And the ‘Pick of the Month’ for May 2015 is Rushaa Louise Hamid

Huge congratulations to Rushaa Louise Hamid whose Another Canaan emerged as the voters’ choice for the first IS&T Pick of the Month. Rushaa wins a National Book Tokens £10 gift card and, as the first ‘Pick’, a place on a Lunar Poetry workshop at L’klectik gallery, cafe, performance and (soon to be) poetry bookshop space in Waterloo, London.

 

 

Another Canaan

 

There was a wasteland
and cold tire tracks in the skin of the sand.
I forgot I couldn’t breathe.

In the distance was something
I could crawl to;
flat lands – these were like the lands of my childhood,
a people that weren’t built for inclines
but to trundle on
ever looking past the haze of dust
and abandoning things that could not be carried.
In the rush of feet and vehicles
was a cry that all things must move forward,
amongst the heat and pain,
where the dust had been beaten down into a solid block.

My mother said
“You’ve got fire in your bones and
none in your blood,
and hot bones break,
and hot sand buries broken bones.”
A crib lingers out in the heat
leftover from a broken moment
and I am leftover too

 ………………….

Voters’ comments included:

‘I just love the soft colours of her words…. ‘

‘How the first line encapsulates the feeling of the entire poem. It all feels desolate after… ‘

‘Stirs something within me’

‘so full of images’

‘It was evocative of the desert and brought back some personal memories.’

‘The second verse was touching and something I could relate to.’

‘she does an impression of a Dalek (in reference to Rushaa’s biography notes), and the poem is good’

 

 

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Last day to vote for our May Pick of the Month

Today is the last day of voting for our May 2015 Pick of the Month.

The shortlist is

*Kyle Cooper ‘The Flying Monk’ (poem)
*Rushaa Louise Hamid ‘Another Canaan’ (poem)
*Rupert Loydell ‘Black Holes & Other Inconsistencies’ (poem)
*Rhona Fraser Millar ‘A tiny pot of Devon custard’ (flash fiction)
*Wendy Pratt on ‘Letting Go’ by Angela Topping (review)
*Colin Campbell Robinson ‘Noir’ (word & image)

VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED.

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Wynn Wheldon reviews The Devil’s Tattoo by Brett Evans

 

 

 

It is hard to escape the feeling that Brett Evans – or, at least, the poet Brett Evans, if you will accept the delicate distinction – was born in the wrong place at the wrong time, or perhaps in the right place at the right time with the wrong constitution.  He is, properly speaking, a blues singer, part Delta, part Chicago, who has found himself instead a “fat, pink alkie” in a small town in North Wales at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  As he says in the same poem (‘Reading Sean O’Brien in the Bath’), “something is amiss”.

 

This short collection is very much of a piece, the themes pulled “over troublesome stones” through it, like the Gele river itself: myth, Wales, pubs and drink, jazz, religion, poetry, and desire.  And perhaps the displacement is perhaps not so great, perhaps he’s a Celt from across the sea, and should have been a Dubliner.  His tipple after all is stout (even in his erotic fantasies he lathers his lover’s hair “to a Guinness foam”).  One way or another these poems are written from the Celtic twilight.

 

The melancholic confessional is a hard thing to pull off without self-pity, but there’s none of that here.  The collection’s first poem, ‘Marshes’ starts in childhood – “we swashbuckled summers across the weir” – and powerful fantasy, and ends in two connected sadnesses which can never be erased: the defeat of Wales and the realisation that “we’re who we are” – an end to childhood.

 

Dreams and fantasy fuel much of Evans’s poetry, the paradox being that they earth him in the single place he writes from.  He dreams of being in bed with the great blues “moaner” Ma Rainey; he rides “on the trail of the buffalo” with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot; he is an extra in a Spaghetti western “with an unforgettable score”. He dreams simply “of a song”.

 

Do you notice? Music is a constant – the devil’s tattoo. Most of the drunks are singing (usually “A lament for, and from, the anonymous”), Ma Rainey is singing Jelly Bean Blues, Coltrane’s sax is here beautifully kissing the breeze, Armstong’s doing over ‘Stardust’, even a scarecrow sways like “a metronome to an orchestra / of gale and sleet”.

