Tuesday Poem: Remnants - Jane Burn and Bob Beagrie

You know, when you look at this cover, that you are going to be taken on a journey into the unexpected. This is language gone feral, back to its roots in history, myth, ritual, and mayhem.  The subject matter is post-apocalyptic, male and female voices talking about what is left, the remnants, after a great flood. What will survive of us?  What will future archaeologists make of the fragments of our daily lives? How will our future narratives shape the incomprehensible events of our past?

The Rite of Re-invention

They bring thingemies they’ve found.
They lay ‘em at me painted feet.

Between drum beats I nayme ‘em
te place ‘em inte ower story:

this be Papalla, ysed for snaring
byrds that soar underground

this be a Circumscope ysed te channel
the gleamings o’ the niyht sky

this be an Asmeplait, we can yse it
te weave a cloth o’winds

this be a Carlinflake, a scale
from the tail o’the Galorethirst

this be a most dangerous thingemie –

an Eyedrive, it were known
te enchant and te hypnotise

and this be called a Guilecrock
for measuring the weight o’ a lie.

On the page the language looks difficult, but read it out loud and it makes perfect sense. This is oral poetry with hints of Geordie dialect, Scots, Anglo-Saxon and the Old Norse of the sagas.

The illustrations are pure genius. Strange and sometimes menacing creatures stare out of the page in black and white, (Jane Burn),
"... across the threshold / hare dances a glass moon among yew tree stains"

contrasting with rich panels of colour (Bob Beagrie).

'The Rite of Re-invention'

This collection is a conversation between text and image as well as the voices of the two poets - and I loved the fact that I couldn't work out who had written which poem for certain unless I looked at the contents page. I had two particular favourites, the first by Bob Beagrie,  This is an excerpt:

My Grandmother's Ghost

As pale light seeped back into the world
I'd heard her infectious scrabble-scuffle
but fog's bulbous fingers clung
to every object, stroked each branch
of the berry-laden rowans, ripe blackthorn
fruit, the dew weighted grasses:

moon-eyes aglare
stewed in night's skillet, and
this new dawn bound up in the folds
of a winding sheet as if stillborn,
the hare comes, nuzzling, carrying the news
of the day's death on her ear tips. . . .

My other favourite was one by Jane Burn, one of the most original poets on the scene at the moment.

My Dawtie

I am gone on the Husvik boat.  I will bring back
combs for your hair, silk for a dress, pearls to swing
from the lobes of your ears, lace for the pale
of your heather-bone throat. Fear not, I will return,
come back to you and a small but fertile patch
of your own - buy stones to build around you.
Brick you into a home for us. Nothing here but stench
and snow as cold as your breasts in the byre
back home, at dawn - I rub my palms

on wind scoured wood, think of ridges on a ram's horn,
think of good meat not skrott set adrift - its tissues fed
to the carrion throng.  I hear the wind skirt the oil drums,
mouth the rivets, lick the paths of salted rust. . .

For me, the best poetry should challenge as often as it comforts, finding that 'pathway to the bone'. It should offer a glimpse of something new, rather than just confirming what we already know.  It should go beyond "Yes, that's exactly how it is!" (though that is often wonderful) and give a glimpse of future possibilities. The epigraph of 'Remnants' is a quote from Stephen Hawking, "The past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities".  In this 'spectrum of possibilities' lie limitless opportunities for poetry that occupies the shifting present, looking forward and back, with an unsparing gaze.

There's a great deal of dystopian fiction around at the moment, but not so much good dystopian poetry. This collection evens up the balance.

Some information on the poets:-

Read John Foggin's revealing interview with Bob Beagrie:-

His work is firmly and deliberately rooted in the belief that poetry is primarily oral, and it’s also in his attachment to the roots of English, pre-Norman English language. Like Steve Ely, he’s entirely comfortable with the idea of blending this old English with his own 21st-century language. At first sight it will puzzle ... but sight isn’t the way in. Reading aloud is.”

Bob Beagrie is a well-known, widely published, north-eastern poet and playwright, often blending spoken word with image and music as in Leasungspell and the Seer Sung Husband.  He lectures in creative writing at the University of Teesside. Bob's latest performance piece is Civil Insolencies, taking us back to the English Civil War, and the Battle of Guisborough, "bringing the past to life in vivid detail with words and music, exploring parallels between 17th century attitudes and contemporary issues surrounding free speech, fake news and social division".

Jane Burns' unique slant on the world can be glimpsed in her recent collection from Indigo Dreams Publishing, 'nothing more to it than bubbles'. Fran Lock wrote in a cover review: "I come away from these poems feeling both enriched and strangely haunted; feeling that the world I inhabit is a stranger, more disquieting, more beautiful place than I ever realised. There’s something about these poems that appeals to my magpie mind, each piece, like antique glass, bright, intriguing and unique."

Jane Burn is a writer and artist who is originally from South Yorkshire. She currently lives with her family in the North East of England. She spends eight months of the year at their 1920’s eco-friendly, off-grid wooden cottage in Northumberland, which she and her husband have spent the last three years restoring with almost entirely reclaimed or recycled materials. She has a keen interest in gardening and nature and loves to spend time with her beloved Jack Russell Terriers and Gypsy Cob, Orca. She has been a member of 52, the North East Women’s Collective, the Tees Women Poets and the Black Light Writing Group and regularly performs at many poetry nights.

This book isn't cheap (£18.00), but well worth the price - it's large, lavishly illustrated and beautifully produced.

Published by The Knives, Forks And Spoons Press

Also available from the Poetry Book Society, 

"An ethnographic bricolage of fragmentary narratives and lost voices from a future tribal culture of survivors following the Second Great Flood, Remnants provides glimpses into the myths, rituals, songs, customs, lifestyles, dream visions and the intertwining personal stories of a post-apocalyptic community existing in the ruined shadows of our own civilisation. Jane Burn and Bob Beagrie weave an unsettling tapestry of possible subjectivities navigating the margins between endurance and extinction in the not too distant future."


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