Vote for your February 2019 Pick of the Month!

 

It’s time to vote for the IS&T Pick of the Month for February and we are heading into the night: From ‘the slow, funereal booming of the wind’ of David Calcutt’s excerpt from ‘Wintering’ through uneasy mourning in Claire Cox’s ‘The card given out at his funeral’ and Ross McCleary’s ominous ‘I put a wolf in the basement’, rounded out by a disturbing birth (‘Cockroach’ by James Knight) and an even more disturbing rebirth – Kitty Coles with ‘Stonecutter’. Finally, we include a review of Roy McFarlane’s Ted Hughes Award shortlisted The Healing Next Time, a work Pat Edwards sees as ‘bleak, challenging, angry and exposing’ with McFarlane ‘destined to disturb his way into our conscience’.

You can run but you can’t hide!

Please make your choice from the entries below (or see the ‘Vote for your Pick of the Month for February 2019 in the Categories list to your right on the screen.) These have either been chosen by Helen and Kate or received the most attention on social media.

Voting is now closed. February’s Pick will be announced on Thursday 14th March at 4pm.

The winner each month will be sent a £10 book giftcard or, if preferred, a donation of the same amount will be made to a chosen charity. In the event of the winner being from outside the UK mainland, we will make every effort to provide a reasonable alternative.

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Pat Edwards reviews ‘The Healing Next Time’ by Roy McFarlane

 

 

Before I embarked upon writing this review, I had only read the words on the page. However, recently I had the very great privilege of hearing some of the work read by Roy himself at an event in Mid Wales. When I say read, what I really mean is delivered with the gusto of a spoken word artist and the passion of someone who clearly cares deeply about its content. Roy powered his way through the most convincing performance which actually helped me feel the poetry all the better.

The first part of this collection uses the device of listing significant world events from 1999 to more recent times, as a kind of annotated diary McFarlane calls New Millennium Journal, alongside the lives of real or imagined characters referred to as ‘the activist’ and ‘the family man’. The former is presented as a worthy, political type determined to fight prejudice and expose police brutality whilst being a force for change and radical new thinking. The latter is presented as a weak man unable to resist the sexual charms of an adventurous and willing lover. For this cheating husband, “only the gravitational pull of his children draws him away from the black hole of his guilt.” Between the two of them, we are escorted through a familiar backdrop, including the fears about the Millennium Bug in 1999, the horror of the attack on the twin towers in 2001, the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, various football World Cups and the earthquake closer to home in Dudley in 2002. In their different ways, these stand as metaphors for the extraordinary racism blighting our nation during this period. McFarlane unravels this social history in our faces, just as the marriage of ‘the family man’ unravels and ‘the activist’ spends “summers in the discomfort of whiteness.”

In the second part of the collection, McFarlane lists the names of eighteen black men and women who have died in custody. He uses the constriction of the sonnet form, maybe to echo the constraint used to hold down the detained. He utilises repetition such as “and nobody came” in Orville Blackwood 1999 and the visually graphic “whyyyyy?” as in Shiji Lapite 1994. McFarlane also experiments with the shape of the poem on the page, suggesting a bullet in Cherry Groce 2011 and a winged angel in Mark Duggan 2011. There is wonderfully chilling play on the word ‘tape’ in Joy Gardner 1993, where McFarlane throws sticky tape, mix tape, tape measure, red tape and even tapestry into the death by suffocation of this victim. The footballing imagery is obvious but still effective in Dailian Atkinson 2016 where “there’s no extra time” for the young man who dies. You cannot fail to be moved by this litany of gruesome death, so starkly laid out for us by McFarlane.

In the final section of the book we get the Gospel According to Rasta. Here McFarlane roots the reader in the city of Birmingham. He tells us “in a city of a hundred tongues we should always make room for another one” and he uses dialect to warn us “Dis Rasta rose from the oven-ash of holocaust.” McFarlane challenges us to question the cultural and religious elements we surround ourselves with and asks “Dis Rasta is he fiction or truth?” There is more than a suggestion that we need to speak out about all the injustice, “We are the disciples who beareth witness of these things so write, write it all.”

Throughout the work there are musical and religious references and the recognition that “every woman is somebody’s daughter”. McFarlane has clearly researched his material with great purpose and conviction. What emerges is a kind of rage that the new millennium did not bring with it change and justice, but rather hypocrisy and a dangerous, nasty under-current in society. McFarlane makes startlingly effective use of the idea that hands can be “outstretched to help refugees”, can be a woman’s “hands that worked hard” and a mother placing “her hand on his troubled heart”, just as much as hands “holding a rose in a clenched fist”.

I would be lying if I said there was much hope in this work, apart from in Gabay of hope which urges us to “breathe.” The work is bleak, challenging, angry and exposing. As a relatively privileged white woman living in a rural community, I like many am shielded from these experiences and able to observe them through the lens of the media. McFarlane does something important by using poetry as an unmistakably brutal tool to force me face down and hold me, maybe against my will for a while, where the reality of being black and marginalised is very visceral. I read and enjoyed McFarlane’s last book because it was full of humanity, a deeply emotional read. This latest work is wonderful for its change of pace, for coming from a very different but equally real place. I believe this is poetry shouting serious messages at a time of deep uncertainty. McFarlane shows his broad and remarkable technical skill, his passionate and convincing voice and is destined to disturb his way into our conscience. Go and hear him read from this book and you will feel it too.

