On Mr Covid, Dragons and Ghosts
Our read of the day on the 9th of August 2020 is Mandy Pannett’s review of Jocelyn Simms’ Tickling the Dragon. Featured in this book is the poem ‘Les Fleurs d’Azur’ with which Simms won the first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition in May 2016.
Our blast from the past today is ‘Ghosts’ – a poem by Durlabh Singh, author of Poems of Excellence. ‘Ghosts’ first appeared in Sentinel Poetry (Online) in May 2003.
Today, I have also chosen to give you a break from seeing a plug of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition closing on 31st October to be judged by Roger Elkin. This does not in any way at all mean that if you have been thinking of entering this weekend you should not do so. Chuckle! Sip coffee! Go on then, click on this link and do something about prizing your poem.
Finally, if today’s weather is great where you live, enjoy it to the max, responsibly, in safety. Please, please, don’t play chicken with that fellow Mr Covid. He does not play fair. Have a brilliant Sunday and be ready for a productive and blessed week ahead.
- Nnorom Azuonye.
Read of the day
Title: TICKLING THE DRAGON
Author: Jocelyn Simms
Publisher: Circaidy Gregory Press
Reviewer: MANDY PANNETT
Tickling the Dragon by Jocelyn Simms is a stunningly original and moving compilation of poetry, factual information, photographs and individual testimonies about the agony inflicted on the people of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and elsewhere. Tragedy on a massive scale.
The book, which the author describes as her ‘journey of discovery’ begins with sixteen of her own poems followed by historical notes. In the second part, ironically called ‘Island in the Sun’ we are confronted by the chilling impact of photographs taken and postcards with cheerful messages written at the time.
First, the poems. A kaleidoscope of grief though skilfully pared down and understated. Syntax shifts from poem to poem, voices speak in the first person, third person, as witnesses, survivors, as suffering animals. There is a wide range of tones – conversational, colloquial, detached and starkly factual, poignant and wonderfully lyrical. Throughout, there are undertones of irony – codenames, military terms, endearing nicknames for bombs juxtaposed with appalling, barbarous details.
There is an emphasis on time in the poems. The first poem in the sequence, ‘Cutie’ begins in 1918 at an apparently innocuous camp on Lake Ontario where a ‘brilliant boy’ is staying. A boy, they say, who is ‘brighter than a thousand suns.’ An optimistic beginning but the tone turns ominous as we are presented with shocking details about the boy being bullied and tied up as his genitals are covered with green paint. A clever twist in the last lines reveals the fourteen year old victim is the young Oppenheimer. ‘It must have been hell,’ is the author’s ironic comment.
The poem ‘Enola Gay’ continues the focus on time for this was the title of an anti-war song in 1980 with lyrics that contain the phrase about the fatal moment when the first atomic bomb was dropped: ‘it’s eight-fifteen, that’s the time it’s always been’. There are colours too: after the bomb the sky is ‘the prettiest blues and pinks’ while the carcass of Hiroshima leaves ‘a boiling rainbow’.
Jocelyn Simms has written a superb set of poems for Tickling the Dragon. The one that stands out for me for poignancy and sheer quality of writing is ‘Les Fleurs d’Azur’. The setting is Hiroshima, 6th- 8th August 1945. Horrors are depicted – clearly but without comment: ‘The undead, open-mouthed,/gulp as globules of black rain fall.’ When the mother discovers her daughter ‘A white liquid oozes from her. Maggots/spawn in yellow wounds.’ Horrors in abundance, almost too painful to read. But there is beauty as well, and compassion. The theme of this poem, in spite of everything, is love.
Following on from the remarkable set of poems in Tickling the Dragon we are given brief notes on the historical background – the facts, the statements, the evidence of secrecy, connivance, betrayal, the dreadful emphasis on measuring, testing, experimenting with no responsibility taken for actions but only a total indifference to life.
A skilfully presented section but then we have the impact of original photographs lovingly preserved by families – the young men on a burnt beach smiling into the camera, the postcards sent home with messages of hope saying that all will be well.
And as a backcloth to the images, the notes, the poems, we have all the un-written words, the un-heard voices of the dead and dying.
Tickling the Dragon is outspoken, brave and superbly written. An important book. Read it for yourselves and you’ll see.
It seems appropriate to end this review with Jocelyn Simms’ own comment and the quotation she has chosen:
"Until we take responsibility for our actions, maybe heed the Navajo chant ‘Remember what you have seen, because everything forgotten returns to the circling winds,’ the cycle of war, tyranny and vengeance will continue." SLQ
Blast from the past
So many ghosts in wandering nights
Clutching at the strings of the heart
A song of dissonance in progress
Sweeping away with long bony fingers
The partial parchments of the syntax.
So many motions in wandering nights
Striking the moon , thundering clouds
Onslaughting mind with sharp edges
Raising voices in apostles of whispers.
Starry nights in the processes of culling
The ghosts resident of the skies
The winds scratching at windowed pane
There is a turbulence in the heavens
Perhaps constructing protections
Against the shadows of the driven.
'Ghosts' by Durlabh Singh was published in Sentinel Poetry (Online) Magazine, May 2003. Singh is the author of Poems of Excellence.