Click on these links to read some of Judith's poetry:

Dick Cheyney's Garden

Child In Gaza

To Church

His Photo And Two Fish

The Long Man Of Wilmington

Seeing What You Made

Finally a review by Judith of three American poetry books from Faber


Dick Cheyney's Garden
Dick Cheyney's Garden

I am pressing in eyeballs
of black caviar, delicious.
They roll from the light-as-tallow
paper lanterns of airy blooms,
the premier explosions of spring.

Where does it fall, my caviar
detailed to the tousled soil
that loves to call out for more
from the hand that feeds:
a century’s project?

Wealth has oiled the land,
black as the clusterlets
I calculate to underload
equally, year by year,
on every stone and every thistle.

Dick Cheyney's Garden
Prologue: Someone

The street, a top thoroughfare,
could have been modern Beijing,
modern anyplace, shoppers, cabs.
What, three days of headlines –only.
But then it was Africa, (Kenya)
We had hardly heard of Rwanda
by 1998 –Nor had BL, so much
for that. Kenya proved the prologue
as they say, to our grand play.
Africans died in numbers,
some Americans, of course.
Bombs against trophy buildings,
suicides, bombs under cabs --
hardly science from two miles up.
nothing new since the War to End War.
Clinton our class hick from Arkansas
returned to dust a valuable
pharmaceutical works (Sudan)
and returned himself to Lewinsky
for succour. Osama B was not
yet the Evil One, just, someone.

Dick Cheyney's Garden
No wonder Dodi seemed like an angel

Where were you when?
And as for me, what did it mean,
that year, time, quite newly married,
my old mother in law
fat as a baby cello, loved to
wash and hang my two negligees,
swing them in her Ealing garden
for all the neighbours; a sign
that must have pleased her
of the one sacral night her son
had spent with me in the Savoy
-we couldn’t afford two nights.
The Greek honeymoon brought
in our summer: the white island
monastery, the blue Aegean dappling,
fishing for my lust against the eaves
….later.

And later, where were you?
Coming down muzzy-headed,
what’re you talking about,
tunnel, crash. night-time, her?
Who do you mean? But I knew.
I’d always backed that rich, wistful
eject: coquettish rambling rose,
spat on by the toad husband,
the toads in law, for his fault,
not hers, just like the world over.
No wonder Dodi seemed a warm arm,
that driver merely her usual fate, with
the crows on motorbikes vulturing
her dying face.

And where then four years later?
At home, phoning to Dallas
of all strange circles? To Zoe:
chatting about her children:
‘Judith, there’s a plane crashed into’
‘No it can’t be true‘
‘I’ll ring you later‘
Thousands of miles east
I switch on. Toy puffs blow meccano planes
into lego buildings, like the Spitfires
my little brothers used to circle [CARRY ON PASSAGE]
like wasps over the red carpet, bang, bang.
You couldn’t wring from the box more
than the voice knew, that sequence all day.
And for all time, we were told, assured,
legislated to believe. The world intuned,
the times awry
and nature out of it.

Later I phoned Zoe’s dad yourself
in your hideout in Key West, your birthday!!
Many Happy Returns Darling! Oh lord.
Unlegislated, angry, you say, I know
what it means. Afghan widows knew soon
and soon Iraq. In return:
Madrid, Bali, London.

Today’s news is more of today,
more shells and more shivering screaming
and blood anywhere but this garden lawn,
‘securing the sector’ against ‘insurgents’.
Also my right to say, not in my name?
to say, what does it mean what does it mean
what does it mean what does it mean What
shall we make it mean?

Dick Cheyney's Garden
Blofeldt prepares to attack

Right at the bottom
of the very heart of liberty
lies B in his frozen lake,
Pinioned into ice,
admire his Arni Schwarzeneggar limbs.
Clever as the devil, though fakery
not his thing - that chocolate heart
on the pinstripe sleeve
transparently permafrost,
O king of Ultima Thule.

When the Joker leads the pack,
the pack grows a hundred eyes.
It divides into fighters and drones
and hunts the Terror
right down at the bottom of our hearts.

