Having recently(ish) started a Creative Writing PhD I have obviously written absolutely nothing creative of late (as I spend my time pretending to read up on the theory around literary fragments and cobble together my thoughts into incomprehensible sentences for my long-suffering supervisor). So, when I was asked to read alongside some great fellow Brummie poets at a Beat themed poetry/music event at Frontier+ Festival, I decided to use it as an excuse to write something new.
Not being a fan of blank pages or screens I started instead with Lorca’s Paisaje de la multitud que vomita. This wasn’t a completely random choice– Lorca was a major influence on the beats and, as the festival is themed around Birmingham and New York, starting a poem about Birmingham with a Lorca poem about Coney Island- well it seemed like a good idea at the time. Also, I liked the title. I began by creating a translation based partly on Ben Belitt’s 1955 translation as well as my own painfully bad Spanish —
Landscape of the Vomiting Multitudes
The fat lady came first
ripping the roots and damping the skins of the drums
the fat lady
who inverts octopodes to their death.
The fat lady, enemy of the moon,
racing through streets and deserted buildings
and leaving in corners the tiny skulls of pigeons
and raising the furies of long stale banquets
and summoning the devil of bread from the slopes of heaven
and craving filtered light in subterranean circuits.
They are cemeteries, I know they are cemeteries
and the sorrow of kitchens sunk deep in the silt,
they are the dead, the pheasants and the apples of another time
pressing down on our throat.
Then came the whispering from the jungle of vomit
with the empty women, with children of molten wax,
with trees fermenting and tireless waiters
serving platters of salt beneath saliva harps.
Nothing else for it, son, Puke! Ain’t no other way.
Not the vomit of hussars on the breasts of their prostitutes,
nor the sick of the cat that accidentally swallowed a frog.
But the dead that scratch with their hands of dirt
at the flint gateways where the clouds and desserts are rotting.
The fat lady came first
with the crowds from the boats, the bars and the gardens.
The vomit gently stirring the drums
amongst the children of blood
who ask protection of the moon.
Alas! Alas! Alas!
This look on my face was me, but is no longer mine,
this look that trembles naked in alcohol
and launching incredible ships
to the anemones by the docks.
I fight with this look
that flows from the waves that no dawn dares,
I, poet without arms, adrift
in the vomiting multitudes,
without even a horses enthusiasm to crop
the thick moss of my temples.
But the fat lady went first
and the crowds searched for pharmacies
where tropical bitters are found.
And only when they raised the flag and the first dogs arrived
did the whole city gather together at the railings of the pier.
This I then put through my own patented process of corruption and betrayal to create a spoken-word poem about my memories of Birmingham as a teenager.
After enjoying some great poetry and beat inspired music I headed out on the town and got memory obliteratingly drunk for old times sake.