Singing Bass

singing_bass

by Landeg White
Parthian Press 2009

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Revealing what it means to settle and age in a foreign country, this collection explores Portugal through the eyes of a Welsh poet. Poems that are versatile in form, sensuous in language, and cosmopolitan in range renew poetry’s most classic themes – love, language, anger, and mortality. Musical and passionate, this is a vividly written celebration of Portuguese culture.

On Saints’ days, July and August,
in these towns huddled along the Atlantic coast,

fishermens’ wives before the sun is up
flock to the tiny chapel on the cliff top

and receive from the priest the waist-high image
of Our Lady of a Safe Voyage,

processing with her to the harbour
where their men have already appointed the honour

whose vessel Nossa Senhora will pilot
that day as the familial inshore fleet

rounds the breakwater and puts to sea.
There’s never much trawling done that day,

just enough for a sea-fresh caldeirada
washed down by a good red from Bairrada

They show Our Lady their fishing grounds
where Ricardo and young Hélio drowned,

where the currents are worst on a rising tide,
and the choicest crayfish and octopus hide,

where they lay their nets in a half-mile arc
for tuna, and three kinds of shark,

or risk all, casting in the shoals,
chasing the mackerel or sardine schools.

They don’t leave off till they’re content
She’s taken on board all that’s meant

by men’s work – not like the priest
their wives are wed to, that holy ghost!

At dusk, still steered by Nossa Senhora,
the little trawlers head for harbour,

each brightly lit from prow to stern
with multi-coloured bulbs and lanterns

a rich necklace, shimmering in the bay,
then dividing, each boat to her buoy.

On the breakwater and along the promenade
and the jetty, waiting to applaud,

are mega-families of market traders,
clerks, shoe-shine boys and waiters,

the old remembering days at sea,
the toddlers in Catholic finery.

lawyers, cooks, teachers, receptionists,
policemen, farmers, and footloose tourists.

Wives greet the fishermen on the strand
blessing the image from their hands,

and restore her to her chapel niche
until next Our Lady’s inclined to fish.

(Matters like these I record in doggerel
to keep disbelief alive and well.)

I’ll do it so love confers life,
painting its thousand delicate mysteries,

its blank rages, its heart-felt sighs,
it foolhardy courage, its remote grief.

But in writing of the highborn disdain
of your tender and fastidious eyes,
I’m content to play the lesser part.

For to sing of your face, a composition
in itself sublime and marvelous,
I lack knowledge, Lady; and wit and art.

from “Singing Bass” by Landeg White


Reviews

Singing Bass is Landeg White’s eighth collection of poems, and it shows the author in fine form, tackling subjects such as love, anger and mortality with an immediacy and veracity that are heart warming. Expansive and internationalist in outlook, these are sensual snippets of linguistic skill that draw the reader in and make you look again at the world with fresh eyes, like all good poetry should.”

Doug Johnstone, The Big Issue


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Mau

mau

Including poetry by Landeg White, Jack Mapanje and others
First published 1971
This book is now available as a free download (PDF).

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Mau: 39 Poems from Malawi was published by the Writers Group at the University of Malawi in July 1971.

Under Dr Banda’s dictatorship with its absurdly stupid system of censorship, the pamphlet was a breakthrough and quickly became a best-seller among readers who had no difficulty de-coding its message.

From Josephine Kaphiwiyo’s Who wouldn’t want to strangle the red rooster (Malawi’s symbol) to Jack Mapanje’s daughters (Dr Banda’s dancing women) writhing to babble-idea-men-masks, to Henry Newa’s portrayal of special branch policemen in his poem The Lion, the frustration and hostility of these student writers was detectable.

Of the poets included, Innocent Banda, Frank Chipasula, David Kerr, Jack Mapanje, Lupenga Mphande, and Landeg White all subsequently published volumes of their own.

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Bounty

bounty

by Landeg White
DANGAROO Press 1993

Signed copies of this book can be purchased directly from the author.

Price: €7.99

Bounty brings a fresh perspective to the familiar story of the mutiny. The narrator is Michael Byrne, the near-blind fiddler employed by Captain Bligh to exercise his crew on the long voyage to Tahiti. Siezed by the mutineers, Byrne refused to sail with Fletcher Christian to Pitcairn Island but remained in Tahiti where his fiddle gained him unique entry into the society. After his arrest, he survived the shipwreck of HMS Pandora to be acquited at the mutineers’ court martial. An Irish minstrel, his imagination brimming with sea-shanties, he tells a tale which shifts the emphasis away from a quarrel between Englishmen to a heart-breaking quarrel between England and the South Seas.