Along the purring lane
comes Blofeldt in his pussiline car,
he has the chauffeur pause
before invading Iraq, and stops to gaze
benignly over the right hand hedge,
counting in values of honeysuckle,

‘See, my fat friend Ariel
puts a blindfold round the globe
or anyway the West Bank –
a fine example of our projected Armageddon.
However after such effort,
my mountainous little friend, forever
of Sabra, Chatila and Jenin,
will fall, sadly,
like into the sleep of the Sleeping Beauty,
enclosed by the very security briar
he built for us all
against the Terror, see above:
Though who knows, it may hide right
there at the bottom of that field’.

The Joker jams a finger
like the muzzle of Hitler’s Mauser,
into the chauffeur’s ear and
goes Bang Bang. The chauffeur
runs over a cow. The J doubles up
with exquisite celebrity joy.

A favoured child
was Blofeldt long ago -
he would sit in the temple
among the bankers
and learned indicators
and also later he learned which
poisoned, castrated,
lamed, tongue-tied cat
could be got,
right at the bottom of its rage,
to scratch deepest.

Dick Cheyney's Garden
Dick Cheyney's garden rubbish

Then I was sick – They shouted.
They were yanking strips off me.
Then they answered the phone.
Pukka Sahib, my dad used to laugh.
I knew the language, how else?

Whoever was on the other end
was telling them what to ask,
Details about me and my wife –
I was ashamed, I began sobbing.
My Britishness has a value.
I learned a man is fair for all that.

My body is neither fair, it’s dark -
I took my Citizenship Exam
- nor fair, the scars spider -
with flying colours, in harmony
- a jeer of webs across me.
You will decide if I’m lying.

Dick Cheyney's Garden
Gravel

Dark blue-coated inscrutable!
Dimly out at the front
comes the vulgar little cheering
for the signal of the loss of America.
Again the garden is trashed
and carted away in weeds
- our Project, our Century. .

Out of the back entrance,
across a diminished gravel,
a black-gloved pallor
wheel-chairs into and beyond
the windows of darkness,
briefly rolled down…
then shrouded again
once this aching frame
(I tired it, even abused it
for you, America the beloved –
America ingrate -)
…once these shoulders
heavy with the world’s care
have been ensconced by
my knights, my teary staffers.
I wave, the glove shiny, well made,
The driver turns his key into night,
O black Bucephalus, O Alexander.

You saw my pale smile,
hurt as only the broad sun
can shine hurt in a malign winter.
Not my metaphor,
not my responsibility
so don’t blame me.

I may come again, America.

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Child In Gaza
after Wm Blake

I was a little child
born in Gaza ruins.
My name was Palestinian
and my heart was strong.

On the Israeli green
the little children played,
I asked to share the play
but they sent back fire.

Why did they send white fire
which melted away my flesh?
They said it was the gift
my jealousy deserved.

Why did they burn me so?
In white bandages I die
in a hospital like a ruin.
Remember, what I know.

1.31.09

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To Church

You wear a foxglove so lightly
since you only have
to open your thighs

A bell so pink, and pinker
and floppy as the feather
on your Sunday hat.

To church all foxglove and fine feather
tugging the purple bell,
the bee on its knees.

From ‘Just After Midnught’ Judith Kazantzis 2004

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His photo and two fish

FL. 3.8.01

He takes the birthday
without sentimentality,
the flashed wit a bit frail,
fluttering his logic - not mumbling,

dancing the phrases - rather as
he dance-shuffled the street,
refusing a white stick:
that way he felt ground and took

help just for crossing. We say,
as we always did,
how does he do it?

Because he’s in his hideout,
the ledge, the cliff shadow, where he,
and she too, lie anchored,
two silvery black-eyed fish

waving transparent bodies
against the tugs and tweaks of
the roving current, all that

such suspended beings
now and forever need.

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The Long Man of Wilmington

Did you hear
of the dancing Christ?
how he was washed clean
out of the roots of the hair
of Windover Hill,
by a typical vigorous vicar,
who loved antiquity
and to restore.
What a service he gave
in spades
on the home mount.
Sleezed in sheep droppings,
sunk under bumpy turf,
marker flints gone to Christian byres;
still there used to proceed
beneath the grass
the Long Man, the Giant,
huge as a cloud’s cousin -
on line for Wilmington Church.