 

Like the dreams of music, the myths of Wales, the “ugly, lovely children’s world”, desire too keeps the poet busy.  The barmaids “come and go” (probably not talking of Michelangelo), and he dreams of pampering them all. Or, peering from a pub window in the touching ‘Not Raglan Road’, he watches a woman in suede boots: “There is only her moving through this world”.  The poet imagines “a handful / of raindrops may just find their resting place / in her hair”.  This image, almost clumsily described – “may just” is perfectly awkward – is delicately erotic. As is also the “fantasized unclothing” of the sycamore stem in ‘Carving a Lovespoon’. ‘Positions in Bed’ contains not only “an imagined lover” but also “dream pubs”.

 

My favourite poem, and one I think would do well in schools (that sounds faintly praising but is not at all meant to), stands a little apart from the rest of the collection.  It is not confessional, and yet, insofar as Evans does come close to self-pity it may be the most confessional of them all.  It is called ‘Scarecrow’.  There is explicit analogy with the crucified Christ – “arms outstretched, forsaken, / he wears his unkempt crown”, and later “This son of Man // is blind to purpose, rooted in solitude” – but here there is no redemption.  The suggestion is of a godless world, and God does pop up more frequently in these poems than one at first notices.  How could he not, given the presence of the blues, of Guinness, of Wales?  But he’s here in passing, in ghostly form. The devil is much more real.  There is, in ‘Anticipating Pints of Stout’ a marvellous description of the drink lined up on a bar: “a lechery / of pint-sized priests to knock back without repentance”.  Drink, not religion, brings salvation.

 

The collection ends as it began, in childhood, or rather in the memory of childhood, and reflections on the present:

I haunt our stomping grounds, my shadow striding
out before me: a giant ghost, coat flapping in the wind.
And the water before the weir forever lapping at the child.

Do we have a word for nostalgia without the fleck of sentimentality that makes nostalgia kitsch? The Welsh word hiraeth is often translated as homesickness, but it may also denote a longing for the past.  Might it do to describe the spirit of these lines?  I don’t know.  I am not a Welsh-speaker, but maybe.

 

The devil’s tattoo drums through all our lives, and the poet’s desire that “the familiar must become the unfamiliar” – which I take to be one of the things poetry does -  is what defies that beat and makes the real tolerable.  Sean O’Brien and Dylan Thomas are both presences here, both poets capable of seeing wonder in the quotidian.  It is an ability, a tendency, that Brett Evans aspires to, and often achieves, in this short, punchy, thoroughly engaging and coherent pamphlet.

 

 

Brett Evans’ The Devil’s Tattoo (Indigo Dreams) is the runner up for Best Poetry Pamphlet in this year’s Saboteur Awards. Buy your copy here.

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Pick of the Month

 

We feel that our always excellent contributors deserve to be celebrated and therefore, inspired by Sabotage Reviews very successful Saboteur Awards, we have decided to get our readers voting for their favourite piece – poem, flash fiction or review – of the month.

Our shortlist of six is below (or see the Vote for May 2015 Pick of the Month in the categories list). Some of these have been chosen by Helen and Kate. The remainder are those that have received the most attention on social media.

VOTING FOR THE MAY PICK OF THE MONTH HAS NOW CLOSED.

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*.

(*Ink Sweat & Tears reserves the right to refuse certain charities if we feel they are too controversial.)

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UEA FLY Festival Short Story Winners (15-18 yrs)

 

Reading through the shortlist for the UEA FLY Festival (Festival of Literature for Young people) Short Story Competition made it very clear that the next generation have not, in fact, entirely abandoned the world of books for the lure of electronic gadgets and social media. The urgency in the writing, the breadth of vocabulary and the scope of their (often ghoulish) imaginings bode well for the next generation. Yesterday we posted the winners in the 11-14 age group. Today we feature the joint winners – it was too close to call – from the 15-18 year-olds, and once again we begin with the ominous opening conceived by YA writer and co-judge Alexander Gordon Smith (The Fury, the Furnace and Inventors series). 

