Imtiaz Dharker

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Menna Elfyn

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Leanne O’Sullivan

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Review by Hayden Murphy

Award winning Imtiaz Dharker was born in Pakistan (1984), reared in Glasgow, married in Wales. Transition is elemental to her poetry and her art. Her seven collections are accompanied by her own drawings: “where light ate shade”. Her previous collection Over the Moon (2014) told of her grief following the death of her husband. Now she declares “I will cheat death with art”. The time has come when “scars have been allowed to deepen/around a silence.”

Emotionally and geographically she is travelling: “standing at the edge/guessing at the clouds”. Scotland; “the train brings them in to Glasgow Central,/ the tall windows, the glass bridge/the Heilanman’s Umbrella lit/to gather them in”. Places where “there are things that cleanse the heart”. Times spent: “breathing out when you breath out,/ breathing in when you breath in,/stitching the night, stitching the air/stitching you in to spring.”

In London: “the elephant looks/at the cathedral. It looks/back. Their hearts tangle.” Now again she is in a place where she must “bring to light the hidden face./find, inside the resonating space,/the way to live, the living poem.”

After travelling north, finally she is home. Now the question is “What can you tell the children?/ They are out there, waiting in the dark.”

Menna Elfyn is the finest Welsh language poet of her generation, and Bondo is her eighth dual-language collection. The title translates as “Eaves”, and two sequences are central to the collection.

“Marwnad for Languages” has 15 poems. A Marwnad is a Welsh elegy given edge by being both gossip and rumour. Anecdotal anthems where “Language (is) a flower/I cannot forget”. Welsh itself “a hymn/lost in the multitude,/requiem for a world/that’s forgetting how to be.” Its language “a yearning,/ a heart that is seeking a soul”. In Mexico “two brothers/the last speakers/of a language/that was once a lantern/in the darkness between them”. Maldives “a deepwater fish/that shuns the shallows”. Between generations lies “the duplicity of language”. And now “each murmur we make/is quiet mirth,/and we will listen to the birds.”

“Aberfan: Poems of Unravelling” are 14 in number. On October 21st 1966 116 schoolchildren, 5 teachers, 28 villagers died in a man-made disaster when a waste slurry tip slid across the village of Aberfan. A day which saw “The flames of life so fierce,/ the embers, though; a cindery cold./Strange how hard they scorch the heart/though the fire’s gone out.” A place where “Children grow taller than their parents/but the dead are always an exact size.” Now “After the grief, how hollow the words of grace,/ the valley split, each family just the same”

Treeth, phonetic cousin to truth in Welsh, means falsehood. Elfyn excoriates “the enquiry, high office against folk... to the pure of heart/half a century of buried truth”. Elfyn the truthteller redeems the word by her anger.

Cork-born Leanne O’Sullivan’s fourth collection tells of her husband, Andrew King, being struck down by an infection that causes selective amnesia. He remembers only the birds and the animals. Humans are lost to him. In The Garden, a four-part sequence, he is given voice and recalls “I saw. Then I didn’t see”. It is that “moment, once it comes,/that here to not here. A quarter of an hour./ A whole quarter of an hour, then it was gone.” His wife is by his bedside observing before she documents that remorse is useless, now stoic pragmatism can only combat fear. Acknowledging it is “not possible/to haul you all the way back, into the light”. Concluding, “But I would.” O’Sullivan’s debut, Waiting for my Clothes” (2004) appeared when she was 21. There she spoke of her own fights with anorexia and related problems. Now she must survive another’s living grief. She succeeds. She travels in hope with the legendary Oisin/Ossian “I will have fine things, he says, and perfect skies.”