Kathy Gee

 

 Sunset without sight

My senses change as the planet turns
away from light. I close my eyes.

The space between my ears goes numb.

My wrist bones disengage, reach out
to fingers fanned like a sea bird’s wing.

A rhythm dances in my forehead.

Every breath lifts fox-fur ribs to sternum,
shoulders stretch through glass.

I’m inches taller, further from the earth.

Released from mind, my body is not mine.
I’m a gamelan for the setting sun.

 

 

Kathy Gee’s first collection – Book of Bones – was published by V. Press in 2016. http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.co.uk/p/book-of-bones.html. In the same year, she also wrote prose poems for the contemporary choral piece – http://suiteforthefallensoldier.com/ .

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Susan Castillo Street reviews ‘The Swell’ by Jessica Mookherjee

 

 

 

 

Writing in 1989, scholar Werner Sollors caused a bit of a stir when he challenged the concept of ethnicity as a hermetic, immutable category. Sollors describes ethnic groups as existing within history and as highly unstable and pliable entities which are constantly interacting and redefining themselves.   Indeed, he adds, in today’s global context it is difficult to characterize a writer as belonging exclusively to one ethnic group.[1] For Sollors, ethnicity is not essence but rather as a dynamic historical process though which we define and redefine our identification with one or more groups.

For this reason, it would be wrong for critics to pigeonhole Jessica Mookherjee as ‘ethnic’ writer. She is much more than that, and her poetry is elegant and evocative. Her background is Bengali, and she grew up in Wales; she now lives in the Southeast. Swell, a pamphlet of 15 poems published in 2016, is her debut.   In it, she skillfully and sensitively evokes the rich cultural and personal strands that run through her life.

Several of the poems focus on the complexities of family. The title poem, ‘Swell,’ evokes a pregnant woman, ‘drum-tight and ‘about to burst,’ with a husband who ‘made a fuss of her for a change.’ Another poem, ‘Snapshot,’ begins with the lines

 

There is photographic evidence

of when she shifted her gaze,

the exact time her eyes went out of focus.

 

and goes on to describe pictures of the poet as

…growing bigger

in pigtails, often alone.

A snap of a girl with her hand on her mother’s

shoulder, like a Victorian husband.’

 

With elegance and understated economy of expression, Mookherjee paints in remarkably few words a haunting picture of her mother’s vulnerability and her own isolation.

Another poem, ‘Glass Sisters,’ describes pottery images in a glass cabinet. The first person plural perspective is deftly deployed; the ‘we’ may be that of the objects

 

We were all cabinet curios,

waking occasionally , trapped behind glass

under small locks, tiny keys.

 

or of child who identifies with them:

 

Gingerly, with a smell of fresh rose water

 

she would take us out, sit us on the sofa,

while she played with a typewriter,

practicing her name. No one but us

saw her hair unbraided,

 

cascades of shining black.

Her fingers spelling yours sincerely

Clicking on the white Olympus—

I could get a job, learn to drive, drink wine

she muttered, glancing at her dolls.

 

The child exchanges a glance of complicity with Kuan-Yin:

 

I looked sideways at Kuan-Yin

behind her pane; she smiled at me

and listened to the world’s sorrows.

 

In ‘Red,’ Mookherjee gives us a subtle cascade of images: red curtains in her mother’s house ‘…like blood dripping down the windows’; a red tikka on her mother’s forehead ‘looked like someone had shot her’; red lipstick ‘inappropriate for a girl of six’; a red silk skirt that made a lover smile; that same lover’s face ‘…too red, too much sun, too much/beer, too much butter; an unflattering red shirt that ‘doesn’t flatter.’ The poem ends with two lines evoking the visceral barrenness of the failing relationship: ‘there’s blood in the bathroom again/this month.’

The final poem in the pamphlet, ‘The Changing,’ is marvelously surreal. It describes a woman transformed into a fish:

 

At night she dives into wet corridors

Seeps from blankets,

Slathers across carpet, lost in the heft;

She’s flatfish slapping down stairs

Leaving trails of silver moon-strike.

 

In night that tastes of felt, she gulps air

Chokes on magnolia walls. Her eyes bulge

And sight blurs.

 

The poem ends with a stunning vision of liberation:

 

…she reconstitutes in ripples

and, at last, she is night swimming,

free of her fins

in the swell of stars, arms stretched in a

yearning dance of encore.

 

The deft enjambment that runs through the poem, and the marvelous vividness of the verbs (‘dives,’ ‘slathers’, ‘gulps’, ‘chokes,’ ‘bulge,’ ‘blurs’) create a vision of almost unbearable intensity.

The apparent surface simplicity and elegance of Jessica Mookherjee’s carefully crafted poems conceal a hidden depth charge of emotion and sensibility. The reader is left wanting to read many more, and her forthcoming collection is eagerly anticipated.

