Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Blinkbonny, 2011, £2.00

 

Sphinx five striperPamphlets and CD £2.00 including postage, available from author at 3 Lonsdale Terrace, Edinburgh EH3 9HN

Reviewed by Richie McCaffery, Ben Parker and Ross Kightly

Richie McCaffery:

 

 

 

.......Tomorrow I’ll burn them all
.......On a private bonfire in the garden
.......With ‘Canto Libre’ at full volume
.......Coming through the kitchen window
.......Like a white dove set free;

 

.......Like the white dove of Chile
.......At long last set free.

 

 

 

The burning referred to in this envoi from Sutherland’s pamphlet length poem is of Pinochet’s obituaries in late 2006. This long flowing poem is both a paean and an elegy for the folksinger Victor Jara who was to die at the hands of Pinochet’s machine-gun wielding henchmen while a prisoner at Chile Stadium during the coup of 1973.

 

 

The poem reads like a ballad and has the pace needed for a vehement protest song. The reading experience is further enriched by a CD recording of ‘The Year of Seventy-Three’, sung fervently by Ian Turnbull to complement the poem. The poem itself is a melding of legend, fact and memory and posits the speaker as a marathon runner on his way to Chile Stadium. During the journey he recollects his first encounter with Jara’s music and how it left a lasting impression:

 

 

.......The very first glimmer
.......that perhaps I too might
.......attempt to be a songwriter
.......and bring something of my own
.......however modest
.......to that select table.

 

With this in mind, Sutherland seeks to live up to his mentor in spirit Victor Jara. The poem is interspersed with strands of poeticised history, making the reader aware of the events and climate that led up to the coup and Jara’s assassination. The major achievement of this poem is to show the tenacity of Jara’s music and how much of an impact it has made on the poet, the survival and treasuring of his music despite the death of the singer. ‘Approaching the Stadium’ works as well as a ballad poem as it does a history of the events in 1973 and is something of a revelation to someone like myself who did not know much at all about Victor Jara before reading Sutherland’s pamphlet. In the postscript poem ‘December 2006’ Sutherland laments that there is “no mention of Victor Jara,/ not a word about him/ or his ugly death in 1973” but here there is a personal and at times moving celebration of the man and his work.


Ben Parker:

Approaching the Stadium
consists of a 13-page poem and is supplemented by a CD, of the song ‘The Year of Seventy-Three’ written by Ken Sutherland and sung by Ian Turnbull. The ‘Seventy-Three’ of the title refers to 1973, the year of the coup d'état in Chile and the death of the folksinger Victor Jara which came soon after. This forms the historical backdrop of the poem, in which the speaker (presumably the author) runs a marathon which ends at the Estadio Nacional in Chile. Descriptions of the run, and the thoughts and memories of the runner, are interspersed with short prose paragraphs concerning the life of Jara, and the events preceding his death.

 

 

The poem opens with a reflection on the act of marathon running, and a suggestion that those who prefer distance events “have been out in the country/ a long, long time”. Coming on the first page of this long piece, it is hard not to read it as a nostalgia for the ‘long poem’, a form which is perhaps less popular than it once was. Placing Sutherland’s poem within that tradition, it does seem to lack some of expected depth and scope, while the failure to fully interweave the historical with the present is signalled by the former’s relegation to prose. However, there’s an undeniable truthfulness to the poem, and it is conveys the experience without recourse to exaggeration or cliché, while he conjures the setting with simple but effective grace:

 

 

.......Our way between emerald vines
.......parallel to the longitudinal highway,
.......the cordillera snow-scarfed
.......away in the distance

 

 

The accompanying song is a folksy protest-style piece and of good quality within the confines of the genre. I am not familiar with the music of Jara, so cannot tell if it is indebted to his work, but Turnbull’s voice delivers Sutherland’s lyrics well. In fact, the song is a in some ways more successful than the poem, and it would have been interesting to hear some more of Sutherland’s verse rendered in this way.


Ross Kightly:

This basically-produced pamphlet consists of 13 pages of double-spaced verse about a group of people running toward the Stadium of the poem's title, interspersed with prose information about Victor Jara, a Chilean folksinger who was murdered by Pinochet's troops in 1973.

 

Both poem and song are clear in the expression of their sentiments: the song tells us that the voice of the singer has not really been silenced because freedom has triumphed: as the conclusion of the poem says, the poet will burn the newspapers containing Pinochet's obituaries:

 

 

.......Tomorrow I’ll burn them all
.......On a private bonfire in the garden
.......With ‘Canto Libre’ at full volume
.......Coming through the kitchen window
.......Like a white dove set free;

 

.......Like the white dove of Chile
.......At long last set free.

 

Much of the poem reads like prose but there are some effective images such as: "where grey glaciers hang", "the cordillera snow-scarfed . . ." and "Chile pines with their crazy/ used pipe-cleaner branches" [these being Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle trees].

 

 

The Stadium of the title is the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, the destination of the run—but the poet/narrator cannot bring himself to enter the "dark underpass/ that marks the final approach". This is where Jara was tortured and machine-gunned to death in 1973, and instead the poet asks

 

 

.......Victor, let me lean on you here,

.......help me with your song.

 

 

—which no doubt is the “Canto Libre” already mentioned above.

 

 

In the end, if this is not a vividly 'poetic' work, it nevertheless paces itself effectively and though it might have been published as a short story or even a piece of dialectic, finally it does work as any memorable and moving poem does, by bringing the reader close to a passionately held belief, to a place where he had not been before.