Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kairos and the little green eyed god

Barbara’s comment on the previous post reminds that I’ve been meaning to write about her book, Kairos.

There’s always something special about reading poetry that comes out of a familiar landscape whether you’re entering that place to see it from a different perspective or starting there and being spun out into new places or new ways of seeing it. What I like about this collection is that it deals with two familiar landscapes and contains poems I would like to have written.

I don’t know when I first heard the stories of the Tain, or Finn. I knew them before I read a child’s version in one of the first books I owned. They hung around until I had to write about them, in a sequence that tracked from a nine year old’s enthusiasm for Cuchullain's extravagant defiance to a more troubled engagement with the whole story. Fortunately I was bog ignorant at the time of all the other retellings. I wrote my pieces, had them published, recorded them with music for the cd (click Here if you're interested)
and shook myself loose.
In Lady G there is nothing remotely Cuchulanoid.
(The cd is also available on Itunes)

Reading poems that relate to these stories is like coming home, but to find someone’s rearranged the furniture, calling into question my memory of the rooms. It creates an intriguing conversation. Usually there’s you and the poem, but this becomes a conversation between the reader and the poem and the reader and author’s versions of the stories the poems are related to.

When the conversations really starts to move is when the poem refigures what you think you know and makes you look at it again. So I like the sequence ‘Alighting on Legends and myths' I like the way it does what it does without resorting to the gimmick of giving Cuchullain a hand grenade or making him the CEO of an embattled company facing off its debtors at a board meeting.

It would be tempting to think of Kairos as having poems about myths and legends and poems about “everyday normal” domestic experience. But I’m intrigued by the idea that if you treat the heroic and mythic as normal, then you open the possibility of treating the “everyday” as mythic. There are several poems here that seem to do that, by dealing with specific human incidents in modern settings: family, parents, partners children, in such a way that elevates them to the level of myth without distorting them.

It’s that other, most familiar landscape so often ignored or trivialized, but which, when treated with respect and attention, as here, allows the poet to rearrange the furniture and make the reader look again.

Which is another way of saying there are poems in this book which I wish I’d written or could write.

Kairos by Barbara Smith available from doghouse books at


Unknown said...

Kind words indeed! I always think that when you see poems you wish you'd written, it's the highest form of compliment.

Climbing inside another's head is indeed the great game of poetry - but you're never sure if you've done it right. I think it's closely related to the sense of voice that a poet develops over the years too.

Rachel Fox said...

An interesting way of looking at Barbara's book. I will go and reread with this in mind!

Liam Guilar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liam Guilar said...

Ok, so I haven't worked out how to edit a comment so deleted my previous attempt ( I think i should be able to spell my own name corectly?) but what I was trying to say was:

Rachel, if it makes you go and reread the book, even if you do reread it and think, my God, he was talking bolloxs, it will have done its bit.
Lima (been and gone)