Review by Ralf Webb Few contemporary British poets venture near the seemingly outmoded role of poet-as-prophet, soothsayer, or visionary. Acknowledgement of this poetic heritage – I think of Blake’s prophecies, and in America, Whitman – yet alone embodiment of it, has become embarrassing, unable to be remarked upon save in irony. In part, this is for good reason; not only is it terribly difficult to pull off, but the poetic shift in focus from the universal to the individual, instantiated by the Confessional movement of the mid 20th century, has made that heritage seem archaic, dried-up. In Fire Songs, Harsent embodies this role so well, and with such brutal authority, that any query as to whether it is appropriate or ‘current’ enough is quickly set aside. ‘Fire: a song for Mistress Askew’ opens the collection, and Harsent’s speaker becomes entangled in the gruesome death of Anne Askew, instantiating an ahistorical mode essential to the collection as a whole. Fire here is death and promised salvation: at once a ‘shrivel-hiss/of burning hair’ and God as he ‘stoops to take up your soul’. This is a maddening, feverish death-vision, well-grounded in Harsent’s eye for acute details and human particularities: ‘Only that you knew best/how to unfasten your gown while they waited at the rack’. Such details are scattered throughout the collection, placed with a delicate precision that safeguards against the potential grandiosity of his themes. Later, the ghostly atmosphere of ‘A Dream Book’ – a long fragmented sequence following two lovers – succeeds in dancing the infinitesimal knife edge between obscurantism and sentimentality. Imagined landscapes and cryptic symbols (‘the cave is starlit and smells of sleep… she’s held by the music in water’) are matched by those human particularities (‘In this/he’s doing a chicken dance. He turns away and puckers up for a kiss’). The somnambulistic quality of ‘A Dream Book’ signifies a creeping feeling of unease which gathers from the beginning of the collection – with the heartfelt elegy to ‘Bowland Beth’ and the frenzied staccato rush of ‘Sang the Rat’. I can’t help but feel a chill shiver down my spine when a lover utters: ‘You think you’re safe. You’re not’. This unease quickly becomes terror as the central poem ‘Fire song: end scenes and outtakes’ explodes in a nightmarish apocalyptic vision. More shocking lines – ‘When rape is a sweetener’ – are counterpoised to just the right amount of black comedy: ‘there’s the butt-end of prophecy for sure’. Whereas ‘end scenes and outtakes’ offers a vision (very interestingly framed through the medium of film – ‘Dreamwork delivers jump-cuts’), ‘Fire song: a party at the world’s end’ embodies its reality. I am reminded of Rimbaud, and a little more than a hint of Eliot: ‘They are drinking the last of the wine having drunk/the last of the water… through veils of smoke and smut the blank/stare of angels as they tread the air, as they ransack the sublime’. Bold reminders for sure, but the voice here isn’t stuck in some
We are delighted to announce that the winner of our 2014 Under the Influence Poetry Competition is Fran Lock for her poem ‘Dazzler’, influenced by The Duchess of Malfi. The competition was judged by Roddy Lumsden, and the top prize was £500. The Winners First Place – Fran Lock ‘Dazzler’ Second Place – Geraldine Clarkson ‘Miss Marple loosens her bra’ Third Place – Catherine Ayres ‘To Disappointment: An Assay’ after Jane Hirshfield’s ‘To Spareness: An Assay’ Many thanks to everyone who entered – the standard was incredibly high and we were delighted to have so many impressive poems to read. Briony Bax, editor of Ambit said “We had a great response to our competition with over 500 entries. All poems were read completely blind by all judges and administrators and we are delighted with the three winning poems. Many people cited numerous different influences from Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, JD Salinger and Jane Hirshfield. We hope this will become an annual event and I’m really looking forward to hearing the poets read their work in October.” The Brief Do you like to write outside, inside, or off your head? Scrawling ink across paper, or scribbling in bed? Is it nature, is it nurture? Anything goes – from interpretations, translations, and fevered type. Whether you’re influenced by another poet (living or dead), music, sport, art or experience, show us your brilliance, and stand a chance to win cash, publication, and priceless Ambit hype. Prizes 1st place – £500 2nd place – £250 3rd place – £100 The three winning entries will also be published in issue 218 of Ambit Magazine. The winners have been invited to read alongside Roddy Lumsden at the launch of the issue on Tuesday 28 October 2014 in London. Judges The judges of the competition were Roddy Lumsden, award-winning poet and editor of Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets, assisted by Declan Ryan, Faber New Poet and Ambit poetry editor. The competition was managed by George Jackson and Ralf Webb at Ambit.