*****

 

Who knew that something so simple as falling asleep on the bus could lead to something so horrific…

“Hello?” I shout, making my way down the coach. The seats are empty, except for the coats and bags strewn everywhere. It’s like every single person in my class has just vanished into thin air. The teacher too, although that’s not exactly a terrible loss. Sunlight streams through the filthy windows, making it hard to see anything outside. I could swear I was only asleep for a minute!

I walk to the open doors and squint into the shimmering heat. We’re supposed to be at the University of East Anglia, some festival or other where there are loads of authors. It doesn’t look much like a university out there, though. There are no people, for one, just a long, empty street lined with trees. The only living thing in sight is a rabbit, which eyes me suspiciously as I clamber out of the coach.

Where is everyone?

“Hello?” I say again, my voice trembling. My pounding heart is the loudest thing in the world. “Is anybody there?”

There’s a building straight ahead and the door stands open. I glance left and right at the deserted campus. Then, swallowing my growing terror, I walk inside…

 

*****

 

JOINT WINNERS: EMILY ANDERSON (15) ROSEBERY SCHOOL & KRISTINA WERNER (15) PUTNEY HIGH SCHOOL

 

Emily’s ending

… I’ve only taken three steps through the door when I hear it slam shut behind me, leaving me in pitch black.

Suddenly a haunting singing voice floating from above shatters the silence. I feel strangely drawn to the flawless music, yet some instinct deep within me warns me not to trust it. With the unique sound as my guide, I creep through the unfamiliar building, and just as my eyes are adjusting, a blinding light causes me to scrunch them tight shut.

I’m seeing colourful spots when the music ends and an accented voice – Brazilian, like my grandmother? – begins to speak, and I see a female figure gliding along the opulent corridor above towards a wooden banister.

“I thought there was another,” she crows menacingly. “What allowed you to resist my charms, menina?” Before I’ve had the time to wonder what she means, I see everyone from the bus standing behind the mysterious woman. Immediately I know something unusual is going on; they all have oddly trancelike expressions on their blank faces. Somehow this situation reminds me of fairy tales read to me when I was younger, and studying the woman – her jet back hair, ghostly white dress and unnatural appearance – I am reminded of some mythological creature, but I can’t quite place it.

Oblivious to my racing mind, the woman continues “Ah well, I’ll just have to dispose of you, like the others not worth turning.” Cold terror crawls throughout my body, but then – your necklace, Selena. I reach my hand to the silver necklace constantly around my neck. Echoes of my grandmother’s voice reverberate through my mind – never take it off – and it all hits me in such a rush that I almost stumble back.

My grandmother gave me a book on Brazilian folklore, which must be where I recognise the woman – creature – from “You’re an encantado,” I gasp, and despite how ludicrous it sounds, it all makes sense as I remember glimpsing the river Yare on the way here. In the legend, encantados live in a utopic world as dolphins in rivers – the Amazon, originally – they can’t resist a party or festival, have superior musical ability, and their powers give them abilities such as mind control.

“We prefer bato encantado,” she replies, offended.

Then I realise the most important thing. Like lycanthropes, encantados are shape shifters, so perhaps they can be killed in the same way. Silver.

Somehow, without me noticing, the encantado has reached the bottom of the staircase. As she approaches me, a knife in her hand, I tug the dagger pendant on my neck, but nothing happens. The encantado lunges towards me, her knife aimed for my neck. But something stops her, like an invisible force the unknown powers of my necklace protect me, and finally the pendant comes off in my hand, expanding into a full-sized weapon. Without hesitating, I stab the blade into her heart and as she falls, so do my classmates upstairs.

And all at once the spell is broken.

 

*****

 

Kristina’s ending

 

… There is a single door to my right which has been left slightly ajar, and due to the weights near the bottom, should close by itself. But it doesn’t.

I step forward, and then stop in confusion. I am wearing school shoes that embarrass you in front of the whole school when you walk up in assembly; the type that, try as you may, can simply not be muffled. Yet not a single scrape of leather resounds on the wooden floor.

Inside, I find a classroom frozen in the perfect moment of a lesson. Yet there are no pupils. Pencil cases are creased in the perfect positions of fingers having rifled through them. Sentences on the screens of the laptops are left unfinished. The chairs are all pulled out as if people just got up to leave. Moving further into the classroom, I notice that the white board has a tiny flashing icon in a corner which reads ‘next page’. There is a sight smear of a fingerprint hovering above it. The teacher’s chair is the only one that has been left tucked under the desk.

