The Wild Gods

The Wild Gods

Event: Launch – The Wild Gods 

Venue: Genesis Cinema 

Report by Robert Selby

A large crowd gathered in the upstairs bar of Whitechapel’s Genesis Cinema for the launch of Malene Engelund’s long-awaited debut poetry pamphlet, The Wild Gods, published by Valley Press.

London, I suspect, will be hearing a lot more from Scarborough-based Valley Press in the coming months and years. This publisher of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, founded in 2008 by Jamie McGarry, has recently been awarded a significant Arts Council grant to expand its operations. The Wild Gods – containing 18 of Engelund’s poems – is an arresting example of the high production values Valley Press prides itself in.

The night was kicked-off by Picador poet Lorraine Mariner, a member of the same Greenwich-based poetry group – the Nevada Street Poets – as Engelund. Mariner mainly read from her most recent collection, There Will Be No More Nonsense (Picador, 2014), drawing laughter and applause throughout for her disarmingly poignant and witty poems. Particularly moving was ‘Strangers’, about the vulnerability of “Those people who talk / to strangers / who make eye contact / with absolutely anyone”; how, she asks, do they protect themselves against those strangers who are “not to be trusted” and how do they “cope / with the brightness / when they are?”

Mariner ended with ‘O2, North Greenwich’, about encountering concert-goers at North Greenwich tube station making their way to the arena, and its beautiful sign-off: “you can / almost touch the expectation / and good feeling: for how could they not / be happy surrounded by those / who love what they love?”

Nordic imagination 

Engelund grew up in Aalborg, Denmark, and moved to England in 2002, when in her early twenties (“All this time,” she writes in her poem ‘Self Portrait with Mirror’, “and sleep is still Danish”). As the pamphlet’s jacket blurb describes them, her clear-eyed, often darkly haunting poems on love and loss “reveal a distinctly Nordic imagination”. Especially haunting – and, when read aloud by Engelund, sounding like no other poem you’ve ever heard – is an otherworldly, untitled monologue from the perspective of a young widow visited by the ghost of her husband lost at sea:

The Wild Gods Valley Press

The Wild Gods Valley Press

it months later,

after we have lower

only our thoughts of him

into earth (it dark and soft),

that he come back

that he rise from the bed of sea

and he come back to mine

“Once in your life I think, if you’re lucky, a poem offers itself up to you, so I take no credit for this,” Engelund said. “It just came through as this very insistent voice of a young woman who couldn’t really speak but still insisted on being heard.”

The widow’s “belly scar of the baby” that alarms her husband’s apparition (“i scream no / i won’t alone / and they cry what i done”) was leant extra resonance by the fact Engelund is heavily pregnant – “this grotesquely big accessory” is how she referred to her bump, to much laughter. This resonance only deepened with the poem she read next, ‘November 31st’, in which the narrator describes a morning when “that small bud cleared out of me / and we were empty even of words”.

And judging by how much weight each word carries in The Wild Gods, words are for Engelund deeply considered things; those in her poems seem to be filtered through, and revivified by, a characteristic Nordic reticence and the positive tensions of bilingualism. As she says of thoughts in her poem ‘Jakob’, words are for Engelund “caught in the lip of land / between borders, between spoken and forgotten”. She finished with the pamphlet’s closing poem, ‘Fire Walking’, which possesses an opening that requires no accompanying commentary as to why Engelund is a poet who, though soft of voice, has a room hanging on every word when she speaks:

August, the burning month;

the field ripened into gold,

mustard flowers slippery with yellow

and the wild rye restless, swaying

its thousand bodies in a dance for gods.

Report by Robert Selby

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