From short lyric pieces to long poetic sequences, moving elegies to playful translations, this collection explores how a sense of place and displacement are often unexpectedly connected. The poems, written both formally and in free verse, move from old and new Europe to the open spaces of North America and the urban frenzy of its cities, traveling in dreamlike journeys andFrom short lyric pieces to long poetic sequences, moving elegies to playful translations, this collection explores how a sense of place and displacement are often unexpectedly connected. The poems, written both formally and in free verse, move from old and new Europe to the open spaces of North America and the urban frenzy of its cities, traveling in dreamlike journeys and vivid treks around the world. With versions of great European poets—such as Rilke, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud—and the first English translation of the Romanian dissident Liviu Campanu, this highly accomplished offering is about places and nonspaces—and whatever lies in between....
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Jilted City Reviews
Patrick McGuiness is an anglophone writer and poet partly from Belgian extraction. Jilted City is his second collection of poetry, published in 2010. I reviewed his earlier Canals of Mars here.The book's title is drawn from its motto by a Belgian painter, Henri Thomas: "O mémoire, cité trahie" ("O memory, jilted city"). This sets the elegiac, wry tone for a rather eclectic collection of poems. Its centre of gravity is a cycle titled Blue Guide, in which the writer makes a journey along railway line 162 that, cutting through the sombre high plateau of the Ardennes, connects Brussels to Luxembourg. McGuinness devotes a poem to each of the drab stops along the way. The result is an unvarnished but truthful portrait of backcountry Belgium. The journey starts in the capital, however, which give McGuinness an opportunity to demonstrate how well he has taken the pulse of this troubled country:I - Gare du NordArriving is like walking in on someone else's divorceproceedings. Belgium-wide, the Balkans, their weather,their slowly fissuring statelets ripening into crisis,averted crisis, crisis. There are no last straws;that's a law we Belgians learned too late; some of usnot at all. The rain falling slantwise over Gard du Nord:Brussels composing its island weather, Symphony in grey major, the nineteenth century still shakingon the rails, the twentieth a late train.A few stops down the line, the train pulls into the old station of Quartier-Léopold (now the refurbished Gare de Bruxelles-Luxembourg/Brussel-Luxemburg). The corresponding poem is a breathtaking evocation of our colonial past:IV - Quartier-LéopoldColonial moss and plumes of baroque fern ...a station like a mouldy cake layered for a forgottencoronation: icing stucco, pillars of sponge,then a heart of darkness where the train stops,a spasm in the network: the doors stay closed,and the windows bead with tropical damp,A moment in the striplit shadows, Gare de Léopoldville, then we ease back into Belgium, a bargesliding through diamond-studded blood and water.Soon comes ... ... Namur opening as it sweepsfrom view - quayside, citadel, river-coloured skyall widening like a dynamited gorge as you head intola wallonnie profonde, deepest Wallonia. On the back cover, fellow poet George Szirtes qualifies the tone in Jilted City as one of 'acrid tenderness' and that is exactly the key that McGuinness modulates into when the train pulls into Jemelle:XII - JemelleThe station halves the town: on one side a Funerariumbeside a shop that sells Variétés (of what?),and on the other the old station standing on our back,a haunting in red brick with smoke effects of brick dust.Then the industrial-sized rose window in the apseof the engine shed that's tagged with graffiti and levitateson a cushion of dry grass. Freight carriages rust to an autumn-coloured powder, their iron fineas gold plate, their wheels trellises for weeds to climbin circles. One, half-way up the hill, has that shot-while-escaping look of a boat dragged onto landalong a pair of rails that just gives up, notsuddenly, dramatically, but in incrementsof disappearance like lifeboat tracks dissolvingin the surf. The telephone poles along the platformbeat out their twenty-metre intervals and each timecut across the station name: first je then elle, more than twenty metres between them now, between us, each in our neutral, barely even melancholy place.The final poem is the series is this:Stations where the train doesn't stopEtterbeek, La Hulpe, Epinal, Rixensart, Profondsart,Mont-Saint-Guibert, Ernage, Lonzée, Assesse, Aye, Forrières, Grupont, Poix-Saint-Hubert, Habay, Viville,a rosary of Belgian stations and their names, all branchlines, sidings, or surviving as high-watermarks of towns that have retreatedto a blur of white lettering on blue enamel.Thecycle is squeezed in between two mixed clusters of poems. Some of them I read in Canals of Mars too. McGuinness' main theme seems to be the topographic and psychological terrains vagues of our postmodern condition. One poem, Article 0.5: The Right to Be In-Between, is a tongue-in-cheeck manifesto for 'the inalienable right to alienation for those who want it' and that includes 'Republicans fo the in-between, celebrants of the glorious prefix trans and all its panoply of cognates, cousins, second cousins, siblings, half-siblings, in-laws and out- ...' Another one celebrates the mundane phenomenon of dust that 'knows the places we have forgotten, or we never see, marking out the margins of our world (...) softening the emphatic corners of our lives." The collection closes with a handful of poems by Liviu Campanu, translated from the Romanian by McGuinness. Campanu (1932-1994) was a poet and lecturer who fell out of favour with the Ceausescu regime and was sent to Costanta (the very same town where Ovidius was expelled to by Emperor Augustus). The poems powerfully evoke the 'particular kind of precarious tedium that characterises intellectual life in a totalitarian state' and that naturally resonates with McGuinness' own bias for the morose vibe of a tired and spent civilisation:Morning - late morning, judging by the ripenessof the bin juice whose wafts the breezebrings to my open window: the postmanwith his letters from Bucharest, still wetfrom being steamed open, the invisiblefingerprints that crawl across your words to me Cilea, like the hands I imagine stroking youas I wank slackly behind swollen curtainsto the smell of crabmeat and the sound of patriotic songs three radio sets away.Goodreads doesn't list any reference to work by Campanu, so these translations are likely the only opportunity for non-Romanians to read him.Pictures by Stephan Vanfleteren