John Mee reviews ‘Long Pass’ by Joey Connolly

 

 

The author of this cerebral and assured debut is the joint editor of a magazine called Kaffeeklatsch. Its manifesto suggests (in the midst of a post-modern welter of interlocking footnotes) that the reader of poetry ‘must be like the cat, flirt with everything’. Long Pass offers a wide variety of attractions up to which the reader may sidle and against which to rub his or her back.

One of the themes of the book is poetry itself and its making, the mutability of the words with which ‘[t]he darkness is swarming’ (‘The Draft’). Connolly is interested in ‘[t]he orthodontic meddling of language/ with the world, its snaggling malocclusions’: ‘[Untititled]’ (sic). At times, his language mimics the sound of nature, as in ‘Liguria’, which captures ‘the plump primary note/ of a woodpigeon swelling rhythmically into the air’:

 

‘ the glue goes. We pool so, it

schools us. The rules: yes, they fooled you, accruing …’

Demonstrating the scale of its ambition, the collection includes ‘reworkings’ of poems in six European languages. Connolly presents two new versions of each poem (except in the case of Rozhdestvensky’s ‘History’). In each case, the second version departs from the original to a much greater extent than the first. In his second version of Christine de Pizan’s ‘Third Ballad’, which tells the story of the drowned lovers Hero and Leander, the poet addresses de Pizan across the centuries:
‘Listen, Frenchy: the gap between our tongues

is just the blackest water, nothingy and unbreathable’.
The business of reworking is fraught since ‘ideas have words/ and words ideas and they get/ everywhere, sand in sandwiches/ at the beach’: ‘An Ocean,’.

And if poetry and translation weren’t difficult enough, there are also the poet’s ‘financial/ and romantic perplexities’ (‘Why?’), ‘a stack/ of unread books, the constant dull subpoena of alcohol/ and tobacco’ (‘Average Temperature at Surface Level’). An unconsummated love affair is recounted in ‘A Brief Glosa’, having been foreshadowed in earlier poems:
‘Twenty-four days, really, all told,

straggling Manchester’s dive-bars until five for the pretext of drink

between the kitsch and neons as if there was no agony

keeping our bodies apart.’

 

The poet stands at the edge of a city bridge in ‘I am Positioned’:

 

‘                 thinking of the woman who has asked

for us to keep apart, for two months, while she

 

works things out: the woman I love. Although

I didn’t, I suppose, make that clear.’

 

A defining feature of the collection is its willingness to engage with philosophical concepts. For example, ‘to the materialist’, Connolly says, ‘if you can’t ride two horses at once/ you shouldn’t be in the circus’: ‘Of Some Substance, Once’. The book’s centrepiece is ‘Average Temperature at Surface Level’, an extended meditation on information and human attention, and the relationship between seeing, describing and remembering. The ‘tone veers uncontrollably’ from abstraction – ‘object/ bleeds into type, the starvation-ration of quiddity’ – to the helpfully concrete: ‘new, still-wet permanent marker is the best plan/ for erasing old permanent marker’.

Connolly’s work places more demands on the reader than straightforward lyric poetry – e.g. I found myself looking up words such as ‘doxological’, ‘dialetheic’ and ‘ideolected’. Any poetry that is intelligent is in danger of being perceived as overly clever but, for me, Long Pass generally avoided this trap. Admittedly, the line may be crossed in ‘Poem in Which Go I’: ‘There but for the goes of going walks our lord. There/ but for the gauze of saying so goes all’. Another risky moment comes in ‘Fantasy of Manners’, where the poet flagellates himself in Latin for being too intellectual, albeit with deflating mentions of ‘bollocks’ and ‘shite’.

The title of the collection can be linked to the reference, also in ‘Fantasy of Manners’, to the poet’s ‘own hailmary explanatory’ – a ‘Hail Mary’ is a long pass in American football which is unlikely to find a receiver. The pessimism implicit in the title of Long Pass is belied by the excellence of the work it contains. The collection is a substantial achievement, which repays repeated reading. Ultimately, as reflected in his concluding poem, ‘Last Letter from the Frontier’, Connolly’s tenacity wins a strange victory over despair:

 

‘I know that we have years – perhaps forever – to wait

until the drawling missionaries and the thrill and the skin drums

of pirates. And until then, I am bricking myself in.’

 

 

 

 

 

John Mee is a poet and academic from Cork in Ireland. He won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2015 and the Fool for Poetry International Chapbook Competition in 2016. His chapbook, From the Extinct, is published by Southword Editions. www.johnmeepoetry.com https://www.munsterlit.ie/Bookstore Other Titles.html Twitter: @JohnMeeLaw

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Hannah Jane Walker

 

Their small day

The trunk is carried down from the attic,
the dress beaten and hung out to bleach.

After the truck dust clears
100 white plastic chairs are unstacked into a grin.

The ceremony spot is tagged in black gaffer tape,
out of Zip Lock primrose, marigold, geranium.

The kitchen drain runs blood and onions.
A small fridge for cold drinks cables from the balcony.

Rocks are washed to weight down the napkins.
White paper garlands shimmer building to building

The USB backup in a labelled envelope
sellotaped to the underside of a speaker.

The stage is swept.
She washes her hair, plaits it, bracelets slip to her wrists:

I promise this
and this.

 

 

Hannah Jane Walker is a writer and producer from Cambridge. She studied literature at the University of East Anglia and poetry at Newcastle University. With Chris Thorpe she had made four plays, two published by Oberon.  She has written for The Guardian and BBC Radio 4 and is currently working on a solo show about sensitivity called ‘Highly Sensitive’, a collaboration with playwright Rachel Mariner called ‘recovering misogynist’, a dance circus collaboration and a children’s book. Hannah’s poetry has been published by Nasty Little Press and she has just finished her first full poetry collection ‘Shark!’ edited by Caroline Bird and Joe Dunthorne. She is an Associate Artist at the National Centre for Writing  http://www.hannahjanewalker.co.uk/?page_id=2

She is getting married this month.

