost psychology had been X-rayed and laid bare.  I have seen various productions of the play, including as a groundling in The Globe and at The Minack Theatre in Porthcurno near Land’s End, “swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean”.  I still, however, have never seen, nor ever expect to see, the Hamlet in my head which so impressed me as a nihilistic nineteen-year-old with its titanic articulation.  I still, when prompted and made amenable in my cups, regale people with passages from it, since I believe, as the ancients did, that poetry should be learnt by heart and chanted or sung aloud. 

In Hamlet as elsewhere Shakespeare seems to be transfixed by adultery and incest.  When he writes “O most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity to incestuous sheets,” the line, rammed with plosives, almost has to be spat out, his disgust snaking into a sibilance and hissance of fricatives before rounding on the powerful compression of a transferred epithet.  Here words themselves almost become incestuous and lascivious, and as so often in Shakespeare it is as if language is viewing itself in a mirror.  There is in him, as perhaps in all of us, a moral dilemma or crux between reason and animal physicality:  “Die for adultery? No. The wren goes to’t, and the small gilded fly does lecher in my sight. Let copulation thrive …”

One thing I have noticed time and again, though which, given the volume of academic study devoted to Shakespeare, must have been commented on before, is his liking for a kind of ring-shaped figure of speech to suggest avaricious craving or augmenting bounty: “A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm;” “an autumn ‘twas / That grew the more by reaping;” “The cloyed will, – / That satiate yet unsatisfied desire, that tub / Both filled and running;” “Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.”  It is this figure of speech, this serpentine circularity of metaphor, which we find in the description of Cleopatra:

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women cloy
The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies;

and in Juliet:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.

It is as if the whole world of nature, politics and the carnal appetite of mankind were a burgeoning richness that is fulfilled by its own generosity or else a monstrous orgy of surfeit which needs constant feeding and finds only momentary and spasmodic appeasement, if at all, in the flux and continuation of its addictions.  The figure of speech resembles the serpent with the tale in its mouth or the gullet of Erysichthon.  In the end it is expressive of the frantic deadlock between Eros and Thanatos, endlessly devouring and regenerating: “being full of your ne'er-cloying sweetness / To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding.” 

Images of abundancy and repletion seem consonant with the author’s own seminal prodigiousness:

...those that feed grow full, as blossoming time
That from the seedness the bare fallow brings
To teeming foison, even so her plenteous womb
Expresseth his full tilth and husbandry.

Where is the presence of Eros in Wordsworth?  It seems peculiarly absent.  It is powerfully present in the bawdy poetry of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, indeed with such ribaldry that it is a wonder the Victorians didn’t bury his poetry altogether. 

There are passages of sexual revulsion and jealousy in Cymbeline, in A Winter’s Tale and King Lear.  Tempting though it might be to descend into unscholarly speculation about his attitude to his wife living in Stratford while he made his living in London, if we are to ascribe autobiography to passages in the plays then this would by extension make him culpable of murder and regicide and so much besides.  How autobiographical are the sonnets?  Sonnet 129 nails within its frantic rhythms possibly the best and wisest expression of desire expressed in poetry, which is conceivably the culmination of his dwelling bitterly on the sexual triad alluded to in sonnets 133, 134 and 144, where the dark mistress, it would seem, has slept with the ambiguous and sexually ambivalent young man, “the master-mistress of my passion.”

It is tempting to wonder whether the self-loathing expressed in the sonnets, the fixation with promiscuity, is what finds tortured expression in Othello, unpleasant in its dramatic greatness:

Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore,
Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof;
Or, by the worth of mine eternal soul,
Thou hadst been better have been born a dog
Than answer my wak'd wrath.

Tantalising, yes, but in the end futile to give weight or credence to such speculations, though I cannot altogether agree with those who believe that Shakespeare’s greatness merely came of his having to produce plays regularly for his livelihood, for surely genius transcends the workshop and the hireling.  Dramatis personæ no doubt afforded him considerable licence, for it is one thing to put the words “I dare damnation” into the mouth of a character, quite another to speak them of yourself.  In terms of autobiography or even authorship, it is enough to know that it was the man from Stratford who wrote the plays: we know this not only because there are country puns in the plays and names for flora and fauna which are distinct to his geographic origin but because there isn’t a shred of sensible evidence to suggest that somebody else penned them.  He not only wrote plays but acted in them: we know he played the ghost of Hamlet’s father (this is perhaps telling, as is the fact that Shakespeare’s only son, who was to die aged eleven, was named Hamnet).  Also Ben Jonson would certainly have had something to say about it if Shakespeare was anyone other than he claimed to be.  The anti-Stratfordian conspiracies are built on quicksand.  Of autobiography it has been remarked that if ever we detect the real man within the plays then it is surely within these tender lines:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form…

I don’t know what writers can usefully learn from Shakespeare: he is so vast, so varied, his tracks melt when we try to map his whereabouts.  Again Samuel Johnson says it best: “The irregular combinations of fanciful invention may delight a-while, by that novelty of which the common satiety of life sends us all in quest; but the pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose on the stability of truth.”

