Two recent poetry collections examine the dark places of the world.
The Good News about Armageddon (Brick Books), by Steve McOrmond, looks at the many bad things that can happen on any given day. It takes in such hazards as a cloud of black flies or fast-food and the risk of Creutzfeldt-Jakob. One poem asks what happens when a hypochondriac flies to Mexico. The humour is deadly serious.
McOrmond employs multiple voices but a self-mocking, dry humour is present throughout. The poet makes the observation: “How like you to turn your low spirits/into a global crisis.”
There’s a fine balancing act here. McOrmond writes how something might seem benign to one individual but crisis-provoking to another: portrait of the artist as a worry-wort. These are couplets of catastrophe, where a late telephone call must mean bad news but one can find comfort with an old pet.
One of the most entertaining poems describes the dilemma of what to do when you purchase a book of bad poetry. That’s no danger in this case.
Antony Di Nardo is a well-travelled poet and his collection Alien, Correspondent (Brick Books) centres on his time in Beirut.
His is a non-partisan, hard-hitting take of the city during times of crisis: the Israeli attack in 2006 and a Hezbollah militia operation two years later.
In one poem, Di Nardo casts Beirut as a sacrificial lamb. Elsewhere, he explains if you can’t see the Mediterranean from the city, it’s because “you couldn’t see it for all the burning/rubber rising.” He describes a city where a simple trip to make a purchase – perhaps to buy a book – can mean a body search and where pink, the most playful of colours, is a reminder of death.
The most powerful poems directly address Mahmoud Darwish, the late Palestinian writer regarded as their national poet.
Beirut is not Di Nardo’s only subject. The poet transforms a recent historical event from the ongoing Iraq War – the destruction of Baghdad’s artistic centre – into a meditation where even words themselves are burning.
Not all the poems are grim. The book ends with a suite of tender family remembrances.
It’s hard not to agree with the poet and see the shelling of Beirut a reminder of the impermanence of cities, whether ancient Carthage or an entire Chinese locale bulldozed to make way for some mega-project or other.
Or to remember his words “If that’s the acrid taste of dead flesh/in the air, then I’ve swallowed half the block.”