With a jolting ‘trainsong to get us out of the station‘ Kim Addonizio from Maryland U.S.A. pushes harmonica to her lips and blows. A departure whistle, then the sound of the wheels on the tracks, slowly increasing, getting up to speed a regular rhythm, vocalising and breathing into the instrument, passing through stations not stopping, a triumphant blast of steam and smoke, till coming to a halt, ready for the first poem. There’s a fine way to open a poetry reading.
Each year Humber Mouth welcomes a contingent of international writers to share their perspective on the world. Last night three poets from America and the Middle East delighted, moved and entertained the Kardomah crowd.
Choman Hardi’s poetry seems to me to be about finding ways, to face the ghosts of trauma and exile. The Sulaimani University lecturer, was born in Kurdistan and raised in Iraq and Iran, until arriving in the UK to study at Queens College Oxford, in 1993. She has spent most of her life separated from her home country. This sense of displacement is explored in ‘At the border,’ there’s a memorable line about standing with one leg in Iraq and one in Iran and of being in neither country and both at the same time.
In the poem ‘Before you leave,’ Choman writes, ‘Wrap your language in plenty of silk‘ a wonderful metaphor about clinging to the precious things in life, like language, learning, tradition and the memory of loved ones.
A gruesome genocidal event in recent history, seems to have dominated Choman’s later work. The systematic rounding up of Kurds, total destruction of thousands of villages, and mass killings of 1988, form a framework from where Choman can bear witness to the atrocities.
The poem ‘Child of the pits‘ has holocaust overtones, the way the women and children are transported to the place of their execution, the pits open and ready for the bodies to fall into, as they are shot one by one.
In another poem, a genocide survivor is telling her, the researcher, that she doesn’t want to tell her story any more, that not all survivors want to speak. Angry Survivor will no longer ‘sing a lullaby for my dead baby,’ to sate the misery hungry cameras. ‘This is my story not yours,’ she points out, she wants to be left alone and carry on with the only things she has left, like planting cucumbers.
The series of poems where the researcher’s voice is present is like an attempt to provide context to show, different facets of the survivor experience, bring new ideas and test theories in an effort to understand complex behaviour. The verse is both survivor testimony and research report entwined.
Choman eventually moved to Devon, but even there she could not escape her past. As she continued her work, she believes she began to suffer secondary traumatisation which eventually led to the break up of her relationship.
‘He was fed up with me because I couldn’t be happy,’ she explains before reading a poem about the ‘open-hearted hills of Dartmoor‘. I could picture Choman seeking out the solitude and solace of the timeless granite tors and bracken-covered heath.
The final poem from Choman Hardi was her famed love poem ‘Summer Roof‘ – first love maybe a lighter subject matter, but even this she turns forlorn, when the flickering red light of the lit cigarette that so sparks the teenage girl’s interest and curiousity, vanishes from the rooftop and into the night.
‘All poets care about realism,’ the second poet of the evening Tony Hoagland states,’ Either to enclose it or get away from it.’ He promptly reads a poem about pizza and war. His closing line that starts, ‘I knew what they were protesting about…,’ raises a laugh inside Kardomah.
Tony hunts through his armful of poems, flicking through books, zines and a stack of bright yellow typed sheets. There’s a poem about that comes with a caveat regarding feminism insurance, called ‘The Wetness’ followed by a sci-fi vision where women have all the power and ‘the men want back in.’ ‘Here they come on their hands and knees, no tricks this time,’ The latter acts as a sort of counter balance to the former.
Announcing he has some neurological condition Tony reads a poem called ‘Ship‘ which describes his nightly dream visits to’ an ocean liner full of women, like a box of chocolates,’ This does seem on the surface to be poems to appeal to men and with his nasal and lispy delivery I didn’t warm to him until he left all the women alone and went back to nature.
The North Carolina poet known for his straight talking – diverts from the post-love vein and raises more than a smile or two with his poem about bears called ‘Wild‘.
‘bears are squeezed out of the mountains down into the valley of condos and housing developments‘. The residents of the town are prohibited from putting out their garbage cans early and ‘The penalty for disobedience will be bears: large black furry fellows‘.
As the police get involved, trying to subdue the rampaging bears, the poem descends into farce and you just know that the bears will win out and then be back again, next year to indulge in mischief.
There is more urgency and rhythm in Kim’s delivery, an animated musicality, faux squeals of astonishment as her stateside drawl pitches up.
In a curious poem about a past lover called ‘Long Distance‘ a relationship plays out with an amputee, ‘last year they took a kidney and two more inches of your thigh‘.
Kim’s poetry has hustle and the Hull audience drink up ‘First line is the deepest,’ a poem that references everyone from Ginsberg to Larkin. Sure is a knowledgeable crowd inside Kardomah tonight. A poem called ‘Party,’ goes,’ pour me shit-faced into your car,’ voice falling away at the end of each line. A stain stared at on the wall during sex inspires a poem called ‘Florida‘, that shifts strangely back to childhood and the act of building sand traps, for a bullying older brother to fall into.
More of that jazz blues infused verse in ‘Blues for Robert Johnson‘. Not a new idea by any means, to combine poetry with harmonica refrains, it does make for a totally different kind of reading experience.
Kim closes with something she describes as a little ‘Spiritual’ recorded by the Lomax’s – these were biblical songs or work tunes and lullabies from African American origin that have been preserved over the years.
Earlier in the week poet Helen Mort had described a Kim Addonizio reading as one of the best she’d ever seen. On the strength of tonight’s performance she might just be right.