A tour of the Archive with Rachel Redford

Rachel Redford, writer


Over the last few years I have listened to many of the Poetry Archive recordings and my six poems are taken from those voices, literal and poetic, which stood out and have remained with me. I wanted my selection to be fresh and contemporary – (only Rubaiyat was published before 2004) – and to reflect the great diversity of voice, content, form and language in the Poetry Archive. I have chosen poets who use language that intrigued, startled, moved me, and who in W.H.Auden’s words ‘say something significant about a reality common to us all.’



The Broken Word

Adam Foulds

Adam Foulds reads his entire verse novella, 'The Broken Word', which has stayed with me since I first listened to it. Before going up to Oxford, Tom returns to his parents’ Kenyan home during the Mau Mau 1950s uprising. It’s an impressive leap of imagination (the uprising was around 20 years before Foulds was born), and combines lean narrative with realistic dialogue. Horror – panga blades in the back, rape, ‘opened’ heads - is precisely observed in striking, lyrically expressed detail, such as the flies laying eggs in the ‘nutritious wetness of wounds’. When Tom, shattered by his experiences, tells his parents he will not return to Oxford, he does so with ‘frangible calm’. It is this quality which marks Foulds’ narration: a gentle calmness beneath which words carry their full impact.

Rubaiyat

Mimi Khalvati

I like the ‘other worlds’ in Mimi Khalvati’s poems: London, Tehran where she was born, and schooldays in the Isle of Wight where the magical chine finds its water-path down the cliff to the sea. The Persian influences in her poetic forms produce a poignancy and a lovely lyricism, as here in 'Rubaiyat' which presents her Iranian grandmother sitting cross-legged ‘breaking up the sugar just before/siesta’. The Rubaiyat form of mellifluous, delicately rhyming quatrains, beautifully cadenced in her speaking voice, is the perfect frame for these memories. The ‘dying stars’ of lilac blossom gathered ‘like jasmine’ in Khalvati’s garden recall her grandmother blessing her ‘daughter-lovely-as-the-moon’ with pale petals. The poem ends gently, her thoughts expanding like an opening flower into a wish that ‘I could see a world/that takes such care to tend what fades so soon.’

Escape Journey, 1988

Choman Hardi

Choman Hardi’s family fled to Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan just after she was born and returned home five years later in 1979, only to be expelled again in 1988. What makes Hardi’s poems remarkable is her lack of rancour about the sufferings of exile, an admirable quality highlighted by her sweetly modulated voice and gentle delivery. This poem describes the escape of the Iraqi Kurds on exhausted mules over the mountains. Statements are spare: almost all the words are mono or duosyllabic; syntax is simple, ‘’You are too young to complain,’/ the mule-owner says’. But the apparent detachment is a veneer: the question ‘Whose feet created this track?’ suggests the history of persecution behind this journey, whilst her father’s ‘little body’ and ‘difficult breathing’ is a vignette of human suffering made more poignant by the last line: ‘But then again, he’s been here before.’ Understatement leaves us to feel and judge.

The Heavy-Petting Zoo

Clare Pollard

Clare Pollard stands out for me for her youthful vitality and her mature clear-sightedness about our world. Her direct reading style with its northern vowels complements her lack of sentimentality and throws into relief the complexities of her verse forms, rhythms and rhymes. This poem is from her first book published before she was twenty and shows her mature and knowing cynicism, and her stimulating cleverness in the sustained animal metaphor. It’s funny – her best friend is 16, ‘eight hamster lives’ old; Clare herself, jealous of an ex-boyfriend, is ‘like a sick terrapin’. She captures exactly that bitter adolescent pain as she imagines the preferred girl ‘mewling cutely’ or stripped ‘pink as a piglet’. She is both within the teenage world and outside it, observing with mature insight how she would have followed ‘as a lamb does, whitely’ if the boyfriend had asked her to. Whether you’re 16 or 60, this poem is vibrantly alive.

Orkney/ This Life

Andrew Greig

Andrew Greig is a musician as well as a poet and his voice has the music, muscularity and Scottishness of his poems. Orkney is a beautiful evocation of island life, a life shaped by shifting seas and ‘big sky’, the elements which feed the poet’s own thrum of inner peace expressed in the final line, ‘this life this life this life’. His heartstrings are tied to this multi-faceted place with its tides and leaning winds, a place ‘ruined, perfected’. The poem is a celebration of sea and sky which ‘work off each other constantly’; of the cry of a single bird ‘way high up’ at the end of a week-long gale; of space in the ‘empty arch against the sky’. Greig’s lilting, wave-like lines and chiming of gentle consonants – ‘where birds fly through instead of prayers’ – reflect his unity with this place in all its changing moods.

Who He Was - part V

Dan Burt

This is the final poem in a sequence about the colossus that was Burt’s father in ‘the orbit / of whose fists’ he grew up, a man who ‘policed /a patriarch’s long list of rights’ and who is now reduced to ‘the skeleton in a wheelchair’ ineffectually dangling a fishing line. Read in Burt’s quietly American voice which is both vigorous and tender, clarity of vision and feeling is combined with a complementary precision of muscular, searing words. Detail is intensely visual: ‘blue slashes / flashing toward the bait’ conveys exactly through onomatopoeia and the line break the quick, bright movements of the fish. However, it’s the father who rides this poem, presented to us in an initial 11-line rolling sentence alive with sibilants, culminating in that awful dehumanised ‘sutured rag doll’: reality scoured clean. There seems to be; tenderness in laying him down in his fishing clothes, but even beyond death, it is ‘by his command’.



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