Christmas Poetry Round Up
Wednesday, 17 August 2022 19:05

Christmas Poetry Round Up

Published in Poetry

This quarter's round-up comes with seasonal solidarity and very best wishes to all our readers. It also comes rather belatedly. I have to admit that I have struggled to choose the books I would include in this selection. Not through lack of choice, but because 2021 afforded such an embarrassment of poetic riches, in the UK and beyond. This year both Culture Matters and Smokestack Books published finely wrought works steeped in the local lives of working-class people.

Chris Searle's meditative and empathetic collection, Over Eagle Pond (Culture Matters) is one such example, and Anna Robinson's Whatsname Street (Smokestack books) with its lively interrogation of communal history is another. Joelle Taylor's bravura exploration of visibility and voice, C+nto and Othered Poems (The Westborne Press) carved a place for butch and working-class lesbian women on the T.S Eliot Prize shortlist. This feels like a deserved and significant victory, as does the inclusion of Daniel Sluman's work of hybrid memoir and sparing lyric, Single Window (Nine Arches Press), which details with unflinching witness and tender intimacy the reality of disabled lives.

This year also saw two wry, intelligent explorations of blue-collar masculinity from Jake Hawkey and Ryan Quinn Flanagan. Hawkey's debut Breeze Block (Lumpen) is particularly focussed on the often complicated relationships we forge with lovers, friends, family, and with our wider communities. Quinn Flanagan's A Tripwire for the Soul (Marathon Books) is also a collection much concerned with dailiness, and with our misfiring attempts to communicate. I read both books in concert with each other, and found their directness, their deadpan and self-deprecating humour deeply refreshing.

Alan Morrison's Anxious Corporals (Smokestack Books) is also a work of notable scholarship, mental energy, and lyric reach, exploring, elegising and performing a lost working-class autodidactism. These books deserve more sustained attention than I can afford them here, and many I will return to. But for now, I wanted to signal just how much exciting working-class poetry is happening, and that I did not choose my favourites lightly. These are:

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Rocksong by Golnoosh Nour (Verve Poetry Press, 2021):

“I look at my brother through our screens” writes Nour in 'Through a Screen Darkly': “he watches me watch him feed his cat half his steak;/ she is conspicuously Persian, with an air of arrogance and/ trauma, just like my brother, and perhaps like me.” I think this is my favourite poem in Rocksong, the hotly anticipated debut collection from Golnoosh Nour, published by Verve Poetry Press in October this year. It is my favourite piece because it perfectly encapsulates Nour's key thematic concerns: specifically, the fraught interplay between arrogance and trauma, and the ways in which identity is mediated, distorted, and fractured by all the traumas and technologies of un-belonging.

To put it another way, Rocksong is a supremely decadent book, where “decadence” is not the feckless hedonism of over-privileged fuckwits, but the evidence of and resistance to the coercive demands of capitalism, heteronormativity, and poetry's implied white audience. It is a book much occupied with excess; excess as both a language tactic and a mode of being. Nour's speakers are variously raging, sarcastic, and unrepentantly perverse. Together the poems create a bravura performance of singular originality and wit; they swagger and they coax, they threaten and cajole, they – to quote Genet, which feels apt – “use menace, use prayer”. In this way, Nour brings a baroque sensibility to the shallowness and cruelty of our contemporary moment. Grotesque and tender by turns, Nour makes no accommodation to the Poetry Gods of Tedious Ironic Distance, but erects instead a dangerous and resplendent imaginary, a Tehran of the mind, her own “wicked capital,/ saturated with gold oil, dripping with black glory” ('The Wicked Capital').

Nour's poems negotiate a queer exile: which is not the same as absence from a beloved native land. It is the kind of spatial dysphoria that takes place when no “home” accepts you; the specific pain of being other to everyone, and the work of carving a kingdom for yourself from the insubstantial stuff of words, hashtags, references, and other assorted cultural ephemera. Rocksong takes this work seriously, most seriously of all its responsibility to joy, to sensual and aesthetic pleasure. In its steely refusal of victimhood, this is a defiant and daring collection, an anthem for our dark days.