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For Mental Health Awareness Week: David Seddon

 

 

There is Nothing to Me But Sea

O for a paddle in a piddle of the sea,
a heart-curled drool of cool salinity.

Ah for the spittle of the dregs of the sea,
a fontful immersion in an estuary.

I’m famished for foam –
fathom and floe
fluvial firths
fleeting fixes of salt.
I am feeble
O feed me with froth!

I long for ablution where starfish stroke my knee
and crabs pinch my soul in the cradle of the sea.

But I’d settle for a dawdle in a dribble of the sea
a toestrung oodle of a revel in the sea.

I am frantic for fish –
for Frill Mouth Sole
Fusco Drum
Fourstripe Grunt and Forssk.
I flounder
O feed me a fin!

I’m agoggle for a toddle in a coddle of the sea,
But I poke in a puddle like a carcass at the quay;

Send a message in a bottle for the bubble of the sea –
a quick skedaddle of a sidle in the sea.

I’m furling for luffs
for feluccas and fluyts
fustas and foists
fo’c’sle futtocks and gaffs
I am flagging
O feed me a fleet!

Awash with wave and water,
there is nothing to me but sea.
In eel-deep sleep
I sweep the sky for sail;
on brineless spineless land,
I simmer for blue.

 

 

 

 

David Seddon: I didn’t start writing poetry because it was therapeutic, but it wasn’t long before I realised that it was. In my counselling practise, people usually come to me in great pain. I help them to work through that but also, just as importantly, to begin to reach out again to good things – even contentment and joy. Poetry is one of three therapeutic Ps for me – the others being philosophy and photography. They help me to feel and think through painful things and find what makes me come alive. They are journeys from solitude to connection, with each step a relief.

Here is David’s counselling blog: http://davidseddon.blogspot.co.uk

 

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For Mental Health Awareness Week: Helen Akers

 

 

Daffodils         

 

Please take away the Egyptian Cotton sheets,

the memory foam mattress-topper.

Give me a room in a house without central heating.

Without daffodils.          Audacious          daffodils  –

poking through the thick hide of winter days

and nights. Each one a carefully wrapped parcel

containing          yellow tongues, lies. They tease.

They’re loud. They are parakeets, each tied

by the ankle to a stone in the bottom of a glass jar.

I can’t stomach their overwrought faces,

their lemon curd light. So insensitive. I want

to dunk them in custard. I’m trying to stop myself

from dunking them in a bowl of cold Ambrosia custard.

Take them away. Close the door.          Please.

 

 

 

Helen Akers grew up in Hertfordshire and moved to Norfolk to study Fine Art/Painting at the Norwich School of Art. She began writing poetry in 2003. She has won the Wells-next-the-Sea Poetry Competition and was commended in the CafeWriters Pamphlet Commission Competition in 2009. She has been published in Smiths Knoll. She lives in North Norfolk. Helen finds that poetry is the form that can best translate the experience of mental illness, it embraces strangeness and the surreal. Writing through and about mental illness can illuminate this complex and too often misunderstood area of our lives

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For Mental Health Awareness week: Fiona Donaghy

 

 

 

The Public World of Mania

A cereal box is so exciting –
the colours wonderful and ignorant
and I taste nothing because I am fast.

There is a waterfall through my head
I never sleep, why waste time?
I speed race in running shoes red shoes and ruby slippers

I am fizzy and multi-coloured
rainbow thoughts
yellow girl

 

 

 

Fiona Donaghy: I signed up for a poetry class at the UEA in 2005. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever done.  I have not stopped writing since.

Now I use writing as a way to, control my bipolar disorder. In my silent depressions, when my voice is mute, when it hides at the back of my throat. I write to my doctors explaining my pain. My pen is a more reliable picture of information than my tears.

And then during mania when the world is brightly coloured divine and intently creative, my pen works quickly so I might record something out of the ordinary, and that something in another mood, might become a poem.

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For Mental Health Awareness Week: Louise

 

 

Help Me, Don’t Put Your Hands on Me

Ashamed to let my GP touch me
because she knows ‘where I’ve been’
She’d be repulsed at my violated body
And inside I want to scream

I wear baggy clothes, I’m contaminated
And I just want to cover up
Not just my body but my feelings
The vessel that no one can touch

The frustrated screams, shut them down
Suppress them, do anything to contain and keep them in
Even if you articulate who would care
The tantrum is a hassle, a child crying within

If I cry who comes to soothe me
Comfort me and smother me with love
Asking too much wanting cuddles
Instead I disconnect and fly up above

The filthy, naughty little body
learning to soothe, you only have yourself
My soul is just an instrument
There for anyone but this self

But I developed an imagination
Had hopes, desires and dreams
My achievements were no thanks to you
And nothing was as it seemed

 

 

 

Louise is my pen name.

My feelings were never validated, and mould grows when it is left.

I have written a collection of poems about my life and the way that abuse can spread, like mildew, into every aspect of it. Abuse leaked into adulthood without having help to categorise what really happened. How could I know that it was abuse? Manipulation aside, I was pre – verbal. I hope these excruciatingly honest thoughts can raise awareness that rape is not about the physical aspect of sex, but about betrayal and what abuse of power can do to a person at their core. Everybody’s experience is different of course, but child abuse made me believe that I was bad, profoundly damaged and not worthy of love.

You can believe the damage was there before the abuse (particularly if you don’t remember a before) and that’s why you were singled out. This is not true of course. What remains is a sense in the pit of your stomach that somehow you are outside society and that you are not enough.

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