Alexandra Strnad
H Is for Hadeda
November 2017. 35 pp. ISBN-13 978-3-901993-63-3
£6.00 (+ 1.50 p&p), €6.00 (+ 1.50 p&p), US$8.50 (+ 2.50 p&p)
 
H Is for Hadeda is a luminous sequence of poems from a writer of great intelligence who combines elegance of expression with an excitingly visceral engagement with language. The polished surface, created by Strnad’s extraordinary dexterity and supple control of syntax and diction, belies deeper currents caused by the rift between older, Central European sensibilities and a newer, less urbane and sometimes less forgiving perspective. The preoccupations are spacious and wide-ranging, taking us from her Czech grand-mother’s Christmas biscuits and the ‘branches populated by pale aphids’ above the Café Meduza in Belgická to the mud-pool wadis of Thesiger’s Arabia, a photo shoot in the desert where the model is teamed with a falcon, a camel shedding ‘one bead of self-pity’ for its dead calf, the ‘aviation cocktails, silver travertine floors’ of the Burj and a young mem-sahib gasping in the heat of Hyderabad while dreaming of coldness and ‘a bed flanked by stalagmites’. It’s rare to find a writer who is at home in so many different contexts and elements and it gives the poems a constant sense of openness to different traditions of thought, of kinetically travelling forwards, of renewal and surprise; a wonderful, life-affirming debut.”
Jenny Lewis

“These are poems of sensuous and edgy detail, alert to the beautiful fascination of the world’s unspoken and ancient dramas – ‘the fury is there: / a dark pip in an old fruit’ (“Prayer”) – all charged with a distinctive acuteness of observation. The collection’s canvas is wide – Eastern Europe, Southern Africa, the desert regions of the Gulf – but Strnad’s attention to the shimmer of danger and darkness is micro-precise, not least in her memorable title poem: ‘she / doesn't mind, if his feathers are wood ash, his // dull eyes two burnt almond shells, his love call / a slasher-film scream’. A fascinating debut by a poet to watch.”
Jane Draycott


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Table of Contents


Excerpts from H Is for Hadeda

Christmas Biscuits

I remember the feel of that cheap, brown paper
unwrapped, the musk of foreign sugar, mineral
properties of milk from Moravia and flour
milled in the drier lands of Central Europe.

She began on St. Nicholas Day, an empty tray
slicked with butter, recipes written in a notebook
thick as the bible, dotted with thumb-stains, sketches
of the perfect vanilla crescent or almond bear-claw.

Each box received – a fairy-tale, sliding over
my tongue, caught in the gaps between my teeth,
a nectar pollinated by her rolling pin, made sweeter
by the flush of her love. She made them for me.
 

Hyderabad, 1943

Cardamom and coconut fill shuttered rooms,
women in silk cholis prepare the evening meal.
My grandmother at twenty-two sits in despair
before a salted beef tongue, sipping gin and tonic.
Kohl sweats below her eyes, her pores open:
tiny sebaceous mouths gasping for relief.
Heat splinters the lightest cotton dress,
he reaches for her hand, presses the wet skin,
anything more would be unbearable. Will it end?
The Doctor prescribes weekend promenades
by Musi river to breathe water-cooled air.
Parasols gather – the gymkhana’s sticky butterflies
shield pink-grey skins, homesick memsahibs
come to talk, drink chai and complain,
their husbands occupied with polo and cigars.
My grandmother dreams of coldness:
a bed flanked by stalagmites, snowbound meadows
in Moravia, the Christmas carp in his enamel pond,
her feet on a lake’s edge, frostbitten to mauve.
 


 


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