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The System Compendium by Zak Ferguson (Sweat Drenched Press, 2021):

The System Compendium is a book astonishing in its extent, its scope, and its intensity. An ambitious and beguiling mixed media manifesto, it shifts between genre, typography, point of view, image, and text in ways often disorienting but always purposeful. “THIS IS NOT A BOOK” begins Ferguson, underlined and in all caps, “THIS IS A STATEMENT”. And indeed it is: the work strains at the limits of form; of what a book can and ideally “should” be according to the straight-jacketing dictates of typical/ neurotypical literature.

Described as an “autistic manifesto”, the books seems to embody the non-trivial effort demanded of neurodivergent persons to navigate a society and a culture set up specifically to exclude them. It is not merely a book in which neurodivergence manifests in symptomatic or performative traces, but in which autism itself exerts a compelling power over the rethorics and aesthetics of literature; where it becomes a transformative tool with the power to renegotiate terms of textual and political encounter. To put it another way, The System Compendium challenges our orderly, linear habits of reading. It demands more from us than passive content imbibing, and it shakes our belief in a default “ideal reader”, specifically ourselves . As we grapple with and navigate the text, Ferguson turns the tables. We are the ones wrong-footed and unsteady, our attention pivoting wildly between sensory and ideological overwhelm as we attempt to assimilate this strange new territory.

If this sounds rather dry and worthy, don't let it put you off. Ferguson can sustain this remarkable endeavour because his writing is also bloody good. This, from the opening section gives you a flavour of unnerving hard-edged humour on offer: “Do you feel the pressure from my scarred fingertips?/ Thick with a new growth of protective skin. KEYBOARD... you're on my mind! (Baby you're always on my mind!)/ Constantly I need you to be extrapolated and built upon. In your functions and processes. You need the attention as much as me, like an abused animal. Beaten, pressed. Hardened, yet still prone to needing that one thing you are accustomed to or risk another night without that of which you and your basis have been evolved around./ Keyboards of the world – do you like your pleasurable abuse?” To read this is to think of Clarice Lispector’s ‘Água Viva’, reimagined, so that when Lispector writes that she is “a typewriter making the dry echo in the dark, humid dawn. I haven’t been human for a long time. They wanted me to be an object. I am an object. An object dirty with blood. An object that creates other objects and the machine creates us all. It makes demands. Mechanisms make endless demands on my life. But I don’t totally obey: if I have to be an object, let me be an object that screams” Ferguson is similarly entangled with his machine: through punning play and pop-cultural allusion, the text posits an intimate, tactile relationship between writer and apparatus, as the keyboard becomes further and further enmeshed in the speaker's writing and thinking processes, at once interlocutor, victim, other self. Throughout the book Ferguson explores typography and technology as methods for mediating and constituting different subject positions, particularly those considered “mad” or in some way outside the sanctioned grammars and syntaxes of polite society and good middle-class prosody.

This is a rich and complex book. It is also visually stunning, an art object of rare fascination. As Ferguson holds the notion of “the system” in its varied guises up to the light the reader finds their comforting commonplaces about language, society, technological process, and the potential of the human mind called into question.

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Be Feared by Jane Burn (Nine Arches Press, 2021):

For those like me who have long enjoyed Jane Burn's work, her latest collection, Be Feared traverses familiar territory: myths, monsters and magical transformations abound; there is an attentive and clear-sighted regard for the natural world, along with an abiding concern for language, and its potential as prayer, as hex, or as charm. What distinguishes Be Feared from Burn's previous collections is perhaps the subtle and sustained merging of this Otherworld with its mundane and struggling shadow side: Burn's speakers are a polyvocal brood of selves, imperfectly held by the Real. The magic within is always looking for an out, barely contained either by daily life or the structural strictures of the poem. In consequence, her work is a masterful shape-shifting engagement with form, moving from sonnet to villanelle to the plaintive recitative chant. These poems feel restless, but the the effect is far from being haphazard. What impresses about this collection is the sense of search and purpose at work; form embodies the transformational magic that is the thematic heart of Burn's writing. These are poems as process, poems as a gradual becoming, a painful, beautiful moving-towards. Be Feared evinces an enviable control over language; throughout the collection language in fact functions as the medium of control, of tempering emotion and experience into the white hot steel of a cutting blade.

