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Gods of Babel

Judith Mok

ISBN: 978-1-907056-80-2

Page Count: 78

Publication Date: Monday, August 22, 2011

Cover Artwork: Hans Memling “Two horses in a landscape”. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

Click to play audio Judith Mok reads 'Song' from Gods of Babel. Record... play
Click to play audio Judith Mok reads 'Beethoven in New York' from Gods... play
Click to play audio Judith Mok reads 'Adio querido' from Gods of Babel... play

About this Book

This collection of poems is the result of years of wandering through different countries and languages. Music and literature are Judith Mok’s passions in life. Music shapes her prose poems with a rhythm and melody, as if ready for stage presentation. Her use of different languages is a playful way of pointing towards the sound of different worlds. Travel, love, self, myth are subservient to the Voice which remains supreme.

Author Biography

Judith Mok was born in Bergen in the Netherlands. She has published three novels and three books of poetry as well as short stories. Gods of Babel is her first collection of poetry in English. Her short stories have been short-listed twice for the Francis McManus award and her first novel, The Innocents at the Circus, for the Prix de l’Academie Française. Her work has appeared nationally and internationally in literary magazines and anthologies. She  has also written for radio and newspapers. Judith Mok travels the world as a classical singer.

Read a sample from this book

Yesterday I was conceived again

Yesterday they met: Colette, extravagant French writer, écrivain, femme de lettres, seductress. And Louise Bourgeois, infinitely great sculptor, artist of intense integrity, loyal and depressive, innovative, pensant a maman toujours maman. I had the two Mamans yesterday, two new people started making love and they conceived: me. In the afternoon they listened to Debussy and had the Faun dancing on their table while they ate and held hands and admired each other’s hair. But then, when the wine coloured their lips and the food satisfied their direct appetites, they listened to the great Sopranos, pulmonary women, singing into their lives, tending to their dreams and erotic nervous systems and they made love to each other’s minds and the soft skin on their bodies, large and warm, small and dry they conceived: me.

Now I am as green as grass, waving my arms in the air in despair, trying to catch that feeling of umpff, yes umpffeefee they gave me.

Yesterday I wore a blanket and I knew that the contrasting image down there, seen from my balcony in the night, was the reflection of my life: light swans on dark water.

Today my new mothers are helping me to develop this – white in black – picture of me. Merci mes Cheries….

The roots of the myth is a monkey maybe

I had seen it. Sitting there in the middle of a floating island drifting down the brown waters of the Parana, that long wild river in South America. I was standing on the shores of the Parana in the city of Parana in Argentina and I saw the monkey in its reddish brown fur, playing with some roots, undisturbed by the waters that surrounded him. I watched and watched smaller and bigger islands of grass and tiny bushes float down the river and then came the one with the monkey.

Oh, I knew other animals lived on these tiny islands like snakes and rats but them I did not see.

The monkey was mine. I had been looking at it lying on my bed back in teenage Holland, pleasantly hallucinating about the animal seated on the back of a sturdy horse looking down at the river leaning over towards the other horse that was drinking from the river as well. This was a reproduction of a painting by Memling a Flemish painter from long ago and I always wanted to know about the monkey. How did it happen to sit on the back of one of those big horses, horses that are now becoming extinct because we don’t use them anymore. Horses like Bruin, Brown on whose broad back I rode so often, bareback, in the woods and on the beaches of my early childhood when I was that little reddish brown monkey. Horses like the ones in the Italian battlefields painted by Ucello, horses that can safely gallop with you into your wildest dreams.

In my bed I listened to Dylan and the Band and to Palestrina and Josquin’s church music and the monkey never turned around from the painting to look me in the eye.

Until I saw it again now, this year in India in an old book about myths, in a dark shop. It sat on the horse looking at me with the other white horse beside it. I breathed dust and damp in the shop, drank tea, growing old suddenly while I listened to the man telling me about this monkey of wisdom and how he was part of an Indian myth.

He was also part of my myth; otherwise he wouldn’t have turned around for me after so many years.

I saw the monkeys in the city and along the roads and I even sent a picture of one to another continent as a message of wisdom. I had arrived in a place where it was time for me to take over the myth and take the horses to the water.

Little Red Riding Hood

The children were conceived with Europe
Raised in different languages
Baptized in one: English
We sit together in a large car
Driving past the prosperous Latvian farms
I keep my hoody up, up.
He hisses in his horny way:
“Your granny’s bones are out there in the woods”.
I recognize the Wolf straight away
He’s there at the back of the car
And his coarse paws are on me
Pretending to teach me his name “ielel”
Which means nothing but wolf in Latvian?
He’s checking out one of my nipples
Making sucky, sucky sounds
Of alcohol - fuelled saliva.

The woods are wonderful,
Full of mushrooms our driver says
So we stop to go picking.
The husband, the children
All telling their mushroom memories to the trees
The fairytale runs from Bohemia to Teutonic Latvia
How mushrooms are thriving on porous grounds
Their stalks firmly planted in mystery.

Standing at a clearing-quietly
I can hear them through the thick blood red fabric of my hoodie:
The same children, the same as us,
Thirty thousand murdered and buried here in 1941
With filled baskets in hand, just like me.

Copyright © Judith Mok 2011


Review: Gods of Babel reviewed by Borbála Faragó for The Irish Times, October 15th 2011

ORIGINALLY FROM the Netherlands, Judith Mok is a multilingual poet and classical singer who travels the world. Her debut collection in English, Gods of Babel (Salmon Poetry, €12), is an assortment of prose poems and shorter lyrics that span several countries, languages and poetic personae. Mok is one of Ireland’s immigrant poets; as such, her work provides a glimpse into the cultural world of this community, heterogeneous as it is.

Many of the poems in the volume contemplate questions of belonging and identity, such as the lyrical Amsterdam Sunday, which, mourning a lost childhood landscape, concludes that “My Sunday is a Dublin one”. 

Music is an overarching theme, and there are several attempts at capturing the magic of singing, with the best of them conveying some sense of wonder and amazement:

Or we could walk on
Through the Soukh in Istanbul
And pick up small, shining items
Like the particles of sound that
Emerge from my throat when I sing
Breakable butterflies
That you would like to catch

Gods of Babel contains some beautiful imagery and promising ideas...

Borbála Faragó is the editor, with Eva Bourke, of Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland 

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