Voice of Monarch Butterflies

voice of monarch butterflies


I didn’t come to this anthology cold. I am already following two of its poets on Twitter: the editor, Iranian poet Soodabeh Saeidnia, and my friend, Egyptian poet Ash Bahget, host of the #Ashverse poetry thread and a muse to many of us in his own right. I confess I bought the book purely to have the pleasure of reading some of Ash’s longer works. Twitter poetry is a challenge and a pleasure, but there is a different vibe in a longer poem, room to breathe and stretch a little, to let the words spread themselves out and show their depth.

I have a great respect for any writer who has the strength of will to write in a language not their first. Reading these poems, I prepared myself to be tolerant, thinking that quality might easily be hidden under a lack of facility with the language. O woman of little faith, hang your head in shame. Here is the language I have spoken from the cradle, turned and examined and crafted by ten poets, all of whom are completely competent in at least two written languages. I have never had the nerve to write in any language but my mother tongue, and now I find myself outed as a dilettante, a shiftless layabout, a poet only half committed to my craft, speaker of only a single language. And lazy!

Here I find images the mind cannot let go:

Even though the petals fell / blackened like leaves from hell / the tree is still standing…

-Ash Bahget


Moments of pure heartache:

I love the people / who left footprints / on my heart beach

Never faded / by waves / of other smiles

-Soodabeh Saeidnia


The power of desire:

Take a sip of me / I’ll drift under your skin

-Anooshka Khazaeie



I tried many times / to forget your words / to unlearn the memories

To untie the knot forever…

…I am prisoning myself in the walls of your words.

-Abu Sufian


Heartbreakingly topical:

The girls had dropped their head scarves and dropped shoes along the way

I used that as a guide to follow where the Hashtag came from…

From ‘Hashtag’ by Debasis Mukhopadhyay


The walking bomb / frustrated and scared / cannot focus on green gardens any more…

-Aimal Zaman


Breadth of scholarship: these poets reference Darwin and Scheherezade, monarch butterflies and sequoias, American poet Anne Sexton, Sufism and ekphrasis, the rose among thorns, the bird in a cage. These are words born out of the absolute necessity of the poet to speak to us, and in reading them we go on a journey for which we were not – could not ever be – prepared.

This book will have a worthy place on my poetry shelf, one day far into the future, when it has stopped being beside my desk tempting me, every day, to open it and read one more poem.

And I am completely in awe of the sheer reckless bravery of the man who has not only read Kafka, but manages to write poetry about the experience! I am leaving the final words to him.

…-Like a dog! Like a dog! I say and fold the page in a hundred folds to unfold a crease that never comes out.

-Debasis Mukhopadhyay



Only in Dreams…

Wheatfield under clouds van gogh from wikimedia commons

Dreams are odd things, aren’t they? Are they messages from our secret selves, communications across the veil, or just the confused rumblings of the subconscious? Or did I just eat cheese before bedtime? Analysing them’s a mug’s game – generally it’s a job to work out what on earth they’re about.

99% of the time it’s that one where the unknown thing is chasing me, and it’s dark, and I’m running but it’s getting closer, and I know that if I can just manage to fly I can get away from it by I can’t quite seem to get off the ground and I can feel its breath on my cheek and it’s stretching out its bony finger, and if it touches me I will… die. And thank goodness I always wake up first.

Or I’m running, running, not quite sure what I’m running from but it’s through a forest at night and suddenly the forest ends and it’s bright sunshine and I realise I’m just about to run off the edge of a massive cliff, and it’s too late and I’m falling and…

Or I dream that I’ve woken up in my own bed and I get up and walk to the door and switch on the light – but the light doesn’t come on. And then I realise that I’m dreaming. That although I’m looking round my room and seeing normal-looking stuff, I’m really trapped inside the head of the woman lying on the bed, and the only way to escape the nightmare is to wake up, to get back inside her head and force the eyes to open, but I can’t and they won’t and something really horrible is just about to happen… and so on. I hate that one.

Of course, most of the time they are confused snippets, with no internal logic or narrative structure – stream of consciousness stuff. They’re dreams. They come out of my subconscious – the same place as my fears, and fantasies, and the memories I’d like to think I’ve forgotten. Of course they’re disturbing, and confusing, and dark. That’s what the inside of my mind is like.

But every now and again one is different.

Once I was having dinner with my parents in a restaurant (a couple of years after my Mum died, so that’s true wish-fulfilment right there). The door opened and in walked John Barrowman (aka Captain Jack Harkness), gave me a big sweaty hug (he’d been running), sat down at the table and started chatting to my parents like an old friend. He then told me how much he loved my book, pulled out his phone and called up James Horner (Titanic/Avatar director) and told him he should buy the rights. Lovely man. Never met him.

And just a couple of nights ago I was having one of the weird, chasing dreams, and I was trying to climb up a trellis (the kind of thing you train plants up, roses or grapes, nowhere near strong enough to hold a full-grown woman) when a hand came down and hauled me up into Heaven. Odd place, all soft-focus and gentle ambience, with cottoncandy clouds and warm breezes, and the gods were there. All of them. And it turned out they got their energy from human happiness, and the very best source of happiness energy is the human orgasm, so they wanted me to oblige them, and kindly, all of them, took it in turns to turn me on. But I didn’t want to – not for them, it didn’t feel right – so after I finished explaining this to Apollo (the dude who’d hauled me up to their plane in the first place) he popped out and abducted a human male for me, so that I’d feel all right about giving them that big jolt of energy they needed. And the man they abducted was my old boyfriend, who I haven’t seen for about five years, and was pretty sure I’d completely gotten over.

Well, in the way of things nothing else happened – I just woke up and realised it was time to go to work. But for the rest of the morning I was completely, utterly happy. Thanks subconscious.

(pic Wheatfield Under Clouds by Van Gogh, from Wikimedia Commons)





All of the above.

Autism and Expectations

You don’t look autistic.

Yes I do.

You don’t act autistic though.

Yes I do.

Yeah, but you’re not like “properly” autistic.

Yes I am.

You can make eye contact.

Yes I can.

You don’t flap all the time.

I do at birds.

You flap at birds?

I flap at birds.

Why do you flap at birds?

It would be rude not to wave at them when they wave at me.

That’s a bit weird.

Is it?

But you don’t do all that proper stimming and stuff, do you? Or do you?

Every day. Most moments of every day. See this?

Looks like a tiny bead mat.

Yup. I made it, I made lots of them, for when I lose them. I get distracted easily.

Can I have a go?

Go for it.

It feels nice.

It feels essential.

Why do you do it?

I’m an addict.

But it’s not…

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