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Rosie Jackson pays tribute to co-author Graham Burchell (1950–2021)

Rosie Jackson and Graham Burchell worked together on Two Girls and a Beehive, their wonderful collection of poems inspired by Stanley Spencer. Sadly, Graham died in May of this year. Rosie Jackson writes here about how she met Graham, how the collaboration came about, and his legacy.

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I first met Graham at a reading I gave for Exeter’s Uncut Poets, 2016. I was promoting my collection The Light Box, which included a handful of poems about Stanley and Hilda Spencer, whose work and lives had long fascinated me. A few days later, Graham wrote to say how much he liked the poems, that he too had some Spencer poems, and would I like to collaborate on a collection. I didn’t hesitate. I enjoy the stimulus of dialogue and soon we were both submitting poems to the 2017 Cookham Festival Spencer Poetry Competition (whose excellent anthology of short-listed poems is also published by Two Rivers Press). I was fortunate to win 1st prize, which further boosted our enthusiasm and gave me the confidence to submit our final collection to Peter Robinson to consider.

Not that Graham and I wrote poems ‘to’ each other. It wasn’t a poetry dialogue in that sense. Rather we wrote pieces in response to paintings or aspects of the Spencer life story that most intrigued us. The poems were not done chronologically, nor in the sequence in which they now appear. We emailed each other with new poems, gave critical feedback, and a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ or ‘maybe’ to inclusion. Of 60 poems in the final version of Two Girls and a Beehive, we wrote 30 each, and another 20 or so were excluded as not quite up to scratch. I had the utmost respect for and trust in Graham’s critical judgement. It was always considered, sensitive, spot-on. And throughout the whole process he sustained his deep commitment to the project. I felt our voices complemented each other really well, his poems moving towards the war paintings, social history, a wry view of Spencer the brilliant artist and fallible man; mine focussing on Hilda and issues of relationship, art, spiritual differences and gender politics.

Sadly the timing of our publication in April 2020 could hardly have been worse, coinciding as it did with the impact of both Covid and a progressive decline in Graham’s health. We had 30 live launch events planned – readings alongside power point presentations of the paintings – all of which had to be cancelled. And though we had a few successful Zoom promotions, and some fantastic responses and reviews, the book didn’t quite make the splash we felt it deserves.

By late 2020, Graham was subject to more and more medical tests to try and find a cure for his respiratory problems – he’d been diagnosed with COPD – and early this year, he shared with me and a few friends that no more could be done. He died in hospital on 21 May 2021, aged 70. But he dealt with it all with amazing resilience and humour. His last email to me from 11 May makes a wry comment about a short review we’d had, then adds, ‘Oh well, it’s better than a poke in the eye or someone standing on my oxygen tube.’

He leaves a wonderful legacy. Six books of poetry, 22 files of manuscripts (some of which will be published by Poetry Teignmouth), an excellent reputation as both poet and man – kind, warm, funny, patient, loyal, courteous, forbearing – and a huge network of friends and poets still stunned by his loss. His close friend Ian Royce Chamberlain stood in for Graham in some of the last Zoom Spencer readings he attended, and I’m happy to say Ian will also be reading with me at future events as we carry on promoting Two Girls and a Beehive. Spencer believed that life and death were one, and I too believe that though Graham has shed his body, his spirit caries on undaunted.

Rosie Jackson, July 2021

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Graham John Burchell: 1950–2021

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A translation of Baudelaire’s poem ‘Recueillement’ by Gérard Noyau

This translation of Baudelaire’s poem Recueillement is by Gérard Noyau

Meditation

Calm down, my Grief, be stiller still
You were calling out for the Night; it falls, it’s here:
A dark mist wraps around the town,
To some bringing peace, to others anxiety.

As the vile mass of mortals,
Under the cosh of Pleasure, this pitiless executioner,
Go gather remorse in the raves to slavery
My Grief, give me your hand; come this way,

Far from them. See the lost years bend forward
In antique gowns, on heaven’s balconies;
See rise from the depths of the waters smiling Regret;

See the dying Sun fall asleep under an arch,
And, like a long shroud fanning out in the East,
Listen, my dear one, listen to the sweet Night on the march.