Moving towards the window, I look out and start with relief at what I see in the distance.

My class is gathered outside in a huddle! Their voices reach me through the sheen of glass, as if the mute button has suddenly been turned off. I sprint out from the classroom, through the main door, and across the grass to join the welcoming sight of my friends. As I approach them at a run, I take in the flustered and urgent tones of my teacher, and the desperate looks my friends shoot me as they see me approaching. I skid to a halt. Right above them is a colossal slab of metal which droops in the air above the congregation. There is a sturdy ramp protruding from the underside, and I watch in amazement as my fellow students proceed up it. I start to move towards them, but find that although my feet are moving, I remain stationary. The teacher has caught sight of me and is screeching hysterically at me to run. I try with all my might, yet cannot for the life of me move even an inch. The ramp starts to lift with surprising speed for something made of such a heavy material, and my friends’ hyperactive bodies soon disappear. I stare up in horror as the tank of metal rises slowly. The feeling of complete and utter helplessness overcomes me as I am left rooted to the ground with all my friends being whisked away.

A huge screen crackled into life on the underbelly of the huge UFO. And on it, were two sentences that froze the blood in my veins.

EARTH EVACUATED. HUMAN POPULATION LEFT: ONE

 

 


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UEA FLY Festival Short Story Winners (11-14 yrs)

 

Last week, we were privileged to be part of the UEA FLY Festival (Festival of Literature for Young people). Ink Sweat and Tears supported the final event, a superbly enthusiastic POETRY SLAM (with thanks to Luke Wright, Molly Naylor, Tim Clare, Mark Gristo and MC Mixy for making it such an energetic and inspiring occasion and kudos to the kids from Pakefield, City Academy Norwich and City of Norwich School for taking up the challenge so well.) In addition, Kate co-judged the Short Story Competition with the brilliant Alexander Gordon Smith ( The Fury, the Furnace and Inventors series), a favourite festival author, who also wrote the story’s opening. It is featured below with the winning endings from the 11-14 age group to follow.  Prepare to be intrigued.

 

 *****

Who knew that something so simple as falling asleep on the bus could lead to something so horrific…

“Hello?” I shout, making my way down the coach. The seats are empty, except for the coats and bags strewn everywhere. It’s like every single person in my class has just vanished into thin air. The teacher too, although that’s not exactly a terrible loss. Sunlight streams through the filthy windows, making it hard to see anything outside. I could swear I was only asleep for a minute!

I walk to the open doors and squint into the shimmering heat. We’re supposed to be at the University of East Anglia, some festival or other where there are loads of authors. It doesn’t look much like a university out there, though. There are no people, for one, just a long, empty street lined with trees. The only living thing in sight is a rabbit, which eyes me suspiciously as I clamber out of the coach.

Where is everyone?

“Hello?” I say again, my voice trembling. My pounding heart is the loudest thing in the world. “Is anybody there?”

There’s a building straight ahead and the door stands open. I glance left and right at the deserted campus. Then, swallowing my growing terror, I walk inside…

 

*****

 

FIRST PLACE:  JAKE BOUD (14) COLCHESTER ROYAL GRAMMAR SCHOOL

…The receptionist surveys me through wiry spectacles, eyes narrowed and looking incredibly suspicious.

“Yes?” Her voice is as hostile as her expression, ice-cold and disturbing.

“Well… Yes… Um…” I stutter, words tumbling out of my mouth. I notice that my throat suddenly feels dry as the Sahara. I stop speaking, and nervously peer up at her hawk-like face as she glares at me.

It’s not just the nasty looking receptionist which is foreboding about this strange place. The desk she sits behind is in ruins, legs poking out at awkward angles, with a thick layer of dust coating it and her computer, looking about fifty years old. The ceiling is covered by a network of spider webs, and there are huge menacing-looking cracks criss-crossing its surface.

The woman tilts her head slightly, as though figuring out what to do with me. From the way she’s looking at me, I guess she’s wondering whether I’d taste nice with sauce.

After what seems like a lifetime, her expression clears as she makes up her mind. I tense, anticipating the worst, but she leans back and jabs a long crooked finger at a door on my left. “Through there,” she says dismissively, and turns back to the rusting computer monitor.