The Healing Next Time is published by Nine Arches Press and can be ordered here: http://ninearchespress.com/

Pat Edwards is a writer, teacher and performer from Mid Wales. Her work has appeared in Prole, Magma, Atrium and others. She hosts Verbatim poetry open mic nights and curates Welshpool Poetry Festival.

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James Knight

 

 

 

Cockroach

I began when the cockroach fell
the cockroach was on the ceiling
the ceiling was in a hospital
the hospital was in a city
and the cockroach on the ceiling fell

underneath the ceiling and the cockroach
were my mother
and her belly
and
inside her belly
me

when the cockroach fell from the ceiling
it landed on the things underneath
my mother
and her belly

the midwife looked from the belly
to my mother’s face
and back to the belly again

and then I was out of the belly
and I was in the room
and the midwife and my mother looked at me
and at the cockroach
and then at me again

under a ceiling
in a hospital
in a city

 

 

 

James Knight is an experimental writer and digital artist. Void Voices, a re-imagining of Dante’s Inferno, was published by Hesterglock Press in 2018. Website: thebirdking.com. Twitter: @badbadpoet

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David Calcutt

 

 

 

from Wintering

1

Things are hunkering down. Roots
burrow deep, nosing among the winter
nests, the curled fur and trembling
antennae. The seed lie snug in the
earth’s closed fist. Complete darkness.
And a heat that’s miserly, generating
just enough to keep the heart ticking,
to keep the blood chugging through
thickening veins, sluggish as sap
shrinking back to the centre, where
a sullen fire has buried its embers,
a treasure stored against the hard times.
Such as now, when day is drawing
to its end, when evening descends
like a grey bird roosting, and the
creaturely minds have all shut down.
Nothing’s getting through, no word
of comfort. Except perhaps for the fall
of that last leaf, its dying touch an old
heartbreak, thunder on a distant planet,
the slow, funereal booming of the wind.

 

 

 

 

David Calcutt is a playwright, poet and fiction writer from the West Midlands. His most recent publication is the poetry collection, The last of the light is not the last of the light from Fair Acre Press. He is currently working on two theatre projects with Midland Actors Theatre. Website: http://davidcalcutt.com/about/

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Ross McCleary

 

 

 

I put a wolf in the basement

The wolf is arguing with my neighbours.
He is asking to be let out.
He is persuasive, and good at small talk.
He is no danger to them,
but he is a crack in the pipes.
I cannot remove him,
cannot take an axe to his guts.
For he is the threat of rising water.

They do not know why
I locked him up
But they get it, they do,
Because the wolf is not alone.
The basement is filled with rotting boxes
and unused furniture.
Full of memories
that have been gifted
to that room for safe-keeping.
The basement is a reminder
there is no guilt
time cannot erode.

The wolf paces between
Crates stuffed with dusty tomes, old diaries,
postcards and letters.
There are secrets there
and the boxes don’t have to be
filled with blades to
cut open old wounds.
They only have to leave an itch,
make you blush
enough to throw these things into boxes
cover it with sheets and
shape those sheets into a wolf
that comes alive when you’re not there
to argue for its release.

So no matter what he says,
And no matter the threats he makes,
The wolf cannot win because
my neighbour’s wolves
are also in the basement,
sleeping while he’s awake,
they are no danger to me
just thin cracks along the pipes
but if my neighbour’s set mine free
I will take an axe to their cracked pipes
And cause a flood
that will rise through the building
And because I live on the third floor
I will not be the first to drown.

 

 

Ross McCleary is from Edinburgh. His work has been published by 404 Ink, Structo, and Litro. He helps runs spoken word open mic Inky Fingers and does Poetry Shows with Andrew Blair under the name Poetry As Fuck.

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Kitty Coles

 

 

Stonecutter

What tool is best to slice the skull apart,
to split it neatly, cleanly as a melon,
and winkle out that small stone at the temple,
cuddled up like a frog in its deep-mud winter burrow,
growing fat as its skin sucks in the life of its host?

What will that stone look like, held aloft
to the light, the air drying the ooziness from it?
Like nothing much: it withers like a vampire
without its sustenance, exposed and bald,
and corrugates with age remarkably fast.

And neatly the scalp is sutured back together
and hair grows over the wound like a field of corn.
And in the warm grey fluid under the flesh
a similar stone is busy birthing itself
and soon will thrive and nestle like its forbear.

 

 

 

Kitty Coles’ poems have been widely published and have been nominated for the Forward Prize and Best of the Net. She was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2016: her pamphlet Seal Wife was published in 2017. www.kittyrcoles.com

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Claire Cox

 

 

The card given out at his funeral

has no obituary. No order of service.
Just his name, curlicued and slant,
year of birth, hyphen, year of death.

Above that, an old print plate of his
reproduced landscape-wise, its surface
sectioned into eighths, each eighth quizzing

depth of cut, luminescence, blackness,
how acid bites, how resin resists.
‘Fig. A’ points to pale ripples:

a thumbprint in negative,
dabbed there momentarily –
his brief experiment in flesh.

 

 

 

 

Born in Hong Kong, Claire Cox now lives and works in Oxfordshire. She is Associate Editor for ignitionpress, and is currently a part-time practice-based PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London studying poetry and disaster.

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