Poets Larry Beckett and Bernard Kops, review

This 1968 music video from the USA is called Tim BuckleySong to the Siren.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

Tuesday 6th October 2015

THE poet Larry Beckett’s songs have been recorded by musicians all over the world. Song to the Siren, which he wrote with Tim Buckley, has been covered by David Gray, This Mortal Coil, Robert Plant, Bryan Ferry, George Michael and Sinead O’Connor.

But Beckett is also a widely respected poet who has translated many poets into English, including Heraclitus, Goethe, Li Po and Jose-Maria de Heredia.

For over 40 years he has been writing a series of long poems exploring the intersections of north American history, myth and song and Paul Bunyan (Smokestack Books, £9.95), includes a CD of a complete live performance of the poem.

The book retells the legend of the giant lumberjack for the 21st century. Drawing on logger folklore, James Stevens’s stories and the Davy Crockett almanacs, Beckett’s poem is a modern epic in blank verse. It is a celebration of hard work from Maine to Oregon, written in the everyday poetry of colloquial North American English, loose and rough, bragging and unbelievable:

“Out of the wild North woods, in the thick of the timber/And through the twirling of the winter of the blue snow,/Within an inch of sunup, with the dream shift ending,/A man mountain, all hustle, all muscle and bull bones,/An easy winner, full of swagger, a walking earthquake,/A skyscraper, looking over the tallest American tree,/A smart apple, a wonder inventor, the sun’s historian,/A cock-a-doodle hero, a hobo, loud, shrewd, brawling,/Rowdy, brash as the earth, stomping, big-hearted, raw,/Paul Bunyan lumbered and belly-laughed back at the stars.”

Playwright and novelist Bernard Kops has spent much of his long writing life remembering and celebrating the immigrant Jewish communities of London. “Immigration creates a vibrant society,” he says.

“All the restless people emigrate. If my father hadn’t moved us from Holland to the East End, we would have been on that train to Auschwitz.”

Now in his 89th year, he has published a new book of poems, Anne Frank’s Fragments from Nowhere (Indigo, £6).

It is a small but important book, warm and tender, linking memories of growing up in Stepney before the second world war with an adult’s knowledge of larger, terrible histories elsewhere.

The book includes a lovely memoir about discovering Whitechapel Library as a boy:

“I am a locust and I’m at a feast./Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East!/And Rosenberg also came to get out of the cold;/to write poems of fire, but he never grew old./And here I met Chekov, Tolstoy, Meyherhold./I entered their worlds, their dark visions of gold.”

But in Passover ’38 he recalls the Angel of Death that year as “a madman on the radio, far away.” And in For the Record, he recalls the destruction of his family in Holland at the hands of the nazis:

“They came for him in Amsterdam, my grandfather David,/and with minimum force removed him from his home… It is of little consequence now so many die alone in foreign lands./But for the record I must say/they gave him a number, helped him/aboard an eastbound train./It was a little overcrowded,/but then they had so many to dispatch.”

And in the book’s title poem, he remembers her life:

“Once there was a place called earth./We had a garden there. My father died of life./My mother died of death./And my sister died over and over again… Before I go down in the dark,/into the night and fog, remember me./And peace will come. And a thousand centuries of leaves/and wind and rain and snows/will cover the snow; again and again./And the snows will cover the snows/again and again.”

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