Angela Leighton has published many critical works on nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, including On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word (2007) and Voyages over Voices: Critical Essays on Anne Stevenson (2011). In addition, she has published three volumes of poetry with Shoestring: A Cold Spell (2000), Sea Level (2007), The Messages (2012), and the fourth, Spills, with Carcanet (February 2016).
This last book consists of new poetry, a memoir of her English father and Italian mother, short stories about music and Italy, and finally, translations from the poetry of the Sicilian novelist, Leonardo Sciascia.
Copies can be found on the Carcanet website: www.carcanet.co.uk and enter the code ‘Spills’ at the checkout. There is a special pre-launch offer before February 26, 2016.
Below are some poems from Angela Leighton’s new collection:
he said that she might return to earth if she had not taken any
food in the infernal regions. Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary
First, the scent of fennel in the air,
inflammable stalks of a dried-out summer,
Etna’s spills, god’s gift of fire,
and the cicadas chafing, their clock in our ears,
time at a standstill—
then, Pirandello’s saracen olives
tortured out of the stony ground,
stumped by drought and turned in time
to crippled twists, gaping barks,
an agony unwound,
and the hills infernally veined with sulphur,
fruit scented with the taste of hell,
that chthonic stench of a sapped underworld
and, in my piss, surprising, as if
passed in the stink of tinder and brimstone–
our old mineral complicity with earth,
filter of Hades, bitter mirth.
This acrid element will not leave,
but seeps and stains
through vents and craters, faults and fumaroles.
Persephone’s shuttle trails its taint
along the bloodstream, tricking the tongue
bittersweet, two-ways. Stone’s a taste,
the tale not done
but keeps a swing-door, way out, wait in,
wished-for, shafting like a miners’ lift-cage,
rooting darkly through a field of flowers.
And I, in some dead siding halted,
remember that girl.
ci può leggere il pozzo
dorico, che memoria?Salvatore Quasimodo
legible in a Doric
well, what memory?]
The place was shut. So we wandered away
to the bone-yards, the pits, the sulphurous mud
where a silty drain left a mulch of waste,
and a tumble of rubbish dragged windwards, grounding
its bottles, cans, paper-bags, plastic cups,
the weather’s round-ups, modernity’s flak–
this earth accepting all the muck that comes
from bin and bunker, sewer and sphincter,
with a gift for hosting waifs and drifters,
bit-parts, off-cuts, dross and compost.
Then suddenly, beyond, we found them: the shrines,
primitive, ancient, low-walled circles,
the Cthonic Deities’ earthbound cisterns
like calling pipes to the underworld,
where one lost daughter’s return compelled
a seasonal story through the gates of hell.
For a wish, for luck, I dropped it in,
to hear how far, how long–to tap
those silent reaches, recce the fall.
No sound commuted. The air was still.
An Almond at Halaesa
Another lost city’s unearthed remains:
Halaesa–the language salts my tongue.
Uphill we climb above the lingual sea
where seven islands point the sound:
Ali, Fili, Sali . . . I sing,
a wishing rhyme to rope them in
to winds of Aeolus – a windbag trick
that sent old shiploads quickly back.
* * *
I crack an almond with an ancient stone.
It rings one shot in the afternoon,
as shards of casing fallen apart
only make a sweetness taste more tart.
Punic, Minoan, Arabic, Norman,
the races came and left new names,
their antique dead in rooms of stone,
the casings cracked to show the bone;
while out there islands float, windblown . . .
What other boatloads, lost for home?
Necropolis at Camarina
June has parched the teasels that line the shore,
scanning measures of an infinitely moving sea.
Each flowered, dessicated core’s a punctual oval,
sac of seeds, spiked to tease the yarn
the ancients hung with loom-weights from below.
No one needs them now. They stalk our road.
The land is flat – maquis — but what are we,
wandering alive one day in the ways of the dead,
stepping lighter for all their ground’s settlement?
The sea has nothing to say. It writes epic scenes
or scribbles a line at the foot of each blue page.
A dream of homing heaves within its cage.
Limestone’s a quilted cold on which things grow.
It sieves the rain through permeable sinks and caves,
accepts all-weathers, chalks the coastal plain,
inhumes dawn-damp for reserve in the dog-days.
The lightweight people have leeched their minerals, salts.
Whittled to spillikins, sketchy, they’re roughly pressed
in foetal positions or, flat-out, laid to attention
as if some marvel held them openly amazed.
Dear fellow-bones, homed in yet prepared to go,
each perishable cargo stored in its hard wrapping:
tomba a fossa, a lastra, enchytrismos,
baby-bones laid in clay storage jars, packed
in wine-stained amphorae—goods for sending, safe-keeping.
So what’s the deal? Death’s an export trading.
Light creatures, sticks, with little to show for cover;
limestone’s a quilted cold — a first-last sleepover.
(for Robert and Tertia, archaeologists)
o muove un canto in questa notte eterna.
Salvatore Quasimodo, ‘Insonnia: Necropoli di Pantalica’
[or inspires a song in this eternal night.]
The limestone’s thousand eyeholes watch where we go.
Mostly, we see nothing in them unless, with luck,
in the sudden torchlight’s shock,
a bead, a shard, a tiny crumble of bones.
Deep in the cliff’s apartments things come apart.
Four thousand rock-cut tombs weather the centuries.
We’ll take the measure of them and draw to scale.
This art leaves nothing over,
but marks each gaping cave where a bone might lie
loose in the grit—discard from the rat’s larder.
Like this: long pin, with a twist of DNA,
a greeting flung, and met, three millennia later,
Our shy touching, clear as the ping of an ‘A’,
finds a life long gone, once nerved and riddling.
Old thing! fellow-stuff – an x records where you lie.
Did you dream some night-long feast, a banquet set?
or else, if tired, a sleep
safe in the rock’s safe-keeping, sealed and stored?
Strange stories grow in the dark behind closed doors.
Here’s fennel, capers, thyme, the cliff’s footholds,
then fig, lentisk, pistachio in the lap of the valley.
Beyond, the Anapo winds
twenty kilometres and more to the delta’s outflow.
We live, work, breathe, in the rock’s old shadow.
For other contributions by Angela Leighton, please follow the link below:
All poems on this post: © Angela Leighton
Published with the permission of Angela Leighton