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Gérard Noyau’s translations of his father’s poetry were published earlier this year in the book Earth on fire and other poems, the first translation into English of the poems of Francophone Mauritian writer René Noyau (1911–1984)

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Baudelaire’s ‘Chant d’Automne’ translated by Ian Brinton

‘Chant d’Automne’ was written in November 1859 as an address to Marie Daubrun, an actress with whom Baudelaire had hoped to set up home. This dream of a settled life came to nothing as she chose to live with a former lover, the poet Théodore de Banville. This translation is dedicated to Leo Walsh.

Elegy for Autumn

I

Soon shall we be immersed in shadowed cold;
Farewell brief brightness of our short-lived summer!
I listen to the deathly thud of logs
Which echo round the pavements of our yards.

Winter breaks again through my door: anger,
Bitterness, shivering and fear, forced labour;
And like the sun buried in a frozen hell
My heart shall be no more than one iced block of red.

Shaking I listen to every log that falls;
The erection of a scaffold has no more doom-like sound.
My soul is like a tower which crumbles
In response to an unchecked battering-ram.

My cradle is pounded by the never-ceasing blows,
A coffin nailed in haste, but yet for whom?
Yesterday was summer, enter autumn!
And the pealing of the bell announces ‘Gone’!

II

I love the green hue of your oval eyes
My still Muse, but all today is sour
And neither the chamber nor the hearthside of your love
Is worth a glint of sunlight on the sea.

And yet reveal your care my tender love,
Be mother to my erring, graceless ways;
As lover or as sister, shed a fleeting sweetness
Of autumn colour or a sun that sinks to rest.

Brief request – the jaws of death are open!
Let me place my forehead on your lap
To taste what was the burning white of summer
In the yellow rays and sweetness of the Fall.

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See also:

Crowds – a new translation of a Baudelaire prose poem from 1861

The Cracked Bell – a new translation by Ian Brinton

Le Serpent Qui Danse – a translation by Ian Brinton

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Ian Brinton’s imaginative and haunting new translations of the 18 poems in the ‘Tableaux Parisiens’ section of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal are published in Charles Baudelaire Paris Scenes (July 2021).

More information here

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Udi Levy’s translations of René Noyau’s poem Fierté into German and Hebrew

Udi Levy came across René Noyau’s poem Fierté as the result of the friendship with his granddaughter. He was moved by it and translated it into German and Hebrew. Udi is an accomplished translator of poetry and prose (Hebrew-German). His translations of the Israeli poet Agi Mishol to German will be published soon.

Here is Fierté in its original French, followed by Udi Levy’s translations.

Fierté (1939)

Mes mains avaient appris a t’ àppeler parmi les foules.
Je t’avais reconnue au signe simple de la joie
Et nous sommes restés longtemps à regarder
Les hommes qui passaient au son tumultueux des cuivres de l’amour.

Puis tu m’as demandé d’oublier comme on demande à boire…
Je t’ai tendu ma grande coupe débordante de silence.
Et depuis, entre nous, il existe un regard
Don’t la lumière est déchirante comme un cri !

Stolz

Meine Hände lernten dich aus der Menge zu rufen
Ich erkannte dich am einfachen Zeichen der Freude
Und wir verweilten lange blickend
Die Menschen, die das Schillern der Liebe durchqueren.

Dann batest du mich zu vergessen, wie man zu trinken bittet…
Und ich reichte den grossen überlaufenden Kelch der Stille.
Und seither besteht unter uns ein blicken
Im Licht, zerreissend wie ein Schrei!

Fierte translation into Hebrew by Udi Levy 2021

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Fierté appears in Earth on fire and other poems, which presents a selection of René Noyau’s poems in their original French and in English translation.

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A new poem by John Froy

An Egret Moves North

Wren, robin, dunnock, rat
Mandarin ducks in a raft of eight
great-crested grebe, cormorant
Canada and Egyptian geese
on a winter’s afternoon around the lake –
this strangely vacant campus
the traffic now distant, peripheral.
Listen!
Shrill coot’s tewk, moorhen curruc
laughing kwarr of black-headed gulls
perched on the underwater bench
and now a pair of dabbling gadwall
the monogamous shovelers
and squawking
the usurper rose-ringed parakeet.
Then,
true litmus of the change
a little egret, out of the water
showing the world its yellow feet.

~

John Froy is retired and now writes full time. He has published two poetry collections with Two Rivers Press, Eggshell: A Decorator’s Notes (2007) and Sandpaper & Seahorses (2018), and a memoir The Art School Dance (2013).

Poet of the Week – 14: John Froy