Books | Poems | News | About


Approaching International Poetry in 21st Century England; Part One.

written by the Judge

International poetry is a difficult topic. It is the specialised branch of a specialised branch: since there are few people reading poetry, it follows logically that only a very select few will read poetry from multiple countries as well. Linguistic barriers are among the most challenging to surmount, and the fact that England has one of the least polyglot cultures in Europe does not exactly help. The first part of this article wishes to discuss some of the characteristics of the current international (and especially European) poetry scene when seen from the English perspective. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or final article on the topic, only an introduction to some of the issues and problems that surround it. The second part will discuss the question of how to approach international poetry in practice.

The political reality of our continent, to the extent that both alliances and rivalries are now mediated by a common regulating body, has in the last half-century increasingly come to be defined by the European Union. Linguistically, we have therefore seen the rise of English as the union’s official language – and this is a matter of great consequence for scholars of poetry. Previous centuries saw intellectuals learning a foreign tongue primarily (though of course not exclusively) for two reasons: so as to be educated in the language of the dominant power, or else for an historical purpose. The former case is well exemplified by the French language, which was learnt and employed between the 18th and 19th Centuries by the English Romantics, by the great Russian novelists and by an assortment of literary figures (Giacomo Casanova, for example) on account of the political and cultural influence held by France. As for the second purpose that we mentioned, it refers to the popularity held by Latin and Greek in the continent’s educational curricula (at certain points, Italian joined that group as well, as the language that gave access to the great medieval authors).

Both these registers have fallen away. The language of the dominant power is now American English, and the popularity of dead languages – even among the educated – has been largely replaced by an unprecedented interest in the living languages of our neighbours. Our relationship with international poetry is now defined – even if unwittingly, unwillingly or indirectly – by our engagement with and our understanding of a collective European culture (the political expression of which is the European Union). Reading Dutch poetry, for example, is the process of interpreting how its points of convergence and divergence with your own country’s poetry reflect the way your two cultures communicate in the context of the larger political union. This is not a conscious decision, any more than reading French poetry was once necessarily intended to be a response to France’s political power. It is simply the international scenario that one is most likely to be confronted with when reaching outside of one’s own country, regardless of whether one subsequently chooses to embrace or resist it.

The European cultural register also defines our relationship with poetry from outside the continent. We understand a Korean poet or poem’s foreignness not so much to our specific country, but to European culture as a whole – even if it makes no sense to speak of this ‘culture’ as something unified. This is not as paradoxical as it may sound, because European culture in the sense that we are talking about it here is not unified, but unifying. If you are indeed able to read Dutch poetry, this will almost certainly be related to how this cultural union has connected you. (Our argument admits to several exceptions, especially when it comes to ex-colonies. The relationship of English readers to Indian literature, or that of French readers to Algerian literature, has its own special status).

In the current geopolitical context, one of the great victims has been English culture – and, by extension, English poetry. The rise of English as the ‘common tongue’ of the continent has excluded the British population from the surge of enthusiasm for multilingual studies which has filled the rest of the European soil with polyglots. The stupidity of English officials – who have seen this process happening for decades and have done nothing about it, even welcoming it as a blessing or a privilege – is mirrored by the stupidity of foreign European officials. A common continental lament may take a similar form: if the English tongue becomes dominant, then in a thousand years nobody will be able to read the books or listen to the songs that we are writing now, much like nobody can read some of the Gaelic or Celtic or ancient Hispanic inscriptions in caves dating from before the Roman (and Latin) invasion.

The oversight here is that languages do not have a half-life of a thousand years – they change spontaneously and ineluctably and become new systems of their own, in a process that is only bound to accelerate in the coming age. Since this mutability is the very source of beauty in language, there is no reason to lament it. And if you really are worried about how your poetry will be understood in 3012 (good luck to you, by the way), then rest assured – it will become illegible well before then, regardless of what language you are writing it in.

As for the present situation, almost every young educated person in non-anglophone Europe is at least bilingual, and sometimes much more than that. This means that Europeans born outside of England have more job opportunities and more academic outlets; they can travel to more countries, with all the openings for new learning and experience that that entails; they have access to more literature, music, art, journalism, criticism, ideas, as well as an instant advantage in anything related to politics, diplomacy, trade or tourism. The irony in all of this is that the ones who should be promoting anglocentrism are all non-English speaking countries, while the only ones fighting against it should be the countries in the UK. Instead it is the other way round!

