are death’s pale eccentrics, the poets of disgust, they
bring their great sadness to the shelves, to the world.
They are the lethargy every husband chews on in his sleep, biting his cheeks.
You can fit one thousand of their tiny mouths beneath your eyelid.
They spend the bloodless night mouthing the word “oracle”
beside the fuming pumps. The outlets gargle around their grey supper.
Why are they all called Tony or Erasmus or King Nacre?
Tonight they will extinguish all the red dresses of the world,
then weigh out all the bones of the ear
and pile them into wigwams in the wet dirt of the village.
They keep trying to form this mighty ending
that shimmers grey and frazzled above the velvet seats
of the cinemas in all the gardens; except they never end.
They are slowly weighing up the cruises of the children now.
Their appearance is like a secret circus act that doesn’t stop.
They break into all the graves beneath the peonies and salsify.
Tonight we will pile them, pile everything of them
into the whorl of a bucket and then we will fill it
to the top with the forest of tears and let the silence do its work.
*Chris Emery lives in Cromer with his wife and children. He is studying Creative Writing at UEA and is a director of Salt, an independent literary press. His work was anthologised in Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010).
Our stones are never at rest.
They’ve no permission to bask in light,
to gather heat, and nurture photons.
They are displaced by the commuters’ feet.
Stillness is alien, an impossibility.
The streets are never peaceful, but hum
with all that is exacted by busyness.
Competition raises dust, moves stones.
And even thought is loud static, like a
surreptitious interest rate. We love money.
Our still-looking stones are not still,
but vibrate with recent rush and pass.
Shudder with meetings. Echo bids.
Quiet is a lunacy refused our stones.
Quiet is bad for economic growth.
All our stones are on their way to elsewhere –
restless for some consummation.
They are obstacles for businessmen to kick away,
Mr Rockwell, financier, collects them in his pocket.
For what’s a stone but a unit for accounting?
*Chris Jackson: I'm 31 and live in Hackney. My poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and sites including Ambit, Equinox, The Interpreter's House and The Journal. Poems and translations are forthcoming in Chimera, Poetry Salzburg Review, The French Literary Review, Assent and others. I read my work regularly in London and my poetry has been illustrated by the artist Russi Dordi.
Keep it in the Family
Host, Sarah Hymas (103 pp, £10, Waterloo Press)
Hymas’ engaging debut collection comes in two parts. Around two thirds of the book consists of poems which form an episodic, chronological family saga spanning four generations. This novel structure (pun intended) stretches into epic proportions subject-matter which is often confined to the small domestic lyric – familial relationships and traditions, connection to the land, etc. ‘Harrogate Bedrock, 1899’ (attributed to ‘Hannah’) casts tender and ironic couplets in terms of excavation metaphor:
What I love about you
I have yet to quarry.
‘A Wise Man Builds His House on a Rock, 1920’ (attributed to ‘Harold’) draws together strands like the establishment of roots, home, faith, community. Its title recalls the parable, and the children’s campfire song derived from it. Its longer lines and simple diction make it feel like a stretched ballad, while also maintaining a tight rhythm, alliteration, and pleasing near-rhymes. The occasional slips into blank verse support the feeling of loosely memorised tradition:
Call me Canute for choosing this cliff
for our new house, like the locals do. But Hannah,
it’ll weather the rain and the salt of the North Sea.
I can smell the grit and lime within this clay of Filey.
Our walls will stand a hundred years from now.
No one understands frontiers like a man
who’s seen the desecrating gold rush of the Yukon.
‘Upstairs, 1945’ (attributed to ‘Hannah’) locates the trials and hardships of familial love in pastoral metaphor. The woman’s words seem to become more childlike as she delves further into her memories:
The workhorse I married sired more buildings
than children. His muscle bound our home.
His sweat cemented these walls for our son,
his wife, their six, obliging them to nurse me now.
I hear her call me a lemon-lipped spoilsport.
They used to say my teas were suet.
This bed is too far from the window.
I can’t draw the curtains.
‘The First Meeting of Directors, 1957’ is one of several ‘rest-stops’ giving useful but dry information for the purpose of recapping and moving the narrative forward. Even as she uses thoroughly prosaic words, Hymas still pays close attention to line, rhythm and wry humour. The effect as a whole reminds me of the preacher who makes poignant use of those Biblical passages about nothing but genealogy:
Mr Kibby hereby appointed Chairman of the Board.
Proposed by Mrs Kibby. Seconded by Mr Kibby…
Two hundred shares issued to Pa.
Two hundred to Ma.
The smaller second section, Landfall travels out from the first into poems that explore themes already established – growth, sexual maturity, relationship, travel – in a fractured, wider-world context. Some of them feel slightly more predictably personal, even occasionally trite (‘Your Ears Send Me Delirious’) after the strong overall coherence of Bedrock. While they raise a smile in themselves, some of the comic moments (‘That morning, the choice of underpants was bewildering.’ – ‘Choice, 2003’) feel slightly out of place after the serious thematic depth of the previous section (especially because this one is already so short, it almost feels like an appendix). Speakers often go unnamed, the generic, lyrical ‘I’, ‘he’ or ‘she’ taking their place; so it’s hard not to pine for the well-drawn characters of Bedrock, who were fleshed out by story and setting. Finally, images occasionally seem less powerful without the narrative to ground them into specific time, place and concern. For example, ‘From Pelling’ admits to its struggle to effectively describe its mountains, uncomfortably mixing metaphors as it goes: ‘To call them mountains is to clamp / woodchip to magnolia, / chocolate bars to the Milky Way.’ I’m not sure why calling them mountains is comparable to these things, and clamping chocolate bars to the Milky Way seems unnecessary to this, or any, poem (and a too easy reach, considering the chocolate bar that is called ‘Milky Way’).
