Tank tracks in Babylon
John Ash writes poetry that I really love, and his new collection “In the Wake of the Day”, just published by Carcanet, once again offers great moments of hovering between East and West, ancient and modern, the personal and the historical.
Ash nearly drops his pose of elegant nonchalance once or twice when he edges close to the vicious sides of the contemporary Middle East and the insouciant West’s share of responsibility for the mess. “Babylon” asks the reader to “remember the shattered windows of the stores,/the blood smeared on torn newspaper … tank tracks are driven over Babylon.” More representative of the typical Middle Eastern condition, perhaps, is “The Cut,” as people rush home on a snowy winter evening and the lights go out – again. “The grid overloads. The power fails./It is like this often. We shift and change,/Slipping to a poor, third place.” And Ash has all his pithy poise at hand in this short meditation:
In the lands to the west of the Jordan
Olive groves were guarded by the soldiers of the kings
By night and day, and the destruction
Of a single tree was punishable by death
Or mutilation. This is no longer the case,
But I am not convinced of the improvement.
We’re neighbours in Istanbul, so I guess that it’s no surprise that we share many of the same perspectives, which I try to capture in down-to-earth, anecdotal prose in Dining with al-Qaeda. I wish I could get away with the grand historical sweep beloved by Ash, as here in “Difficult”, a poem in which he mocks his incurable name-dropping of ancient oddities, then unrepentantly wraps his poem up with the couplet:
Let us now consider with care the lost
Recital platforms of Sogdiana.