Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Muse: John Siddique's 'Recital'

Several weeks ago I read, and then re-read, British poet John Siddique's Recital — An Almanac. Published in 2009 by Salt Publishing, Recital is Siddique's third poetry collection for adults (he also has published a volume of poetry for children, Don't Wear It on Your Head, Don't Stick It Down Your Pants). It is a slim volume of 60 poems, a few no more than four lines long, each telling of some part of a moment in a year of the life of the poet-narrator. That year is marked by the dispersal throughout the collection of 13 poems marking the lunar cycle or calendar.* Reading the collection straight-through, as I did, underscores Siddique's taut construction of chronology, from his start in "the unknowing fog of the day" ("Begin") to that final place where "things are themselves" and "love could be permanent / so that forgetting would lose its power" ("The Death of Death").

This is a collection of large themes — society and culture, fatherhood, love, marriage and divorce, loss, nature, violence and war  — reduced to the small and deeply personal. It is the quality of the personal that makes the collection so memorable.

The "I" of Recital is both subject and story-teller, the actor in the story, the re-caller of the moment, and the narrator looking in and commenting from the outside, who moves ahead with life even while needing to look back to assure himself of "a confidence in beginning again". In the journey marked by 13 full moons*, we learn in "If You Want to Find Me" about the little boy "building sanctuaries under beds", the same boy who in "Red  Line (He Loves Me)" has become "[t]he man of now wanting his father's love." In "Unintended Loyalty", a poem I found especially touching and saddening, we learn of the cultural and spiritual divide of his parents, who "have put their holy war / on to their nightstands, Islam on one table, / Catholicism across the room on the other." Not only do mother and father "sleep with the bodily intention / of keeping distance", they wake "taking nothing of each other into the day." Elsewhere, as in "My Father", we nod in recognition of the son's loss implied in "I feel you in me / but that could just be an idea of my chest."

One of the most stay-worthy poems in Siddique's collection is a series of four, collectively titled "Inside", about the July 7, 2005, bombings in London. The narrator knows from the start that while the subject for poets is verboten  —  "There are poems to write which I am told should / not be written. . . ." — he's not going to shy away, declaring with startling clarity, "I am part of it. We have the minds that could make these things, . . ." In the second in the series, he fixes time in the poem exactly, the way the terrorists set their bombs for the bus and tube, and takes us up to the moment when, suddenly, "there is no more time, just a flash." The hour, minute, and seconds of that day thereafter become recalled as the before and after. By the third poem in the series, titled "This Is What You Were Born For", the narrator wonders at the mind of one of the suicide bombers, asking, "How do you pull that far inside?" and also "[f]ar enough" to "[l]et this blood / be the fuse." Afterwards, the "Nobody Knows Why" of the fourth poem, situated amid "a withered shrine of tape, / paper, poems and flowers, " leaves us nothing to go on but the detritus of a "white flash of violence" and the questions without answers we are destined to carry inside.

I read a post on Siddique's blog in which he wrote of the particular challenges of poetry-writing (the "most difficult of worlds") and also of "even my just being called Siddique", which, he said, "makes it so that many people won't even get to see the book" (he was referring to his collection Full Blood, out this month). He also wrote, "One of the joys of being a poet is that we can write real and deep and not worry too much because few are looking, but then it is also heart-breaking because when we do write real and deep so few are looking." There is much "real and deep" writing in Recital, and I urge anyone who appreciates poetry written with such care to take up this book and travel the year of 13 moons.

Siddique's newest poetry collection, Full Blood, was published this month. It's available, as is Recital, directly from the publisher and from The Book Depository. Go here to listen to Siddique read "Thirst", one of the poems from the collection.

* Siddique's inspirations for his approach are Celtic mythology, which names each moon after a letter in the ancient tree alphabet, and The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by British novelist, poet, critic, and historian Robert Graves (1895-1985). Animation of the 13 moon poems in Recital is ongoing; to view the wonderful films Siddique has made to date, go here.

Salt Publishing Profile of John Siddique

John Siddique's Blog A Writer's Life


Unknown said...

Thank You So Much Maureen for your depth of thought... and your close and very accurate reading of Recital. Am Humbled by your kindness..


Maureen said...

The pleasure is mine, John. I look forward to getting a copy of Full Blood. And I wish you much continued success.

Anonymous said...

i think "don't wear it on your head..." sounds good!