Thursday, 25 March 2021

Crossing the Styx - aller et retour


Les mythes grecques sont la réalité qui règle notre vie – Ismail Kadare

Crossing the Styx by Joachim Patinier,  1524

Separations, partings, forks in the road.  There can be many deaths and rebirths of 

the Self in one lifetime, and the profound emotions that can surface, carry power. 

Painful transitions bring to mind Psyche’s descent into the underworld. Her task – 

which she carried out successfully – was to brave the dangers there and bring back a

precious jewel. 

Or the shamanic traditions of ritual dismemberment (to break habits that no longer 

serve us) followed by realignment – to free up new pathways of energy for greater 

expansion of vision and connection.

Psyche by Pietro Tenerani (1789-1869)

In this guest blog post, the poet A.C. Clarke reviews S.D. Curtis




Diary of a Divorce    S.D. Curtis  Arc Publications
Both the dedication of this spare, emotionally bruising pamphlet, ‘To my (ex) husband The Banker’ and its epigraph from John Berger, ‘The promise is that language has acknowledged … the experience which demanded, which cried out’, prepare the reader for the unflinching directness and honesty of the poems which follow. Diary of a Divorce is not a comfortable read but it offers to the many who have been through parallel experiences the comfort of recognition and ultimately a kind of resolution.

The book is not a diary in the usual sense but charts a series of significant moments in the breakdown of a marriage. In the opening poem ‘Anniversary Gift’, the speaker starts with a fairytale notion of marriage but by the tenth anniversary ‘I spit truth/like blood’. The following poems explore the widening gulf between the speaker and her husband, which, it becomes increasingly clear, stems from a fundamental divergence in their values: on the husband’s part ‘the cleanness of numbers/the sturdiness of marble’, on the wife’s ‘sweat and blood,/sticky words remembered.’  In the long prose poem ‘Story’ which draws the collection towards its close this perception has crystallised: ‘you went beyond the reach of words we had shared; entered the world of transactions, where all that is given freely is without value’. The division between the couple becomes emblematic of a fundamental political divide in which the world of commerce and the world of love are irreconcilable.

Yet this bleak conclusion is not where ‘Story’ ends. A feature of the poems throughout Diary of a Divorce is how they shift ground as they weave through a succession of emotions, never quite leaving the reader where she expects. The last of the twelve sections of ‘Story’ opens up the possibility of ‘trespasses forgiven’ and ends with the surprising ‘our weapon of choice, only tenderness.’ And tenderness suffuses the last poem in the book, aptly titled ‘The Last Page’ where the poet, having presented her own view of the relationship passes the story to the husband: ‘I pass you the pen, the book and the scream’. The last word in the collection is ‘hope.’

This is a remarkably assured debut collection which refuses to hide its pain behind a tissue of fine words or decorative imagery but looks clear-eyed at the failings of both people concerned, precise, unsparing, truthful.

S.D. Curtis is a writer, translator and publisher. She is the founding 

editor of Istros Books, a publishing house which is a rich resource 

for translated work from the Balkans and south-east Europe.  For 

anyone who wants to know more about this part of Europe through 

its finest writers I thoroughly recommend their books, which fill 

such a gap in translated literature. Just to single out a few, there is 

the rich and poetic language of  Asli Biçen's The Snapping Point

Ludovic Bruckstein's With an Unopened Umbrella and a couple I've 

written reviews for, Olja Knežević's Catherine the Great and the 

Small and Alma Lazarevska's Death in the Museum of Modern Art



A.C. Clarke has won several prizes and awards for her poetry. She

has combined her humanitarian concerns and her literary and 

translation skills by working with Scottish PEN to translate and 

promote the work of refugee writers. Her poetry collections have 

been published by Cinnamon Press and Oversteps Books, among 

others. She has the distinctive gift of placing herself in the minds 

and circumstances of historical characters, and creatively re-

imagining their experiences and their effects on others (Fr Meslier’s 

Confession) and A Troubling Woman (Margery Kempe)

Her pamphlet Wedding Grief, centred on the courtship of the 

surrealist poet Paul Eluard and his first wife Gala, is due out from 

Tapsalteerie this year.

More information about A.C. Clarke and her work can be found on 

the ScottishPoetry Library website ,

the Scottish Book Trust website

and Oversteps Books site 

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