Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 1998-1999

Translations from the Human, by Ivor C. Treby

reviewed by Jim Herrick

Translations from the Human is a substantial collection of poetry. It is at once witty, human, outrageous and compassionate. Treby is particularly effective at capturing the voice of others – his translations from the human. The poems are at times openly gay and strongly anti-religious.

The title poem depicts DNA taken from skulls to create four foetuses which become

A politician, a loan-shark, a fundamentalist
And their one success, an apple-seller,
Honest, compassionate, undemented.

He is drawn to people who are honest and straightforward, but delights in depicting the strange and outrageous.

One of the most powerful of the poems with a gay theme is ‘Skeleton in the Cupboard’, where the homosexual is seen throughout history in the background, slowly gaining visibility. Treby writes “it seems you have always been there somewhere” and at the end of the poem seem at last “ready to speak”.

The display of homosexuality can be affronting and amusing: the flasher, the youth who so much enjoyed his acquaintance with sailors, the man who has an exchange for a double-size prick. There is a touching poem about a lesbian couple – late nineteenth-century writers. The three male strippers, two of whom, after a macho display before the ladies, trip off home together. Love that is embraced at a disco, and then the skin “stained vermilion with Kaposi”.

One of the most successfully satirical poems stems from a newspaper report that “those deviants ... are still out there doing their best to push recruit and corrupt”. ‘All in a Deviants Day’ starts:

I’m just popping out to corrupt, pet
it’s a job I’d almost forgotten
each day I notch up a straight bloke or two
it’s no chore, they corrupt something rotten

Wit and wordplay are constantly present for this poet. I liked the octopus who played the Schubert Octet – was it fortuitous that it appears on page 88? The priest in the “submissionary position” is satisfying!

A central section of these poems is a cycle entitled ‘Candia’ (a Greek island). There is a different tone here: less brittle but with a gentle strength. Various points of view are adopted – a widow, a crippled child, but at the heart of it a man whose male lover has turned to a woman. This cycle comprises the most sensitive and subtle part of the collection. The sea is present in Candia and elsewhere. The very engaging ‘At the ocean’s edge’ has the incantatory quality of the waves.

There is a strong anti-religious thread in this volume. ‘The Courts of Pleasure’ takes as its starting point ‘St Cyril’s certainty that the blessed enjoy the anguish of the Souls in Hell’. Savouring the torments in a ringside seat to Hell is truly horrendous. But Treby thinks that at the end there’ll be “no self, no Heaven, no Hell, no gain, no loss”. Thinking of the horrific behaviour of human beings, especially in warfare, Treby concludes that

in the end, in his own image
man created God.

The volume contains anger and wit, great verbal dexterity and human pain and love. The penultimate poem – it should have been the last – speaks of

the true way to love.

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Created : Sunday, 1999-11-07 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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