Below is an article about Satyendra Srivastava, longtime contributing editor to Ambit, who sadly passed away earlier this year. A shorter version of this article will form the core of Munni’s speech during an event organised at the House of Lords in remembrance of Satyendra on 30 July. My husband, Dr Satyendra Srivastava, poet and academic, long associated with Ambit, died on 15th June of this year. Much has been written about his poetry and his ‘official’ persona but I would like to tell you about a young man of 23 who arrived in London in the late summer of 1958. It was his first trip out of India and he often used to describe the strange mixture of feelings he experienced as he watched the Gateway of India fading into the mist from the deck of the ship that brought him to Marseilles from where he travelled by train all the way to London. Satish, as he was known to his family, was born in Azamgarh in Northern India on 5th August 1935 but his parents soon brought him to the family house in the Durgakhund area of Varanasi – the holy city on the Ganges, perhaps better known to older British readers as Banaras – so that his whole childhood was indelibly linked to this extraordinary place. The family were traditional landowners but his father and uncles had broken with tradition in the late 1920s and started a large stationery business so that his and his cousin’s life was very comfortable not to say privileged. Alas this idillic world was marred by the death of his father when Satish was a small child: in fact he hardly had any memories of him. The great influence in his life was his mother who by all accounts was an extraordinary woman. While her husband was still alive, she had heard Mahatma Gandhi’s call and become involved in the Quit India Movement and her convictions and courage are recalled in the much anthologised poem: Sir Winston Churchill knew my Mother which was published by Ambit and reprinted recently. Left a widow at a young age, she raised her son with great love and encouraged his artistic and literary tendencies, sometimes in the face of opposition from his elder uncle who was the head of the family. His childhood took place against the amazing backdrop of temples and palaces in Varanasi, running round the tiny alleyways, playing on the ghats or swimming in the swollen waters of the Ganges to his mother’s dismay. He had a partner in crime in all this: Kailash Gupta, life-long friend and constant childhood companion. Kailash was a naughty little boy who often got them into trouble. After we were married I met Kailash and we became great friends. I would look at the face of this fifty-something man and could see the grin of a cheeky eight-year-old looking back at me! He is the one who delighted in recalling how, aged ten, they would sneak into mango groves through holes in the fence and gorge on the delicious fruit
First Prize: £500. Head Judge: Roddy Lumsden Do you like to write outside, inside, or off your head? Scrawling ink across paper, or scribbling in bed? Is it nature, is it nurture? Anything goes – from interpretations, translations, and fevered type. Whether you’re influenced by another poet (living or dead), music, sport, art or experience, show us your brilliance, and stand a chance to win cash, publication, and priceless Ambit hype. What’s your influence? Send us your best poems and we’ll see who gets our hearts racing. Prizes 1st place – £500 2nd place – £250 3rd place – £100 The three winning entries will also be published in issue 218 of Ambit Magazine. The winners will be invited to read alongside Roddy Lumsden at the launch of the issue on October 22nd 2014 in London. Judges Roddy Lumsden, award-winning poet and editor of Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets. Declan Ryan, Faber New Poet and Ambit poetry editor. Read the rules and how to submit
Thanks to everyone who came to our writing workshop and panel discussion at the weekend. We really enjoyed both events, and hope that you all came away with heads packed full of advice and ideas. See you next year! And also at all of our other events, of course.
We’re working to make subscribing to the magazine as simple as possible. Not everyone has or wants a Paypal account, but everyone wants to subscribe to Ambit. Everyone. We’re pleased to announce that we can now accept all major credit and debit cards, and you no longer need a Paypal account to subscribe. Click through using the Paypal button as normal, then just choose ‘Don’t have a PayPal account? Pay using your credit or debit card’ when you reach Paypal’s site. Head to our Subscribe page to learn more
Oh, hi there. So on Wednesday 19 March there’s a chance to see the work of 50% of Ambit’s art editors. Jean Philippe Dordolo has an exhibition with Lewis Betts called ‘Come Closer’. Read more on the Art First Projects website or check out the flyer below. Tel: 020 7734 0386 E-mail: email@example.com Address: 21 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DD See you there!
Ambit recommends this short course in poetry writing, Wednesday mornings at Karamel cafe, N22. Ambit poet Jehane Markham will be your tutor for an affordable three-Wednesday mini-course, Th e Nuts & Bolts of Poetry, starting on the 12th of March. Hurry while there are spaces left. Go to www.haringeyliteraturelive.com/workshops to find out more.
Announcing our first Ambit selfie competition! We want to see what your copy of Ambit 214 gets up to when we aren’t looking. So, dear readers, send us your photos. We want to see Ambit 214 in the weirdest and wildest situations you can imagine. The winner will be the photo of Ambit 214 that we find the most astonishing. During the competition we’ll share our favorites on Facebook and Twitter. All we ask is you keep it legal and clean enough for publication. To enter submit your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org The lucky winner will be announced at the launch of Ambit 215 on January 30th 2014 and will receive a year’s subscription, a tote bag and a very rare vintage Ambit. Haven’t got your copy of 214? Order it now Get out there and get snapping! Read our terms and conditions
Join us in celebrating Ambit and come and hear some of the new exciting poets and writers that we have published in 214 Saturday November 16th at 7pm at The Society Club, 12 Ingestre Place, Soho, London W1F 0JF £5 entrance includes a vintage Ambit No RSVP’s necessary – but sign up on our Facebook page if you want us to know you will be coming.