James Sutherland-Smith
James Sutherland-Smith News Original Poetry Translation & Criticism About James Sutherland-Smith Weblog Connect!

IN THE COUNTRY OF BIRDS

The cover of In the Country of Birds


IN THE COUNTRY OF BIRDS
This contains poems written at the end of the 1990's and the first two years of this century with work from the 1980's.

The critics say:
"His glancing encounters with small scale atrocity make other poets on the same subject sound provincial," Stephen Burt in The Times Literary Supplement

"a poet of experience but writes of life at a higher voltage ... it is when he translates his bleak conclusions into surreal parables that he is most unsettling" Sarah Wardle in The Observer

"The poems that express this breadth of experience are at once widely varied and deeply engaging" Philip McCardle in PN Review


CUTTING HAIR IN RUTHENIA, 1939

Old Hakoš would set out on the veranda wall
A comb, scissors, a china basin, a towel,
A cut-throat razor with a wooden handle,
A mug for coins for those who had a mind
To pay in cash not in kind.

Boys would come, their fathers, their grandfathers,
All of them skinny; harvest yet to be gathered,
Fruit unripe and famine the previous year.
The adults would sit in the yard and smoke,
Drink slivovitz and talk

Of the new regime, a vanished Jew,
"Good riddance or No doctor, what are we to do?"
Or words of regret spoken without undue
Emphasis, informers being everywhere
Then and for many years after,

While the boys went first, the napes of their necks
Clipped to a soft down then shorn bare with a flick
Of a wrist which otherwise placed brick on brick,
Hako? being the village master builder
Deft with trowel and mortar.

Sixty years on I watch meteors flare
And drop in streaks like blonde and silver hairs.
On the veranda under the moon and stars
I work alone my scissors doing the talking,
Indoors an alarm clock ticking.




No Text

STORKS RETURNING

for Viera

All at once a long, silent procession of ideas,
Five hundred or more above the hills
Against an indefinitely coloured sky
Suave as porcelain, the birds black against the light.

The flock is a sprawling cuneiform
An archaic sentence that will not parse
Or a tuning fork with one tang broken off.
Strike it against the sky and you’d hear the creak of wings.

Languidly this writing loses shape, the birds
Hesitating over where they might have been last year.
Symbols begin to drop away from text,
Prehistory returning with its patient appetites.

I’d like two vases made, both with a glaze
Of grey suggesting cloud suggesting rain;
One for September with the flock painted there
Stretching their wings up to the vessel’s rim, each bird’s poise

Indicating a common destiny and I’d fill it
With gaudy, symmetrical, orange Chinese Lanterns.
The second would be for this day in late March
With the flock scattering, birds spiralling down

Out of formation to their own purposes,
To empty villages whose good fortune is long used up.
In a month or so I’ll fill it with the irregular
Indigos and whites of Siberian irises.

Powered by WebGuild Solo
This website ©2005-2021 James Sutherland-Smith