These are also poems whose use of language is strikingly original. I have written before about the ethics of scavenging, splicing, reusing and repurposing in the poetry of working-class women, and Burn makes the most adept and inventive use of these techniques. Here, nothing is wasted: an adjective might be a noun, a local dialect word might comfortably rub shoulders with an arcane ecclesiastical reference; pop-culture might intersect with fairytale. This follows a determination to use every available poetic resource –  a literary counterpart to the tools with which we negotiate life – but in Burn's hands it is more than this, she is so much more than an omnivorous enthusiast: Burn's use of language is joyful yet disciplined, and deployed with absolute precision. Every word is available, but not just any word will do. The magic resides in the choreography, which in this collection feels absolutely at the peak of its powers.

While the collection deals with fear, the poems present the various ways in which language may express, contain, banish or subvert that fear. It is a gathering of strength, a ferocious song of survival.

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Underneath by Martin Hayes (Smokestack Books 2021):

It would be extremely difficult for Hayes – or indeed any writer – to top the political engagement, the intellectual and imaginative reach of Ox (Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2021 ), with its sustained interaction with fable; its complex reckoning with the animal industrial complex and all the apparatus of mechanised suffering. To be sure, Underneath is a very different book. Although Hayes' characteristic concern with the multiple assaults and oppressions of our “gig economy” is still a driving and viscerally present force, his latest collection eschews allegory in favour of vividly rendered vignettes and shorter poems of empathetic portraiture. This strategy is simple but extremely effective: by focussing on the particularities of experience that beset individual workers, Hayes slowly builds our sense of them – and of ourselves – as a class cohort. The poems becomes small units of resistance, a place to extend the sustained attention and care seldom afforded workers as citizens or subjects. With patience, with humour, and with a sharp eye for eccentric detail, Hayes sets about rendering the occluded lives of workers visible.

Underneath, then, is necessarily a large book, and it is a testament to Hayes energy and charisma as a poet that the work does not feel over-extended or heavy. As is typical of Hayes' work, the language is deceptively direct while in no way plain or simplistic. Rather, Hayes judiciously deploys arresting images and pungent phrases: “all the supervisors in the world” as  moray eels with “jaws unpeeled and teeth sticking out” is one that will stay with me for a long while yet. Hayes is not a poet to drown the urgency of his message by loading every line with ore, instead the reader is struck by sudden flashes of gold.

And what is Hayes' message? It strikes me that Underneath is a compassionate call for global class solidarity; to see ourselves as part of a collective struggle in which the the individual – their unique culture, context, talents and sufferings – absolutely matter. What is Underneath is both the inscrutable and merciless functioning of the capitalist machine, but it is also the humanity of the workers Hayes brings to life with such clarity. The book is an act of rescue, from anonymity, from a system that wants desperately to see us as a homogenised mass of faceless economic units.  Underneath reminds us of what poetry is for, and for that I am grateful.

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The Cursory Remix by Michał Kamil Piotrowski (Contraband Books, 2021):

As somebody who recently completed work on a collaborative translation project, I found this book, which is playfully sensitised to the ethics and aesthetics of translation both simulating and useful. Described as being “co-written” by Google Translate, The Cursory Remix translates passages from The Cursory Epic by Stephen Mooney into a language other than English, then back again, through the medium of Google's ubiquitous translation tool. In the process, context is stripped, nuance shaved, meaning skewed. Piotrowski's text becomes a meditation on the linguistic expressions of cultural hegemony: the hidden operations of power ceaselessly smuggled inside even the most benign-seeming of language encounters.