British poets are but one of the categories damaged by this development. Their burden is not only that a much greater workload is required to gain access to foreign poetry – for learning a foreign language becomes an enterprise, rather than a given – but the fact that they mature and develop into a culture unaware of its own anglocentrism. Scholars and poets desiring to branch outside the confines of their own country usually find themselves funnelled towards American poetry, and this inevitably leads to a sort of provincialism. As importantly, it blinds one to the realities of the European discourse as we have sketched it in this article. The common thread that runs across the various European nations, and which defines this moment of our cultural history, is distinctly weaker and harder to perceive here in England. And if this does not seem like a big deal, remember that missing out on a cultural shift is always your own loss. The Renaissance did not stop by for Russia. Classical music did not wait for the Americans. The mutual cultural integration of the European Union is not going to wait for English literature, unless English poets themselves go out and engage with it.

And this, of course, leads us to the next part of the argument: how do we approach international poetry? The second part of our article will be dedicated to the practicalities around this question. To be published as next week’s feature, still here on

Sunday Review: Rachael Boast’s Sidereal

posted by the Judge

Man, I’ve been looking forward to this Sunday. Some weeks of work can take it out of you.

Finally, though, the time has come to lay back and relax with a cup of coffee and a poetry review. This week Judi Sutherland takes on no less than the winner of the 2011 Forward Prize for Best First Collection, that being Rachael Boast for her work in Sidereal. Find the review here and see what Judi thought about it.

Enjoy your Sunday – I know I will!

Birdbook 2: Freshwater Habitats

It’s here, and it’s packed. Featuring the work of:

Derek Adams, Anthony Adler, Rachael Allen, Carmen Ashworth, Andrew Bailey, Jo Bell, Emily Berry, Zoë Brigley, Sue Brown, Sam Buchan-Watts, Erika Bülow-Osborne, Mark Burnhope, Gerry Cambridge, Phil Cooper, Lois Cordelia, Sarah Coulston, Lorna Crabbe, M. P. Dean, Chris Emslie, Charlotte Geater, James Goodman, Luke Heeley, W. N. Herbert, Alexander Hutchison, Kirsten Irving, Andrew Buchanan Jackson, Valerie Josephs, Gregory Leadbetter, Alice Lee, Ann Leighton, Anna Le Moine Gray, Laurens Leysen, Ira Lightman, Rachel Lovatt, Sophie Mayer, John McCullough, Ian McLachlan, James Midgley, Harriet Moore, Siân Moore, Sarah Morrish, Sarah Ogilvie, Richard Osmond, Kate Parkinson, Abigail Parry, PopiRouge, Samuel Prince, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Erica Read, Julia Colquitt Roach, Christos Sakellaridis, Bethany Settle, Jon Stone, Katy-Rose Thorogood, Claire Trévien, Jen Wainwright, Alexis West, Chrissy Williams.

Emerging Foreign Poets #4: Linda Maria Baros

written by the Judge

Writing about poetry, it’s pretty hard to get travel expenses covered. Obviously it doesn’t help when the poet you’d like to meet lives not in another city but in another country, and seen how I’m job-hunting at the time of writing this, my appreciation of Linda Maria Baros will have to be written from home, sitting in my flat in Shadwell, with a glass of Coke fizzing next to me.

That I should have opened the article with such a perambulatory reflection reveals, I think, that I am somewhat troubled in introducing this week’s poet. Maybe I should start with the kind of stuff you can find out just by Googling her. To be sure, then, Baros is a Romanian-born, Paris-based poet writing in French, thirty-one years old, currently one of the most successful (and discussed) young voices to have attained prominence in the competitive French scene. Her mixed cultural background may sound exotic upon first impact, but it is not at all unusual, especially not in the present age, and not in Europe – she is, in fact, a typical example of a translocal poet.

What makes her tough to figure out is her poetry. Baros has no qualms in representing extreme social deprivation, painting vignettes about homeless people or prostitutes (from this point of view, I suspect her experience in Bucharest may have come to bear on her writing more than her years in Paris). She also does not refrain from using visceral, disturbing imagery which could be taken straight from a splatter movie; titles like ‘The high-schoolers rip birds out of their rectum’ or ‘If the lintel beheads you, that’s a bad sign’ should begin to give an idea.

Unpalatable as the imagery may be, it is executed with superb technical confidence, and one understands why she is already famous at a relatively tender age. In ‘The children that passed through the sifter’, my favourite of the poems I’ve read by her, she writes a long monologue addressed to an unnamed second person. ‘It is for you,’ she writes, ‘that I have split my heart in two, / like a lamb’s hoof’. She goes on to list the many things she did ‘for you’ in a sequence of images that are as suggestive as they are bleak:

I stole and lied, I spat blood.

I washed dead bodies
and I slept on plastic bags
filled with waste from the garbage skips
in streets that always have
a knife at hand I slept,
amid the shells of the city’s old beggars
who, in your honour, have let their beards
grow to the ankles,
like the ancient Sumerians
off to hunt lions for their loved ones.