In this short essay I have attempted to concentrate on a very small corner of a very vast field.  I would like finally to express gratitude to the two men, Heminge and Condell, who first collected the plays into the First Folio, rescuing them from the Elizabethan disdain for plays as reading material and therefore saving them from oblivion, for the English language became planetary in the wake of the publication of the plays.  I like Heminge and Condell all the more that their enterprise was “without ambition either of self-profit or fame, only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare.”

Nobody in the English tongue has before or since quite matched him. That our greatest playwright should also be our greatest poet is an extraordinary phenomenon; that a species could evolve to produce the work of Shakespeare at all is awe-inspiring.  He is, for my money, the authorial mirror in which humanity’s innermost being is even now most accurately and fully reflected.  I salute him on his 400th anniversary for making a rich world richer still.


Jim Newcombe
London, April 2016




Thursday, 14 April 2016

Rilke's French Rose Poems in Translation - XVI and XVII



Photo by Clarissa Aykroyd - Red Cross Garden, London, 2015


I'm finally back to translating Rainer Maria Rilke's Roses poems from French. It's been over a year and a half since the last translations, so apologies are due to all my French translation fans. (I know you're out there.)


THE ROSES (Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Clarissa Aykroyd)


XVI

Let's not speak of you. You are ineffable
by your very nature.
Other flowers adorn the table
that you transfigure.

We put you in a simple vase
and everything changes:
it might be the same phrase,
but now an angel sings.


XVII

It's you who prepare within yourself,
more than yourself, your quintessence.
That which comes from you, that unsettling rush,
is your dance.

Each petal consents
and in the wind
takes a few fragrant steps
unseen.

O music of eyes,
by them enclosed,
you become mysterious
within. 



LES ROSES


XVI

Ne parlons pas de toi. Tu es ineffable
selon ta nature.
D'autres fleurs ornent la table
que tu transfigures.

On te met dans un simple vase - ,
voici que tout change:
c'est peut-être la même phrase,
mais chantée par un ange.


XVII

C'est toi qui prépares en toi
plus que toi, ton ultime essence.
Ce qui sort de toi, ce troublant émoi,
c'est ta danse.

Chaque pétale consent
et fait dans le vent
quelques pas odorants
invisibles.

O musique des yeux,
toute entourée d'eux,
tu deviens au milieu
intangible.


Translations  © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2016


Saturday, 26 March 2016

Keith Douglas: 'Mersa'



Mersa Matruh by David Holt. Used under Creative Commons license


MERSA (Keith Douglas)


This blue halfcircle of sea
moving transparently
on sand as pale as salt
was Cleopatra's hotel:

here is a guesthouse built
and broken utterly, since.
An amorous modern prince
lived in this scoured shell.

Now from the skeletal town
the cherry skinned soldiers stroll down
to undress to idle on the white beach.
Up there, the immensely long road goes by

to Tripoli: the wind and dust reach 
the secrets of the whole 
poor town whose masks would still
deceive a passer-by;

faces with sightless doors
for eyes, with cracks like tears
oozing at corners. A dead tank alone
leans where the gossips stood.

I see my feet like stones
underwater. The logical little fish
converge and nip the flesh
imagining I am one of the dead.

                                        [after October 1942]


Apparently it was on this day (26 March) in 1944 that Keith Douglas sent 'Mersa' to Betty Jesse, who was the assistant of Tambimuttu, editor of Poetry (London). Betty Jesse was also one of Douglas's girlfriends, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has read about his complicated love life.

Mersa is Mersa Matruh in Egypt, not far from El Alamein and another key location in the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. It has also been a popular beach resort for a long time. This concise poem seems to describe an out-of-season resort, but details emerge gradually to show that the war has ravaged this town: it is 'skeletal' and 'A dead tank alone/leans where the gossips stood'.

As is sadly so often the case in Douglas's poems, 'Mersa' ends with a portrait of the artist as a dead man. The brilliance of the final stanza is in how much it says with so few words. Douglas sees his feet like 'stones underwater': he is like an ancient statue lost in a Mediterranean harbour, already becoming part of history. The 'logical' fish see him as edible, 'one of the dead'. Douglas is logical, too, but as with the clear water of the port, there is always more beneath the surface.