So Bloodaxe have confirmed my new collection Incarnation will come out in early 2017. I’m very pleased it’s official, as I have a last flurry of poems from it appearing over the next few months. I mentioned in my nativity post that the book uses a lot of religious imagery. After reworking folktales in Changeling, drawing on the equally strange and magical stories of my childhood assemblies – angels and arks, paradise and parables – felt a natural development. But during the time I was writing Incarnation I also travelled in India, Turkey and Jordan (where Gruff was conceived), and so spent time reading the Ramayana and Quran and thinking about other faiths.
Amongst the poems that touch on these, I’m especially pleased with versions of two remarkable female Islamic poets who deserve to be read more widely in English. I’ve reworked some fragments of poetry by Rabia al-Baṣrī, an 8th century mystic who went from being a slave to a respected teacher, and is considered the first Sufi to have set down the doctrine of Divine Love (which are forthcoming in Modern Poetry in Translation.)
And whilst googling ‘Rabia poet’ I also came across Rabia Balkhi, a poet from Afghanistan and one of the first to write in modern Persian. According to legend, when her brother discovered she was having an affair with his slave, he cut her jugular vein and imprisoned her in his bathroom, where she wrote her last poem on the walls in blood. It’s an extraordinary poem – for me about how dangerous the very idea of ‘love’ can be – and my version is published in the lovely new edition of Ambit that landed on my doormat last week.
(Still from 1965 Afghan film Rabia Balhki)
In other news, I’ve mainly been marking student manuscripts and reading Jonathan Bates’ Ted Hughes biography, but I should give a final shout-out for my only London performance of Ovid’s Heroines at the Rich Mix next week, on Sunday February 14th. Come for further elaboration on the concept of ‘love’ and its inherent dangers!