Perhaps it’s a case of the second section being trumped by the first. I almost wish Bedrock had been stretched out over the whole book. Therefore I recommend the collection, especially for readers looking for a fresh slant on the domestic lyric, or just a very enjoyable verse narrative. Host is well worth their while, and bodes well for Hymas’ future.
Everything I do is “free” verse
Even if it rimes
Because for every poem
Or song I’ve written
I haven’t been paid a dime
*Denny E. Marshall lives in the Midwest and has had art & poetry recently published.
Girl in the Hall
Let’s call her Hetty,
this girl who isn’t me,
this thin white one,
this bare-knuckled beauty
who lives in the wallpaper,
thin as wallpaper,
this bruise-eyed darling,
this one I’m half in love with,
Who lives in the wall,
tap-tapping her urgent warnings,
the ones I adhere to
in this narrow dark corridor,
where she’s stock still,
shrunk into the skirting board,
fingering a crack,
this white-thighed girl,
naked down the hall,
searching for a shower –
his thin line of sweat,
early evening stubble –
when she shouldn’t
even be here.
* Charlotte Gann's The Long Woman was published recently by Pighog Press. She's had work in The Rialto, The North and Magma, among others.
Betty Herbert The 52 Seductions, Headline Publishing Group, 2011. £12.99
I must confess that I began to read this book with some trepidation. Not having read the original blog I imagined it would a cruder version of Sex in the City. However the narrator Betty has a matter of fact attitude to sex which serves to relax and disarm even the most nervous reader. Broadly the book concerns a loving couple who after 10 plus years of marriage want to rekindle and explore their sexuality. They therefore embark on the challenge of finding differing ways of seducing each other each week.
I particularly enjoyed the second strand of narrative prefixing the early chapters. Here Betty recounts without self pity the on going saga of her potentially serious and certainly debilitating gynaecological health issues. It is these glimpses of real life that stop the book from becoming a mere sex romp.
I marvelled at Betty’s matter of fact attitude towards intrusive gynaecological examinations, and indeed her game intention to continue on with the seductions at a time when sex would be the last thing on many women’s minds. Yet what transpires is a thoughtful exploration of ways of achieving intimacy without vaginal penetration.
Whilst at times the book has this more serious vein it is also extremely funny. This is inevitable since sex is after all very funny. The comedy arises for Betty’s own comments on the tasks at hand and also from the increasingly ambitious explorations of sexuality including use of sex toys, a brush with transvestism and over zealous sexual positions involving a sofa. I particularly liked the incidents concerning Bob the cat (actually female like the Blackadder character) who seems quietly determined to sabotage the seductions including deciding she must get to the to the second floor of the house when the couple are engaged in some tricky stair sex.
What struck me was the level of research the writer undertook as a prelude to the seductions. Consequently the book becomes an education for both couple and reader. We are taken to sex fairs, and a convention on tantric sex in Berlin. The reader is allowed full access to the seductions. It is here that the writer’s skill is shown for the narrator wisely describes the sex acts in non erotic often anatomical language. The results are not the choreographed writhing we see on TV but the reality of sex between a couple who knows every inch of each others’ bodies and are undeterred by fanny farts, the need for ‘lube’ and the mechanics of achieving certain positions which are rather like docking the shuttle. Indeed such a down to earth approach to sex renders the reader quite blasé by the end of the book, when reading about masturbation, rimming and latex cat costumes.
As the sexual exploits become more ambitious, they are skilfully counterbalanced by two discursive strands; Betty’s wish to confront her own inhibitions and her need to square her feminist principals with certain sexual practises such as the use of pornography and anal sex . The writer manages to discuss such serious matters with a lightness of touch that does not intrude on the main narrative of the seductions but does however give certain sex acts a context.
This is an entertaining book. It is also thought provoking and informative. During the course of the year Betty has done the leg work for many thirty something couples whose sex lives have become stale. It also persuasively gives any couple permission to experiment with and explore their sexuality. It struck me too that this is a book for the baby boomer generation who with kids and mortgages off their hands have the health and money to similarly enjoy each other.
The Music of Default
I guess, if you collect some
of those strings and hold them
in one hand, it can tend
to look like a bouquet,
said the sleb.
The city does something to your brain:
both the amygdala and cingulate
cortex are over active
if and when lost in the rhubarb
The trick with care was to
separate the operating company (opco)
from the properties and load up
debt against the bricks and mortar (propco)
We will build a fire wall
between investment and retail
In other words, we will build
Back at the music festival &
if we scrub around together in the mud
we can try and create something fantastic
enough to distract us from the toilets:
a winged figure on the side of a department
store in the sun and rain and nightlight,
a sense of air.
The wooden figure there is a body
with protected inner space
strings linking the inner and outer
woman holding a bird containing marble
A crucifixion in aluminium.
The tools, an extension of sight and touch.
I am the form and I am the hollow,
the thrust and the contour,
the artist said.
*Gareth Twose: I have recently had poems published in Sunfish and Assent. I live in Manchester and work in Wigan.