Sunday, 20 March 2011

Launch of Sky Burial by Genny Rahtz

 Sheila Chapman writes:
Flux Gallery is an enticing place: its walls are not parallel and they fly away from you at the front door into an expanded space laid out and lit by Julie with her artistic eye, and decorated with Dan’s excellent photographic art work. With wine, nibbles, sandwiches and great music from Des the Miner what more could you ask for, except the launch of a poetry collection, Sky Burial, by Genny Rahtz.
Genny was featured in the renowned A Rumoured City: New Poets from Hull  which was published by Bloodaxe Books Ltd in 1982 and which featured a foreword by Phillip Larkin. She was supported last night by three of the other poets whose work appeared in the book and as T.F.Griffin explained in his introduction, they spent those years in Hull under the tutelage of Douglas Dunn and in the shade of Philip Larkin.

Ian Gregson’s poems included surprising juxtapositions of ideas and images as he invited us to consider a corpse and a parrot in the same room, and the The Paper Bag as the self which, as it falls from your grasp  'grazes its lips on the empty pavement,....mimes its unheard words’
Cartoonist influences were captured in poems such as Queen Victoria as an Owl ‘because she did actually look like one’ and The Elastic Band, where the English Empire is ‘snagged on peaks’ and ‘... snapped back in our faces’. Other poems considered the isolation of the individual (Traffic Island Desert) and Thomas the Tank Engine as a Cyborg at puberty. Ian continued the cyborg theme in The Breast  where Jordan’s breasts are cyborgs who are  trying for a new start away from her and ‘...have secretly acquired an agent’

Douglas Huston  treated us to a sometimes humorous and always interesting selection of poems, some in rhyme and some in free verse. In School Report an ageing school boy reflects on the past where a teacher was encased in his ‘black gown’s folded wings’ and indulged in ‘weapons grade rages’ and in Lines on Man’s dereliction ‘disintegration is where the big time starts’. Other poems included Report from up the Lane, The Quick One, Once Upon a Time (‘beyond mortgages’) and the Weather Regrets.  A poem, Poet Laureate Ritual Bath Murder, which is a skit on Ted Hughes poetic style and lifestyle, was received with great gusto by the audience especially when, after the murder, the poet ‘...went off to do things with your wife’.

Genny Rahtz told us that since childhood she has been greatly  influenced by American writers and by books about them. It also became apparent through her reading that she is influenced by cultural rituals such as sky burials. These burials take place where there is little or no wood to burn a body and the ground is undiggable so graves are not an option. The bodies are dismembered and offered up for buzzards to feed on and in the title poem of her collection she imagines her own sky burial where her brain
 ‘... is scooped out / and folded with ceremony / into my crushed skull’
... ‘as a feast for vultures, / kites, ravens.’
Genny also treated us to three animal poems: Rat Catcher, ‘I am my own rat catcher. / I let the beast go ... I allocate whole days to him’; Lambing, ‘You watch the sun rising as you walk home .. and fear that crows will come for the eyes of new born lambs.’; Desert Lion. ‘could you have known ... one day, Tate and Lyle / would embalm your story / on their syrup tin?’ She also read, in her simple and unassuming style, other poems from the collection including: Soft Fruit Harvest,  ‘the sound of canes rubbing / as I pull and let them go, ... I think of elephants / stripping leaves from acacia trees’; Self Portrait,  ‘I thought my true colours / required paint / and heavy paper’;
Before reading Geometry, Genny explained that there is scientific proof that  our ability to navigate and judge spaces is hard wired into our heads; the  poem starts with children  in US cities who ‘... learn asymmetry of 3D grids, / kaleidoscopic patterns / of concrete, metal/ glass’ and moves on to an isolated Amazonian tribe who know ‘... from childhood how timber falls / how shapes and angles / work in practice. They read / the time language of shadows’.

Genny spoke of her mother, who died thirty years before her father and who, because of that, was rather overshadowed in the present activity and memory family life. In  the poem My Mother Wendy – she says ‘I should light a candle / before it gets too dark’
Finally she paid  homage to her beloved  American painters and writers in Sky Windows celebrating  ‘the long grain / of Wyoming voices in Annie Proulx, / the laconic / slow transatlantic roll / of Black Mountain poets.’

Sky Burial by Genny Rahtz (Flux Gallery Press 2010)

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