Did the vicar stumble
when he felt a heaviness come on him,
his chalice gathered earwigs and spiders:
tithes not paid,
the village, the church, at loggerheads,
pews empty, muddy cottage doors closed
when he calls, black hat in hand,
scapegoat, Jonah,
seems to the poor man,
murrain, hail out of season,
yes, in Victorian England.

One night sozzled in bed
his appropriate angel speaks:
sh..uggest, m’boy, not you, not me,
‘s him up there, and I don’t mean...
lesh reroute, good and all.
He took his spade, his surveyor’s string and pegs,
workmen echoed the hillside with curses,
god’s work be done,
he shortened and rejointed the long half-traced legs
into a crab’s stride
across the towering shell of the hill.
(Laming that great glint
of a jump
from top to bottom,
arms balancing
twenty cubits across the rabbit terraces,
hands extending two staffs -
at dawn a gateway,
night unlocks,
the god waltzes downward
to his altar
under the young green yew-tree).

How do we know
this dancer didn’t eat human hearts,
captives, pitiful boys and girls,
the Sussex minotaur -
Who knew? Who dreaded?
Old Bishop Who and When?
Then ever so much later,
still a fear at night of the clouds wheeling,
ah vicar.

Just the yew-tree stands
as big as a mammoth’s cave
behind the church
built square by Augustine
to cut off the jumpline
- after the god was hung out dry,
flattened in Palestine,
spread-eagled by Empire and Pope.
What jollities lost heart,
or cruelties, in the grass trace,
what grace came out of the hill,
what lanky
descent of the chalk aisles,
clerestory of sunlight,
pillars of rain showers.

Stand under the strange tree
crutched
with a hundred dicta,
a mighty cuphoard of doctrines,
bats’ droppings,
branch groaning on branch,
library of howling rain, wind,
scritch owl, dark watchout robin.
Praise the shoulders, the lissom hills,
our steep climbs, our trudge,
the sky, the clouds,
the hair whirling in our mouth,,
the wind, the rainbow,
blackberries in the rainbow’s cup -

Into the gateway,
remember the clambered year,
a fruit,
a man in the grass.

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Seeing What You Made

To Mimi

From Birthday Volume for Mimi Khalvati, ed: E A Markham (in loving memory)

Without thinking, a moonlit flood,
white as a cherry-tree in jubilance.
Your mirror-tree refracted somehow

to a moon in full flood: this mirror-moon,
my quite misremembered dazzle,
stood in a garden, in a Highgate road.

But you, for whom your mirror-tree
flickered dark and light, and the room
kept a diary of that self,

you’re there and gone, to your other rooms.
Also come gold, snow, lavender, amber…
Before, your grandmother, sugar-breaker,

morning maker of the sugar-bowl.
"‘Salaam, my daughter-lovely-as-the-moon,’"
A childhood, a revolving house…

Your lines are your own silk routes,
tough, tramping your northern city;
myrrh; and kids’ laughter, in cold air.

Now the room notes the ‘acorn sea’.
And sun rises, and enters. Love writes
each room, each ‘pool of light’, from secrecy

to opened secrecy, dazzling, yours the gift.
Mistakes and all, I took it to my heart:
the snow-light on the bare ceiling,

its ruby heart, face of winter, face of summer,
watching how, not moon but love’s sun shivers
to the peacock’s spreading fan of poems

just as your tree, or mosaic in the street,
stood mirror, all that you saw and sang:
What is broken, what is made of it and sung,

the sweat of your bashful peacock of light,
the falling drop, your ‘pool of light’.

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Review:

Frightening Toys by Charles Simic - Faber
Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow by August Kleinzahler - Faber
The Given And The Made, Recent American Poets by Helen Vendler - Faber

Three American poetry books from Faber, all interesting and the best first: a second selected poems from the New Yorker Charles Simic.