 

 

[1] Werner Sollors, The Invention of Ethnicity (Oxford University Press: 1989)

 

 

 

Order your copy of Jessica Mookherjee’s The Swell (Telltale Press, 2016) here: http://telltalepress.co.uk/about/jessica-mookherjee/

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Samantha Pearse

 

 

 

The Piano

One time you bought a baby grand,
perhaps imagining someone in the family
developing culture,
as a petri dish
grows mould.

I wandered into the formal room,
back of the house, for Christmas and best.

Sat at the beautiful piano.
Couldn’t have told you if it was in tune
but sat and explored it’s keys.

You come in,
say merely
“move your fingers”.

Slam the cover down.
A shocking noise after the gentle notes,
heard as a plink plonk of focus not on you.

Pulling me back to your friends,
you berate me
for a milksop weakling
who will amount to nothing,
is nothing
will always be
nothing.

I hang my head,
no place to hide,
except behind my hair.

 

 

 

 

Samantha Pearse has performed poetry widely including the Cheltenham and Ledbury Poetry Festivals & Cheltenham Literature Festival.  She is EDF’s Women’s Network Poet in Residence. She is a keen collaborator with visual artists and lately composers (through Out of Place 2017).

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Lewis Buxton

 

 

Mundesley

I stand on one of the groynes
as if posing for an album cover
behind me in the cold arcade   coins
drop into penny falls     it is December

and everyone is losing because      whatever
they win is never something they want
they leave with hands smelling of copper
to the town      the shops    their teenage haunts

I watch a dog barreling after a ball
challenging the strict routines of the sea
from where I am standing      I can hold it all
how the dog moves with the tide       I can see

the way time passes       the way things stay still
the unpredictable sand    the drop of penny falls

 

 

 

Lewis Buxton is a poet, arts producer and educator. He works in schools, libraries and universities around the country. He lives between London and Norwich.

 

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Ali McGrane

 

 

Seeing in Colour

Canvasses rotting behind the shed
An ochre sky, the sharp stink
of linseed on a rag

The temper of blood on white tiles
A coffin glossed with slick tints
of autumn leaves in oils

Art is not what you see but what
you make others see.
Where do I look now?

Tree-striped light on a dark mound
The bristle of green on umber

Asters like loaded brushes in a jar

 

 

[Quote: Edgar Degas]

 
 

 
Ali McGrane is an emerging writer of short fiction and poetry, living in the UK. She has studied literature and creative writing with the Open University and is currently completing an MA. Her work has appeared in Fictive Dream, The Lost Balloon and Ellipsis Zine. @Ali_McGrane_UK

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George Helder

 

 

 

Starve yourself

I sit on my bed eating leftover soup
from microwaved tupperware to stave
off a dizzy spell. The plastic is discoloured
from re-heating baked beans.
I use a teaspoon so it takes
longer, takes more mouthfuls.
It’s a trick I learned. My mother
taught me with her hesitancy and pots
of sugar-free jelly and not much else.
I tell myself it’s because I’m poor. I’ll treat
myself next pay check with chocolate,
try to keep it, only eat it one square
at a time and brush my teeth straight
away to forget the sour aftertaste.
Can I call in sick at work because
I’m hungry? I eat lunch in the refectory
to disguise I won’t eat later.
In the evening, I dissolve
vitamins in a glass of water.
It’s healthy, I say. It’s healthy.
I’m healthy.

 

 

 

 

George Helder is a student at the University of Gloucestershire. He has published poetry in the university magazine, ‘Show Don’t Tell’; the anthology, ‘Reflections’; and for the 2016 Cheltenham Poetry Festival flash fiction event, ‘Life, Death, and Other Things’.

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Shadwell Smith

 

 

 

Fred

Mr Davis kept tropical fish
and a tidy garden
front and back.
It’s as good as fertilizer that
he said,
throwing his urine from a bucket
on the lawn.

He rolled grizzled Rizlas
with the fingers of one hand.
Showed me places on a map
where he got his tattoos.
Talked over glasses
of lemonade
and navy days spent
fighting Germans
and the Japs.
Mr Davis had won medals.

His daughter had moved
to New Zealand;
sent letters, postcards
and colourful paua shells
he displayed
around the house.

Mr Davis spoke
and sang to his wife,
though she’d left him
a widower
with the tick of the clock;
watching the glimmer of fish
in a luminous tank.
All at sea.
Bubbles
and thoughts
ascending.

 

 

Shadwell Smith’s poems have most recently appeared in Butcher’s Dog, Prole and Picaroon Poetry. He also sometimes appears in pubs, clubs and coffee shops performing them.

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