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Orpheus Ascending

a poem by John Gibbens

Smokestack Books, 1st March 2012
68pp, £7.95, ISBN 978-0-9568144-5-6

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John Gibbens hauntingly captures the songs and rhythms of love and London, as his poem snakes through a society in chaos.
Jenny McCartney, Sunday Telegraph columnist

Narrative poetry has been essayed by a number of contemporary poets, but few as successfully as John Gibbens does here. Add to this a passionate lyrical impetus and a gift for formal variety and inventiveness – Gibbens is the real thing.
David Miller, poet, founder of Kater Murr’s Press

Gibbens deploys an impressive range of forms and voices to dramatize a powerful poetic fiction reminiscent of high quality film noir. A skilful and distinctive poet for our time.
Lindsay Clarke, novelist (The Chymical Wedding, The Water Theatre)

It’s about all the things I'm interested in – the city, the country – total breakdown – sex, music, reality as it is and the possibility of meaning. Nothing sentimental but so much feeling … it is Tennysonian – the Tennyson of Maud – intensely psychological, formally varied, beautifully patterned and frightening.
Christopher Twigg, poet and songwriter

A take on the Orphic Mysteries that is, by turns, bohemian, pastoral and dystopian, using songs, sonnets, raps and satires. Moving and menacing.
Niall McDevitt, poet, songwriter, poetry editor of International Times


The story begins

When the evening singers had all but finished
A wren appeared on one concrete fencepost
And flew to the next, darted from platform
To thicket and, after a moment lost
To view, perched in a diamond of the mesh.
Over the post the bird had graced a calm
Round moon inched up from its branching niche.

Surveying the sleeping river of rails
While behind him in a faint electric hum
The train that had brought him slept, its lights still on,
Paul waited for the nine-thirteen to come,
Steel’s complaining chirp forerunning its wheels.
Parallel, tilted, recurring reflections
Beguiled the short journey, and the petals

Fallen from dwarfed ostentatious cherries,
Bleaching and drifted on the suburban
Ways he walked. Piling himself a plateful,
He sat down in the feast-littered kitchen.
A large-browed man was scorning the Tories;
Another, his dope-wide gaze sceptical
And glistering, mourned art’s difficulties.

He glimpsed her for the first time by the door,
Hesitating, looking in; quizzical,
Timid, and dark-complexioned as the wren
Out of the garden night. The light tussle
Of bracelets accompanied her quick four
Steps between the pairs of silenced men
Reluctantly resuming as before.

Paul studied her smooth profile as she leaned
Over to help herself – then turned to bear
His inspection frankly for an instant.
Fumbling his fork, taken unaware,
He scattered rice on his chair. As he gleaned
And binned the grains, he thought a slight, distant
Smile was on him – amused but not unkind.

From Part I: 1989 (Flowers After Dark)

An excerpt from Part III: Disorder can be read on the new International Times website


From the back cover

Orpheus Ascending is the story of the singer who falls dangerously in love, of the beautiful woman who becomes all things to him, and of the underworld king who claims her for his own. It tells how she is abducted and how the hero goes through hell to find her. Like Salman Rushdie, Nick Cave, Rilke, Cocteau and Tennessee Williams before him, John Gibbens recasts the Orpheus myth in contemporary terms, this time in a strangely altered version of the London music scene in the late 1980s, a retro-future where violent unrest meets government backlash and where pastoral idyll is only a precarious refuge from the perilous currents of history. It is a book about music, love and Fascism.



John Gibbens biography

 

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