The closing lines bring us back to the trope of the heart with a simile that is nothing short of extraordinary:

Yes, it is for you that I have forcefully come into this world
like a wave of blood
that no longer finds its path to the heart.

The source expression is actually subtler than I am able to translate – the original for ‘forcefully come into’ is ‘entrée en force’, which has a formal, professional sense I could not retain in English (it is what you say for instance of a contract as it becomes formally effective – the date of the ‘entrée en force’ is…). But of course it also sounds like ‘entering forcefully’, which in context has connotations of birth and rape simultaneously. The image, and indeed the entire triplet as it works towards the super-charged trope of the ‘heart’, is powerful and deeply layered.

So why do I say that Baros is ‘tough to figure out’? Well, it is only that I do not understand where all of this horror comes from. As far as I can tell from the bio snippets that I could find on the net, she is an academic poet of the type that we so commonly find in France, with a PhD and a great deal of work in the field of translation. Even if we take her imagery to be a form of engagement with the realities of social deprivation (an agenda we would commend), it is so gritty and deliberately shocking, so uncompromisingly violent, that one feels there is more at work than simply denunciation. Where is all this gore pouring out from?

And that’s why I wish Jon and Kirsten could cover my flights (business class if you’re reading, fellas). Baros is a very interesting poet, but I have the impression I’m not getting the full story, and I might not be able to until I can meet her in person. In the meantime, those of you who can, and who are not too squeamish to enjoy this type of verse, definitely check her out. Salt has done me the favour of providing some translations, so you can do that even without speaking French. I promise you, she leaves a scar.

Call for Writers

posted by the Judge

Like most other poetry webzines, Dr Fulminare’s Irregular Features is run on a non-profit, voluntary basis by its staff and depends on the passion of its reviewers to provide the high standards of articles it is committed to deliver. Thus, our call for writers is ongoing: if you are interested in publishing reviews or feature articles on contemporary poetry of any kind, then we want to hear from you.

Though we are not able to pay you for your writing, we are happy to provide review copies; if there are any collections you are particularly keen on reviewing, we will do our best to get you a free copy of that. What kind of writers are we looking for? A university background in the humanities is appreciated, but we are also happy to interact with thinkers from outside the academic institutions or with experience in different fields, especially if they are able to refer to their experience to provide an unorthodox or fresh perspective on poetry. Undergraduate students are welcome to apply, but should be aware that a considerable work of revision will likely be requested of their drafts, and some may be turned down altogether. Our purpose is to develop a consistent critical voice, meaning that, while we will consider pitches for one-off reviews or articles, we are mostly looking for long-term writers who are willing to embark on a project with us and become part of our regular staff. In exchange, we can offer a readership which includes many of the prominent artists, editors, critics and publishers working in British poetry today, and of course free poetry books.

We have specific standards for both our reviews and feature articles. We will be expecting a critical approach that questions rather than simply promotes the values inherent in both the poetry being analysed, and the (sub)culture of poetry in general. Our writers can expect – especially for the first few articles – a work of exchange and revision in partnership with our editor to ensure that the site’s standards are met and that its ideological mission is being respected.

If you think the Drfulminare project is something you would like to be part of, and if you believe you know your poetry, then send a line to our reviews editor at Briefly state who you are and what you do, and attach a sample of your critical writing (either a review, a feature or an academic essay – no creative writing, please).

We’ll get back to you.

The editors.

Sunday Review: Howie Good’s Cryptic Endearments

posted by the Judge

Ah, Sunday, Sunday, the day when football teams clash everywhere else in Europe, when offices stay thankfully closed, and when Dr Fulminare puts up his latest review.

This week Ian Chung is looking at Howie Good‘s collection, Cryptic Endearments, which throws in elements of journalism, linguistics and hurtful aggression. Is the cocktail successful? Find out in the review.

Have a great Sunday!

Emerging Foreign Poets #3: Manuel Del Barrio Donaire

written by the Judge

Published almost exactly a year ago in Spain, Alguien que sea yo (‘Someone who may be me’) is Manuel del Barrio Donaire’s second collection, and one of the most enjoyable poetry books I’ve read in a good while. It is a short little thing, made up of some seventy pages, counting thirty-two poems. The style and the vocabulary are generally quite simple, so it can be read in the space of a couple of days.

AQSY is utterly contemporary poetry, not only in the sense that it distances itself from the more classical formats of the lyric, but also in that it displays not the slightest preoccupation with its own sense of permanence. It brims with references to brands, titles and objects that will be out of fashion, even quaint, in the space of a couple of decades.