Avoiding a too cute replay of his brilliant folklore heritage (his family emigrated from Yugoslavia in 1948 when he was eleven.) was always something of a problem for Simic, and still can be. However, despite some failures, some poems too chic, some too demure, on the whole they develope movingly from his first selected, published here in the mid eighties. Say 'surreal' to poets and many reply Simic. This is to diminish his gift of quietly walking the reader up an existential gangplank. In "Frightening Toys" there is no comparable crisis to that faced so harshly and movingly in "Charon's Cosmology" and beyond, but once again the migrant's angst is given Simic's specialty treatment. Irremediable doubt pushes its barb through gentle narrative or pounces with a backhander (folksongs are the "Sausage‑makers of History/The bloody kind"). Identity trembles during the amble into a dark shop, down a street, a cup of coffee, a child sobbing. Here's "Stub of a Red Pencil"

You were sharpened to a fine point
With a rusty razor blade.
Then the unknown hand swept the shavings
Into its moist palm
And disappeared from view....

On the other hand, New York itself has become one of his main characters, a vivid, unfair, expressionistic "City" occupied like Metropolis only by the frivolous or the starving. The prose poem pieces that hop around history and literature seem pretentious; his writing is more vital when, especially in the later books, he touches base with the old neighbourhood of the imagination, bustling, haunted, Europe its past, America its past and present. Youthful alienation has become something slightly else. Separateness, and the struggle to love in the face of it, are his enduring themes. At his best there is often the necessary undertone of some violence: the image of a severed dolls head haunts him: it first appeared in a poem of the late seventies linked closely with a punishing view of his mother. But here, in the nineties, he chronicles his parents' pathetic old age with great compassion. The journey he has taken towards expressing feeling without loss of ambivalence pays off wonderfully in a poem like "True History". Or here in "The prodigal son" is his mother

How slow she shuffles now
In my father's Sunday shoes.
The dog by her side
Trembling with each step
As he tries to keep up.


When obliquely, as in "Lost Glove", or, outright rhetorically, in "The City", Simic thrusts into the wider picture all his considerable powers, anger in restraint, tenderness, humour, fantasy, something else is gained, a voice of stature bearing witness to a general suffering.

August Kleinzahler has no argument with separateness; he bubbles like a verbal melting‑pot. He nips from Jimmy the Lush shouting drunk in the park over to foreign lit. quotes, from Gulf War military jargon to funny man macho: "If it's a dream /Give the projector a flip, willya/ Please /Get under the covers..." He knocks off tales of "Gladys, the killer and me" in Reno and of Madame Cornichon sighing for Ravel in Paris. But under the story‑telling (and speediness can't prevent some of it being flat), under the sightbites of San Franciso, New York and Paris, there's a self that's more sensuous and self‑reflective, unified by erotic love, leaves, flowers and the weather of the seasons. I thought never would come the day when I would hail a cat poem but his "Cat in Late Autumn" takes us movingly into the animal's light and darkness. Not forgetting his short wild bits of verbal brio like "Song" "Dream Juice" or "Jump Tune", for me the most interesting longer poems arrive at the end, when Kleinzahler's social and intimate selves get on surer terms. The meditation on a bitter Canadian spring turns notably: first a tough lady in a bar, then an equally tough but silent picture of winter breaking up, into which suddenly, at last the personal "I" breaks, hesitantly. The title poem is so powerful because its dichotomies stir Kleinzahler at real depth: big city and huge weather, domestic interior and the wild external. But perhaps more characteristic of his skimming the cream style is this from "Pieces of Summer"

On the subway escalator,
eyes averted,
pants snug as the skin of half‑ripe pears
In pastel rooms all through this melting world,
love‑thoughts, like cuttings,
have begun to take

Emotional thinness over longer or narrative poems has much to do with Helen Vendler's inquiry in her expanded T S Eliot lectures: a look at the modern American lyric. She takes four poets, described oddly both as "representative" and "arbitrary": two postwar poets, Robert Lowell and John Berryman, and two wellknown contemporary women poets, Rita Dove and Jorie Graham, whom I assume she would like to see better known here. But I don't think the uniting theme, "The Given and the Made" is best suited to do this for Dove and Graham. Vendler strains awkwardly for her common title: arguing as follows, that each of the four has made their poetry out of some given, "some personal donnee which the poet could not avoid treating" and which it becomes their poetic task to find symbolic equivalents for, in short a major driving‑force of the work.

