Bullseye Publications, 2003 -  £3.00


Ten poems, accompanied by Christine Edgar’s paintings, portray Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs as a clash of two different belief systems. ‘People of the Sun’, firmly in the Aztecs’ camp, finishes with somewhat over-emphatic capitals: ‘WE the Aztecs rule. WE make the omens.’ It’s as if Alan Gay can’t trust the natural emphasis that falls on ‘we’ to do the job for him. 

    He’s also very keen, mentioning it both in the introduction and an insert, to point out that he started writing the sequence on the day Iraq was invaded and that this was a parallel clash of two different belief systems. Since many accounts focus on the Spanish viewpoint, this one attempts to see through Aztec eyes. In ‘Motecuhzoma’s Doubts’: 

This Cortes rides a metal-footed deer twanging spears

from bows that can hit an eye at fifty paces.

He lets loose his dogs in children-filled streets.

He is the prow of a canoe slicing a wake

for the Tlaxcalans to hide in chanting their hate

as they drag his thunder-making weapons against us… 

    In fact it’s Alan Gay’s empathetic yet unsentimental ability to take the Aztec viewpoint that raises these poems above mere description. Having defeated many neighbouring tribes, the Aztecs had come to believe their own self-importance. They were therefore ill-equipped and utterly baffled by superior war-mongers.  Having always taken prisoners for their ritual blood-sacrifices, the Aztecs were further confused that the Spanish were after gold, not prisoners. Even more baffling were Spanish attempts to enforce Christianity on a people who worshipped idols and priests. 

    It was perhaps felt a necessary marketing tool to make the parallel with Iraq, but I could not help thinking it would have been better as an after-word.

Emma Lee