What is striking about the book, and about Piotrowski's process is that Google produces not merely “incorrect” translations, but subtle and suggestive shifts of meaning that complicate, extend and undercut the original. We find ourselves sifting and weighing the remix: what exactly is the associative affinity between a “friend” and a “sacrifice”? What is the exact difference between a “quest” and a “task”? Such questions are pressing, particularly within the context of capitalism, where we frequently find ourselves at the mercy of language manipulation: through small print, pseudo-speak, political and corporate propaganda. This is made achingly clear in the section entitled '[from the Cursory Epic 3.5 – The Cursory Spell Book:]' where government pronouncements about single mothers and benefit claimants are mangled just enough to expose their absurd and sinister nature.

But to my mind the most fascinating places in the book are the silences and gaps it proliferates: the moments when language technologies fail, producing a speculative space of possibility and vulnerable openness. As the book is “interactive”, following the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure story, the reader has no choice but to inhabit these silences, to work through and reckon with these myriad failures of communication. This is a collection retunes our attention to the fact that we are not merely language using subjects, but intimately and irrevocably subject to language.

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William Blake at the Bridge Hotel: Ten Newcastle Poets, edited by Paul Summers (Culture Matters, 2021):

Although some of the voices collected in this anthology were previously known to me, others were a wonderful surprise. The work of Catherine Graham and Kathleen Kenny in particular has been one of my happiest discoveries this year. These poets exemplify the best of the work in this timely book, introduced and edited by Paul Summers and illustrated with haunting photographs by Dan Douglas. Graham and Kenny impress in both the quality of their attentive local witness, and their imaginative and empathetic reach across communities and throughout history.

This anthology feels important for a variety of reasons, not least because it challenges the implied position of London as England's literary and political centre. It offers proof, if any were needed, that the North East has its own rich and ever-evolving set of poetic traditions, intimately connected both to embodied experience and to class identity. An intimate and tactile sense of place is woven through the fabric of these poems, a sense of life as it is lived and language as it is spoken. This is a marvellous antidote to the cult of ironic distance that prevails throughout much of contemporary poetry, and where the expressive effects and unique eccentricities of accent and grammar are flattened or fetishised in the name of “good” prosody.

This collection treasures the particularity and the diversity of local lives to produce an anthology of poems that are materially and socially situated, historically and politically engaged, but most of all viscerally and inspiringly alive. Douglas' images lend the work an air of psycho-geographic haunting, where native place is not a backdrop, but a collaborator, shaping literary production and  sense of self. This anthology offers an artistic reckoning with the North East, with its political legacies and long continuities of struggle. It also provides a rare space of preservation and joy.

Choose to Challenge: International (Working) Women's Day 2021
Wednesday, 17 August 2022 19:05

Choose to Challenge: International (Working) Women's Day 2021

Published in Poetry

Fran Lock introduces some poems for International (Working) Women's Day 2021. Images above and in text: Jane Burn

IWWD – or IWD as we're now supposed to call it – has had some pretty ropey “themes” in the past. But this year, I feel more positively inclined: 'Choose to Challenge' evokes the mutual and fiercely responsible feminism of Audre Lorde when she writes in 'The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism': “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Capitalism wants us to believe that feminism is all about personal empowerment, but that's an insidious neo-liberal lie, one that prioritises the pleasures and the privileges of individual women over the systemic oppression of their less powerful sisters. This version of feminism is fundamentally shallow and representational, preferring to focus on individual “success” stories rather than articulating a meaningful challenge to the structural dynamics of inequality.

More women joining the armed forces is not, for example, a triumph for women. Women and girls suffer disproportionately during and after war: existing inequalities are magnified as social institutions break down, rendering them more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. Women and girls are better served by a radical dismantling of the military-industrial complex. More women in top banking jobs is not a triumph for women and girls. Women and girls suffer disproportionately under capitalism: we are daily harnessed as sources of domestic, sexual, and reproductive labour. The roles typically held by women are persistently miscategorised as “unskilled”; they offer us scant pay and little job security. When we do occupy top positions we are still paid less than our male colleagues.