The starting point for this collection is the assumption that our identity is shaped by our objects of consumption. This allows Donaire to explore the way that said identity ends up being sucked into the language of economic exchange that characterises those objects. As he puts it very plainly in Dime un insecto en una planta, ‘You are what you have, / you are what surrounds you at a distance of less than 3 metres, / the dog you take for a walk, / that jar you purchased because it looks good on the table, / an iron ring on the pinky, a flowery dress, / the softener you put in the washing machine, / I mean it, / you’re an Orbit packet of chewing-gums.’ The final image stresses at once identity (in the brand name), and the simultaneity of the visceral and the artificial in the process of chewing gum.

These concerns are not particularly original in and of themselves, but they are taken in some very interesting new directions later in the collection. Most impressive and intriguing is the way that Donaire places the character of the poet on the same plane as that of other fashionable personas defined by their items of exchange. Far from being a neutral, invisible onlooker, or even a salvational intermediary, as it is sometimes treated in other self-reflexive verse, the ‘poet’ here is simply another slogan one can wear. This is something that has been attempted by other contemporary poets (including British ones), but in my experience it always trips on the same problem – the poet’s attempt at satire always end up betraying his/her own sense of self-importance. Donaire’s work is, I think, more genuinely self-ironic. One of his poems describes a Spanish bar which I would have no trouble recognising in any other European country, since it is described as ‘a refuge for young intellectuals / like me, / everyone sits at their marble tables / drinking coffee, whiskys, martinis with vodka, / everyone’s there with their laptops, / their Moleskine notebooks, / with volumes, papers, cellulose, pens and Stabilo Boss highlighters / to underline notes, / paragraphs from the Decameron, / everyone with eyes half-closed writing something important, / something new, the great novel of our generation.’ (El Pepe Botella, por ejemplo).

What makes this criticism especially memorable is the sense of humour and lightness with which it is carried through. Our own Sam Riviere makes some similar points to Donaire (the two artists are in fact surprisingly alike – not least in that both their collections were initially serialised in blogs), but his outlook comes across as grey and disenchanted. AQSY is different in that there is not the slightest trace of cynicism, anger or bitterness. I am normally wary of poets who write about poetry (I know, I know – it’s a contentious claim), as I like verse that branches out of its own discourse rather than falling back inside it, but this is an outstanding exception. Donaire’s treatment of the subject fully succeeds in being satirical rather than mythical, and it is never lost on its own irony.

The satire of the poet crosses over with the other supporting theme in this collection – the tension between a sense of social and individual responsibility which is nonetheless shaped by our artificial identity, and the desire to just lay back and enjoy oneself, again, however, by falling into commercial signs of exchange (like laying back on the couch, smoking and playing with a Playstation). The two drives contaminate each other as the poet sometimes ends up on the couch, writing poetry on his Macbook Air or his G4 ibook, uncertain as to whether he is doing something worthwhile or just acting like it. The poem Sábado, which I have translated at the end of this article, exemplifies I hope both this tension and the lightness of mood with which it is presented.

AQSY is a short collection not particularly broad in its scope or ambitions, but all the more credit-worthy for that. It makes its point with a punch and does not outstay its welcome. In contrast to other exponents of the (rather remarkable) panorama of young Spanish poetry, Donaire never shoots for linguistic prowess or aulic metaphors. His poems sound like everyday speech and are always very easy to follow. In the space of a few days of the reader’s time he makes an original and memorable statement and provides him/her with a new outlook on the topics he chooses to treat, and in this writer’s opinion that’s exactly what a modern poetry collection should do.


I spend Saturday evening on the Playstation
watching Lost In Translation for the fourth or fifth time
while I think that I should quit the bullshit
and write
I’m not entirely sure what
but write something,
a poem, anything to update my blog
so I won’t feel guilty tonight when I go out
and I step in amid the young
and I drink some beers
and women look at me as they would any other without knowing that I
don’t waste my time watching football or formula one because I’m
a writer goddamitt and if I want to fuck them
it’s not for the sake of fucking
but so I can write about it
and so I can be someone in life
and so I can look back

Sunday Review: Matthew Stewart’s Tasting Notes

posted by the Judge

Uh oh, looks like it’s my turn to review a book again. This Sunday I chose to deal with Matthew Stewart’s Tasting Notes, an interesting and very short work that is all about wine. Find out what I thought about it here.

It’s too early for wine as I write this. Can I wish you an enjoyable mug of hot milk, tea, or coffee? Or just join us for Kirsten’s launch and have one with us in person!

Binders Full of Women!

Sophie Mayer and Sarah Crewe, the all-editing, all-curating creators of the Pussy Riot anthology Catechism, have only gone and made sexy great binders full of poetry by women! If you need an excuse for a hearty dose of feminism and all-round love, the proceeds go to Rape Crisis UK and the Michael Causer Foundation. Pick up your binder today!

In case the title of this project rings no bells, here’s a little something about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.


contact [a]

Sidekick Books Site assembled by Jon.
Wordpress TwentySixteen theme used to power the news and books sections.