Welcome to my poetry blog and my guest Pascale Petit.
Les Murray says, No other British poet I am aware of can match the powerful mythic imagination of Pascale Petit, and a comment that particularly resonates with me is from David Morley, Magma when he writes, ..her poetry never behaves itself or betrays itself….
When I read The Wounded Deer I was hooked. And as soon as I heard about Pascale’s residential in Ventenac I rushed to book my spot in 2013 with a room overlooking the Canal du Midi. Bliss. This was in the same week that my first collection was being published so I was in a state of high anxiety and not at my best, but it was Pascale in one of our one – to – one sessions who relaxed me with her tranquil mien and who taught me a vital lesson when she wisely and gently posed the question of one of my poems, What are you trying to say? I have never forgotten it.
I never tire of reading and revisiting Pascale’s dazzling and heartbreaking poems. This recent radio broadcast, Poetica, highlights her depth of spirit, humanity and artistry. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/poetica/images-as-strong-as-sculptures3a-the-poetry-of-pascal-petit/4896370
Pascale is the most generous and indefatigable poet I know. She tutors regularly and intensively, often posting sessions from the Tate on her blog. There is a series of workshops on the Mslexia website. She has a punishing schedule on the reading circuit yet still finds the time to keep up with social media and, most surprisingly, finds the mental space and energy to write. I was pleased to see that she enjoys a glass of vin du pays between stanzas and that might help.
I’m very excited to bring you four poems that appear in Fauverie, published September 2 by Seren, also available on Amazon and through Worderly. My copy is winging its way and I can’t wait. And what another unforgettable front cover by Dragana Nikolic.
Arrival of the Electric Eel
Each time I open it I feel like a Matsés girl
handed a parcel at the end of her seclusion,
my face pierced by jaguar whiskers
to make me brave.
I know what’s inside – that I must
unwrap the envelope of leaves
until all that’s left
squirming in my hands
is an electric eel.
The positive head, the negative tail,
the rows of batteries under the skin,
the small, almost blind eyes.
The day turns murky again,
I’m wading through the bottom of my life
when my father’s letter arrives. And keeps on arriving.
The charged fibres of paper
against my shaking fingers,
the thin electroplates of ink.
The messenger drags me up to the surface
to gulp air then flicks its anal fin.
Never before has a letter been so heavy,
growing to two metres in my room,
the address, the phone number, then the numbness –
I know you must be surprised, it says,
but I will die soon and want to make contact.
Black Jaguar at Twilight
He seems to have sucked
the whole Amazon
into his being, the storm-
clouds of rosettes
through a bronze dusk.
I’ve been there, sheltered
under the buttress
of a giant, felt
the air around me –
its muscles tense,
as I stumbled
through dense fur,
my father’s tongue
wet on my neck
as I fell into a gulch,
the blackout of his mouth.
And when I woke
I thought I heard
the jungle cough – this jungle,
the jaguar safe
behind bars. I lean over
and touch his cage – his glance
grazes me like an arrow.
Sleeping Black Jaguar
A solar eclipse – his fur
seems to veil light,
of black rosettes
a zoo of sub-atoms
I try to tame –
tritium, lepton, anti-proton.
as if smashed inside
a particle accelerator.
But it’s just Aramis sleeping,
twitching himself back
to the jungle, where he leaps
into the pool of a spiral
galaxy, to catch a fish.
Later, the keeper tells me
Aramis has had surgery
where his hank of beef
was lodged. But
what vet could take
a scalpel to this
What hand could shave
that pelt, to probe
of dark matter, untwist
together again, only
to return him to a cage?
A Tray of Frozen Songbirds
For our last meal together
my father takes out of the freezer
a tray of frozen songbirds.
He’s saved them up, these delicacies
with ice crystals in their beaks,
wings stuck to ribcages.
There are skylarks, blackbirds, doves.
He tells me how some were plucked
while still alive,
about the mist net at dawn,
how one nightingale was thrust
into a sack of discarded heads
and cried, then the poacher licked
the sticky lime from its plumes
tenderly, before slitting its throat.
He pours champagne as if it’s
the river of life.
We eat like two drunks
woken from dreams of flying,
me on his lap, singing the song
I’ve just learnt at school – Alouette,
gentille alouette, alouette je te plumerai.
Biography I’m a French/Welsh poet living in London, UK. My latest collection is Fauverie (Seren, 2014). A portfolio of poems from the book won the 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize and the manuscript won an Arts Council England award. My fifth collection What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo, published in 2010 by Seren, 2011 by Black Lawrence Press, US, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and Wales Book of the Year. I tutor poetry courses in the galleries at Tate Modern and for The Poetry School. Two previous books, The Zoo Father and The Huntress, were also shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and my books have been books of the year in the TLS, Independent and Observer. Literary Supplement, Independent and Observer. She tutors courses at Tate Modern and for The Poetry School.
Next month I will be welcoming Clifton Gachagua, one of the New Generation African poets as featured in a recent issue of Boston Review. Terry Quinn, joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Poetry Prize and runner up in the recent BBC Proms competition will be one of my guests in November.