Poverty and unemployment are intimately tied to the likelihood of our sexual exploitation and our victimisation at the hands of both partners inside the home and predators outside of it. For women, the trappings of wealth, and the signifiers of race and class, such as accent and grammar, are intimately linked in capitalist culture to perceptions of femininity, sexual availability and moral worth. We live, inside of capitalism, an irreconcilable double-bind. Our status as women is the very argument for our exploitation, but our identities as women – as women that capitalism sees as worthy of recognition and protection – are often erased by the work we perform. Do your shitty, exhausting, demeaning job, but do it with a smile, in flawless make-up and a body-shaping dress. Stay young and healthy, and positive at all times. Be a smiling facilitator to other people's needs.

Within neoliberal feminism, feminist goals are best achieved by each individual woman striving and competing to reach a position of power within capitalism. This is bullshit. Capitalism is inherently sexist and racist. It naturalises women's unpaid labour and deploys both sexism and racism as tools to divide and oppress workers, discouraging efforts to unionise, or to advocate for better pay. Why should an accommodation within that system be seen as a success?

Palming off unlovable paid labour

'Choose to challenge' might just serve as a recognition of these realities. We can choose to challenge not only individual instances of sexist aggression, but the ambient social conditions that give rise to them, and the political systems that produce those conditions. We can remember that while individual middle-class white women may be “empowered” by their top jobs, their success depends on palming off unlovable unpaid labour onto poorly-paid women lower down the socio-economic spectrum. We can remember that the ability to choose, the ability to challenge is in itself a function of privilege.

There are still women who do not have the ability to advocate for themselves, they are not safe and they are not secure, and the conditions of their oppression make it impossible for their voices to be heard. There are also women who cannot help but challenge: whose very bodies are considered an offence to capitalist culture and its relentless demands to reproduce certain narrowly prescriptive values and embodied forms. Where these women's black bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies, fat bodies and poor bodies come into collision with capitalism, they are rendered dangerously vulnerable.

'Choose to challenge' is also about making space for each other; it is about celebrating each other in the face of a capitalist cultural narrative that turns us into competitors for attention and space. Yes, we are all different, but we are not special interest groups. We can extend our solidarity, a war-pact against all that besets us.

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Ode to Self

By Golnoosh Nour

We survived and survival breeds desire for more self. – Audre Lorde

I am that
the fatigued knight wading through the morning light
like Moses gaping the Nile

I am that
the black rose in winter, dead
butterflies dripping from my bruised petals.

I am it
The ‘it factor’, the cool factor minus, the cold factor plus, the hot
mess, the browned flesh, the queer crushed
by Authority, forever refusing to agree with anything
other than my own elegant violence, my
autumnal tendencies that I catch in the river of my mirror – the only truth teller

for I am that,
the breathing painting in the attic
the ‘darling’ collector
the cold sore in summer
the sore throat in spring
the allergy screeching at the skin.

I am it
the blue silk with a scarlet kernel,
wrapped in my gold cape, embroidered by thorns, I pounce
over the fence into the abyss to caress
my horns, and to plant myself in fertile soil, roots hard in the ground;
shaking off tornados from my trembling naked branches, I grow tall,
old, short, skyward, enamoured,
pure.

Dr Golnoosh Nour is a poet and writer, whose acclaimed debut collection of short stories The Ministry of Guidance was recently published by Muswell Press, and whose forthcoming collection of poetry, the mighty Rocksong, will be published by the 87 Press next year. Golnoosh has been widely published and platformed both in the UK and internationally, including on the BBC and Granta. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Bedfordshire and designs and hosts a monthly radio show called Queer Lit on Soho Radio Culture. For more info, visit her website: https://golnooshwriter.weebly.com/

 On fire

By Sarah Wedderburn

I am a house,
face painted
geisha white,
mouth a strip
of polished black.
How still I pose,
dark eyes steady.