Lowell"s donnee is "history", that is to say the task of dealing with his own highly political and establishment family history. We get a politically interesting, if dogged, survey of Lowell's lifelong attempt to write a total lyric history, one that could include both the public and the personal, history in both capital and lower case. Hence the turning point of 'Life Studies', hence the turn again into what Vendler wearily calls the "inflexible iambic Procrustean bed" of the later sonnets. There is an almost Zen irony, one might conclude, in the fact that it was Life Studies, with its feeling turn towards "the insignicant" (Lowell's word), that made the real history, since it gave poets a more democratic language to write in.

Berryman, child like the the Lowell of Life Studies of Freud has as his donnee his own unassuageable id, who he made into the Henry of the Dream Songs, irresistible, irrepressible and tragic. Vendler's theory of the post war American Freudian lyric provides the background to an excellent excursion around Henry of the Dream Songs, though the Dream Songs are more fun to read about than perhaps to read, nowadays. They date; for one thing the blackface. Vendler indeed makes an ingenious general point about that. However she seems to count the Dream Songs as a successful modern lyric epic. Henry's wise " Friend", she suggests, is not Henry's Superego but an allegorical Conscience figure and in this confluence of Freud and Christianity lies the poem's originality, expressed in a "comic equilibrium", a balance between "the ecstatic and the parodic." But the only real order imposed on Henry's (epic) linguistic mess is, she concludes, the form itself; nevertheless in this, the eighteen line songs with their retaining walls set on the linguistic floods, lies the poem's formal achievement. As a result Berryman was able to bring off a coup of language which gave American poetry "one of those rare jolts onwards that compell lasting attention".

Less satisfactory is the "donnee” given to the African American poet Rita Dove: that of her blackness. Not her only concern, it is admitted; three others are (briefly) mentioned. Nevertheless Vendler's compartmentalised look at how the issue of blackness is treated in Dove's book length sequence "Thomas and Bewlah" seems a wooden way to appreciate either the poem or Dove as a whole poet. She does set out well some introductory questions about traps and strategies open to black and minority poets. But the sensation of Vendler as (somewhat dated) white interpreter of black poets to international white student audiences is depressing. Is she the Ivy league's high tide of political correctness? Who is concluding what here? "More than any other contemporary black poet, Dove has taken on the daunting aesthetic question of how to be faithful to, and yet unconstrained by, the presence ‑ always already given in a black American ‑ of blackness."

Incidentally, where does Walcott's presence in America fit in? The concept of "blackness" as one of her donnee remains with all Vendler's good intentions obstinately white‑centred: if only that these christening gifts of hers seem to be bad ones, not good ones. She is surer when she attends simply to Dove's powerful way of building images.

Rather differently, the donnee given to Jorie Graham, her trilinguism as a child in Italy, is a slender reed on which to hang an ideas essay which seems almost perversely to focus on poems which Vendler admits are not Graham's best, and at times feels quite stuffed with cleverness. I have only, but with enthusiasm, read Graham's beautiful and ambitious poetry in anthologies: this essay may not I think bring her new readers, though it will interest students. However the last few pages provide a steadier celebration of what appears as a supple philosophical lyricism; Vendler, always excited by the movement of a poet's ideas, is too plunged in Graham's. But here she writes with heart. Forget trilinguilism.

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2007 CHOLMONDELEY AWARD
FOR POETIC ACHIEVEMENT

judith

What's New

SIcover

Judith's tenth volume, Sister Invention, is published in April 2014, featuring seventy-two poems and a beautiful cover image by Carolyn Trant.

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Carolyn Trant says of Clickety Clackety: "Wickedly grim and darkly subversive." Judith's newest book was published in September 2012, following a launch at the Lewes Artwave Festival.

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The Odysseus Poems: Reissued
Judith presents Odysseus' journey for a new generation of readers, in a new edition by Waterloo press. More in Books.

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George III Handprinted Pamphlet
The replica eighteenth century 8pp pamphlet poem comes in a scarlet, terra cotta or orange jacket. It is a signed limited edition of 50, printed in period type, black on period white on a specially made replica of an eighteenth century printing press.

You can buy the pamphlet, and see the press, at the Tom Paine Printing Press, 151, High Street, Lewes, or you can order direct from Judith.

You can also enquire about this and some of my other books at Sky-Lark, in the Needlemakers, West Street, Lewes.