Author: Myronn Hardy

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 978-0-691-17710-6

The politically and socially aware poems contained in Radioactive Starlings: Poems by the award-winning Myronn Hardy cross the divide between his life in Morocco and the Middle East and that in the USA. In a variety of structures, including those of ghazal, sonnets and free lyrics, he draws attention to the problems faced both by a developed nation and by developing ones. Hardy is intensely aware of self within the ambit of an oppressed heritage that has been compelled to fight for its very right to exist.

The metaphor of radioactive starlings, especially in terms of Hardy’s viewing of the leading Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, as a starling in the contrasting cities of Lisbon, Johannesburg, New York City and Tunis, is central to the text. In contrast to Pessoa’s association with the ibis, which was the emblem of his own publishing house, the "Empreza Ibis," Hardy’s rendition of him as a starling emphasizes the uniqueness of the author’s own approach to situations that call out the singular and the anarchic in response to the overwhelming brutality and emotional harshness of oppressive regimes. Rendering Pessoa as the common and much despised bird in comparison to the sacredness and sanctity with which the ibis is traditionally revered opens the way to understanding poetry as a medium of communication of the mass imperative for survival in the face of dehumanizing military might. The radioactivity of the starlings can be seen in both a negative and a positive light, firstly as referring to the pollution and the contamination of contemporary existence, especially within an urbanized setting, and latterly to the energy produced by a multitude of beings than can bring about much-needed transformation in its wake. The innate and instinctive power of the individual (enhanced by natural imagery throughout) is counterpoised to the autocratic and subjugational power of the state.

The transnational character of Hardy’s verse enables the poet to empathize with the downtrodden across a broad spectrum of cultures, ranging from the Muslim (including “Astronomy Night”) to the Christian (most powerfully reflected in “But I Must Forget”). The universality of his vision brings the past into sharp relief in terms of the present, and, above all, his humanity is seen to permeate his awareness of present sorrows against a backdrop of age-old conflict.

Hardy’s palette is dominated by black (as in the repetition of “the black” at the end of each of the 13 two-line stanzas in “Chazal of Wreckage”) and blue (as in the “blue throat bluer than seas”, the concluding words of “Bob Kaufman: 1967”), the hues of the bruised soul and psyche. As well as portraying the sensitivity of a visual artist in his diction, Hardy also reflects an understanding and appreciation of the fundamental importance of music to the commonly held psyche, not only in reference to the instrumentality of Kaufman, but also in the geometric symmetrical patterning of “Orpheus Escapes with Turtle.”

From the smallest, seemingly most trivial gesture, such as a father tying his son’s shoes, to the broadest of cultural references (as in “To Mecca with Gold”), Hardy reveals his mastery of a wide range of poetic form that transcends the immediate to recognize the deeper, more profound universal symbols of life. A poet whose work is well worth consideration, Myronn Hardy deserves appreciation from the highest quarters.