The case is Christian’s mutiny. But your court
won’t stomach that Christian. It smells of
mercy. This tale’s awash like the Bounty’s
bilge with meanings no one wants. We were all there, you
all saw, Adams, black Matthew, gunner Mills,
by Christ, Adam’s mutiny! Jack Adams, John Doe,
every-man-Jack’s mutiny! But your Lords
need a hanging, not this tale rippling
Irishly like a stone in a green lagoon.

I remember the white untidy beach, my head
a washed-up coconut jumping with sandflies.
If my fiddle were jailed and not fathom
five in the Barrier reef singing to catfish
I’d strike up a jig the court martial
would dance to! Michael Byrne, Irish fiddler,
two thirds blind, on trial for my life.

I kissed that maid and went away.
Says she, “young man, why don’t ye stay?”

from Bounty by Landeg White

Reviews

“… I praised Landeg White’s last book to the skies; Bounty is even better. Actually, it can’t be compared this brilliant account of the mutiny and its aftermath through the voice of Michael Byrne, Captain Bligh’s blind Irish fiddler, is a kind of balladic counterpoint to Derek Walcott’s epic Omerus…White’s so light on his feet that one wonders how Bligh and Fletcher et al come across so vividly, but they do. So does the incomprehension, the belief that we were (and are) being bountiful.”

The Observer


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For Captain Stedman

for_captain_stedman

by Landeg White
Published by Peterloo Poets 1983

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Captain John Stedman of the title poem served in the Scots Brigade under the Dutch in Surinam during the slave revolts of 1773-8. Joanna (cover picture) whom he married was a slave on the Fauconberg sugar estate. He could not afford to buy her freedom and suffered the agony of her public auction and of seeing their son born into slavery. His Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, with sketches by the author engraved by William Blake, is a neglected classic – neglected partly because Surinam is small and poor and unimportant but also because Stedman has been unfortunate in his editors who have viewed the affair with Joanna as an indiscretion rather than as the centre to which all his metaphors constantly return.

She has watched him rise and now he falls.
The radio denounces him. He returns
un-chauffeured, Benz-less, trudging the path
from the cotton depot where the lorry dropped him:
his paunch is heavy, his suit sweat-stained, he smells.

The children swagger in his wake. He mutters
at the anthills. It was tribalism, conspiracy,
his typists whoring. There was nothing else,
no reason. He was no different. The President
would learn things when he got his letter.

The path snakes through the village. What he didn’t
see on the ministerial visit, in his soft world
of secretaries, his bitterness sees now.
The place is full of beggars, primitive, the thatch
rotting, reeds uncut, thistles in the cotton gardens.

She watched him rise. Now he returns. What accident
permitted it and what appetites propelled,
she knows. There is nothing to come back to.
The girls have gone, the young men have gone.
At the black door of her hut where burning cowdung

stuns the mosquitoes, she awaits her son.

from For Captain Stedman by Landeg White

Reviews

“White deploys his verse forms – terza rima, syllabics, stress-count lines, free verse – with a fine ear for ironic aptness: the approximate iambics of ‘Ministering’ are wryly appropriate in an Achebe-like piece describing conflict between tribal origins and ministerial splendour, while the lush texture of the opening of ‘After the Revolution’ recalls Matthew Arnold’s ‘a Dream’ and that poem’s ‘river of life’. For Captain Stedman is a sensitive, carefully crafted collection, which besides its alert colonial commentaries offers other pleasures – West Indian speech patterns zestfully recreated, or an evocative description of flamingos – that make highly enjoyable reading.”

Times Literary Supplement


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Arab Work

arab_work

by Landeg White
Parthian Press 2006

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After a lifetime of travelling, and six books of poetry on the move, Landeg White in Arab Work is trying something new – with poems about settling, building and planting in a country where he is a stranger.

His chosen forms – lyric, ode, sonnet, eclogue, elegy, epithalamium – point to a new engagement with British tradition; but his older themes are still present, as poetry fights back in an embattled world with tenderness and lyricism, celebrations of family love and the ramshackle heroism of ordinary people.

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