I drag my eyes towards the door she had indicated, and immediately notice that it’s cleaner and better-kept than the rest of my surroundings. I tentatively start towards it.

I reach the door and try to peer through the darkened glass but I can see only blackness. I calm myself, nervously push open the door and step inside…

And am greeted by the face of the receptionist, glaring down at me behind those awful spectacles. I jump back in shock, a terrified yelp escaping from my mouth. I spin around, and where the door I had just come through was I see only a cracked, brownish wall.

Terrified, I turn back to the woman. She’s looking at me with a half-amused expression, and pointing to the door on the left again. It seems to be my only hope of escaping this awful place, so I sprint towards it, yank the door open…

And skid to a halt in front of the reception desk.

The receptionist is laughing. And as she laughs, the walls shift, melting and reforming around me as if they too are laughing at me. But as they morph, I notice a little square of light, a little window into the outside world, open up behind her.

Without a second thought, I charge for the light, knocking aside the startled, squawking receptionist and diving through the gap into the world.

Bright sunshine beats down into my eyes as I lie there and I gasp in the fresh air gratefully. And then a dark shape blocks out that wonderful sunlight, and I see my teacher looking down at me in amazement, my classmates gathered behind him and also staring at me in wonder. “Tom?” my teacher asks. “What are you doing down there?”

 

*****

 

SECOND PLACE: BETHANY GUNTHER (12) STAMFORD HIGH SCHOOL

…Clothes covered the floor. It was like stepping onto a multi-coloured rug of cotton, velvet and wool. Every piece of clothing I could ever imagine covered the floor; tops, skirts, trousers, jewellery, pants and socks. It was like someone had come and tipped a collection of filled wardrobes on the floor; literally. “Is anyone there?” I called out again nervously. Suddenly a large door creaked open to my right, I turned my head slowly towards it and gulped. Steadily I picked my way through the scattered clothes approaching the door. I quietly lifted up my arm to the door knob and pushed it open, revealing a winding staircase that disappeared into the roof of the building like shapes breathed onto a mirror melting away.

Walking up the sunless, darkened staircase I pondered with myself what had happened. Why had everyone on the bus disappeared? Why was there Clothes all over the floor and where was this staircase taking me? All of a sudden my legs felt heavy… Every step was getting harder and harder to put one foot in front of the other. Finally I reached the top but I couldn’t feel my legs, I looked down “What the hell?” I put my hand under my body, just to check I wasn’t seeing things. My legs had vanished! This day was getting weirder and weirder. The unnatural thing was that I could still walk. “That’s strange,” I thought to myself as I shuffled along the corridor, wondering how I could move. I reached out to open a door but found that I couldn’t feel or see my arm! “What’s happening to me?” I asked out loud. Cautiously, I opened the door peeping into the room before I went in: The coast was clear. As soon as I stepped into the dark room a vivid light lit up the room, almost blinding me. I blinked a few times and then my eyes adjusted to the light. On the wall in front of me were a million people screaming. They were on little TVs that covered the walls. “Help me!” One of them desperately shouted. “Let me out!” Another one called.

“I don’t know where I am…” sobbed a girl sounding hopeless. I went closer to the screen and recognised it as my Best friend Kaitlyn. “Kaitlyn? What happened?” I asked franticly

“Is anyone there?” She called out. She couldn’t hear me; none of them could. They were all screaming in unison now “LET ME OUT! HELP ME! I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM!” I couldn’t take it anymore. The voices were getting inside my head, messing with my mind. I went to put my hand to my head but I couldn’t find it. I was disappearing from the outside in, rubbed out like pencil on paper…gone for good. All was left of me in the end was a pile of clothes on the floor and a girl screaming, trapped in a TV; forever.

 

*****

 

THIRD PLACE (WITH AN HONOURABLE MENTION FROM AGS FOR BEING THE GORIEST!): SARA HASAN (14) WYMONDHAM HIGH SCHOOL

The smell hit me first. The excruciating odour wafted into my nostrils deteriorating my senses for a brief moment. Once I had gained full awareness again I yet again experienced the worst stench I had ever come across in my life – like infant faeces and pungent like rotten food and a musty reek of blood.

I stepped into the room and felt its icy gesture as the air adjusted around me. Sprawled on the ground and surrounded by a pool of crimson, laid a heap of dead bodies. Quickly, I threw my hand over my mouth before I could let out a piercing scream. My heart beat vigorously crashing against my ribs as I edged slowly closer to the pile of corpses. The body right at the top looked particularly gruesome, with her neck at an odd angle and long slits had been cut from the tips of her mouth all the way up to her hair. Short frizzy back hair. I recognised it. As I peered closer into the face, I finally saw it. It was my best friend, Rachel! I rushed to her, shaking her vigorously seeing if she could possibly be alive but she remained still. I fell to the floor crying and screaming in panic, horror and confusion. Blood was staining my own fresh clothes, but I didn’t care at all. Rachel was showered in the warm blood she was bathing in now. My muscles turned to ice as I tried to put the pieces together but I can’t think of a reason why anyone would do this. The hole in her chest tore wider than ever before. Like lemon juice or salt was being poured into a fresh wound only time could heal.

BASH! Suddenly the door behind me smashed shut. I looked around terrified. It was my turn. I shuffled into the shadows making as little sound as I could, although I swear the whole world can hear my heart beat. The room is dark and bleak. Too bleak to see where I was crouching. Too bleak to understand what was happening but I could just about make out distorted silhouette of an abnormally large and well built man, carrying a sharp jagged knife. He paced around the bodies each step making a loud thud. My teeth clattered as my hands shake with fear, and I look around for a way out of this hell. Finally I notice a door on the opposite side of the room but first I’d have to get the man’s attention with something. I shuffle through my pockets for a small but heavy object to gain me some time to escape. Eventually I decide to yank off one of my badges from my school blazer. After taking several deep breaths and waiting for the perfect moment, I hurled my badge on the wall opposite the large wooden door. Everything happened very quickly then. The enormous man ran towards the sound and started striking thin air with his deadly blade whilst I leaped over the bodies and yanked the door open so hard, it could have come off its hinges. I ran. I had escaped! For now…

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And the Winners of the Ink Sweat & Tears/Café Writers Poetry Pamphlet Commission are…

 

The standard of entries this year was so high that when it came right down to it we simply could not decide between two excellent poets whose poems and proposals complemented each other so well. Therefore, after securing additional funding, we are able to announce the following winners

 

Huge Congratulations to Jay Bernard  and Jonathan Morley.

 

Jay Bernard

We were blown away by Jay’s poetry and excited by the Word & Image possibilities inherent in her skills as a graphic artist. Her proposal revolves around the virtually forgotten black characters in British life and folklore from the pre-Anglo Saxon to the early renaissance although her ‘conceit’ is zero time and her intention to allow these to be ‘sensible’ to each other on the same plane.

The poems will avoid the progression of English History into slavery;  since poems, songs and stories are not just reflections of what we understand but how we understand, this pamphlet defamiliarises the present by re-imagining the past.

 

Jonathan Morley

Jonathan’s proposal is all about language – we were mesmerised by the language of his poetry and his different voices – and his focus is also from history in the person of Dr Philemon Holland (1552-1637). Holland was the ‘Translator General in his age’, later reviled and admired and now forgotten, who ‘Englished’ the classics and whose handwriting may have been the model for the Baskerville typeface. Jonathan’s use of different fonts in both his poems and proposal opens up a world of Word & Image possibilities.

Lost libraries, half-ruined buildings, the contested hand of the translator, Bardolatry vs. the escape from personality, abstruse texts and dusty reputations – the imaginative possibiities are interesting.

 

Each poet will receive £2000, a published pamphlet, 100 copies of that pamphlet to do with as they wish and a reading at Café Writers at Take Five in Norwich. We have no strict deadlines or publication dates as yet but plan to keep you informed and publish extracts as the pamphlets are developed.

It is all very exciting.

 

Finally, we felt that our unsuccessful finalists deserved at the very least to be Commended.

 

These are

Mona Arshi

Jo Bell

Kiran Millwood-Hargrave & Tom de Freston

David Van-Cauter

 

Helen Ivory, Kate Birch and (fellow judge) Chris Gribble

 

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