I am a house &
do not stir
as wisps of
dove grey chiffon
gather at my throat
to charge a tiny orange circlet
round my head.

I am a house
with smouldering eyes
& when the feathers
rising on my coronet
preen into an orange spiral
rushing up the air,
I do not blink.

I am a house.
Observe as lightly
from my eyes
I free a flock of
orange birds
that dart & hover everywhere.
I feed them all—

I am a house.
How quick the flaming
feathers of my birds
flare up & fan into
the great plumed
orange headdress
of an Aztec queen.

Rushing gold
rolls over me.
The blue above writhes
with nests of orange snakes.
I am a house
& meet the roar of sirens,
calm.

My gown collapses
in a firefly storm.
Am I stately
in my gauzy
slip,
my corset
boned & black?

I stand and smoke,
mascara
running down my face,
my secrets buried
in a foot of ash.
I am a house, strong enough
for love & hate.

Sarah Wedderburn’s publishing credits include Magma, MsLexia, Oxford Poetry, PAIN, PN Review, Poems in Which and The New European. She studied English at Oxford, holds a Poetry School MA and works as an arts writer. In 2020 her work was included in Culture Matters’ Witches, Warriors, Workers, and in Yvonne Reddick's Poetry, Grief and Healing.

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When beggars choose

By Clare Saponia

There were no more dolls for me
after that. Just the three I’d doodled
on in indelible ink to spice up their
foolproof lives, since Santa failed
to bear frills. You know the kind:
the most basic theme-free sort
of Sindy that no kid ever asks for
with karmic Barbie at large. I gave
them bras and brains and specs
as big as potted mince. They got
lippie and piercings, freckles and
fringes they never knew existed
in their microbastic cosmos –

though they never grew back. Just
got shorter and shittier in the dull
Sunday lull, where not even the
hair wax helped. There was no
Paul or Ken either to come, my
folks fearful of what I’d draft
on a shaved, sexless crotch, the
far-too-deft cosmetic surgeries
I’d undertake, callous as they get:
Hannibal Lecter meets organ
collector, I think they might have said.
So, I kept them for the dog, played
find and fetch (not that she fetched) –

and just pastels for me from then on.

Clare Saponia is a Berlin-based writer, poet, artist and linguist. She has written two published poetry collections:The Oranges of Revolution and Copyrighting War and other Business Sins, and is working on her fourth. Clare’s poetry has featured in various anthologies, including Witches, Warriors, Workers, Emergency Verse – Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State, and soon The Brown Envelope Book.

I was a woman today

By Jane Burn

and I was not afraid of weather/not of glittered hoar
scalding bloom from early cowslips/not of brisking air/
I shucked pillows from their catchpenny shams/tawdry-bright/
pegged them baggy with vaults of biting wind/rise your bellies/
bloat with painted flowers/fly, my chintz-beloved ghosts

and I was not afraid of dust/walked upon a Galilee
of lint like a saviour of filth /not of the stove’s ash/
I ridded it with flags of soapy cloth/here are the kitchen
miracles/the hob roars with valiant soup/welcome
to my church of scraped potatoes/spoon and eat

and I was not afraid of swans/lucky against my tired docility/
they filled their throats with elevated light/an epiphany of air/
I heard the peal of monumental wings/watched their passing over
of my tethered home/saw them earn the clemency of blue sky/
O send thy softly breasts to bright rivers/amen, amen

and I was not afraid of time/not of the dials divided eye/
saw myself through years of perished skin/through slackening/
I grew a child/despair of clothes around my drooping womb/the years
blot my face with wearied moths/grope around my smile/
take my pity of hands and salve their crackled plight

and I was not afraid of what I write/though paper shrieks
beneath my raging pen/though I must empty my head of flames/
a long story of blood/my own uneasy/slipshod tell of truth/
I offer all my burdens to a book/and scribble rivers/
I love you/here are the umpteen many words I have for pain

Jane Burn is a multi-award winning poet who lives an eco-friendly lifestyle in a wooden cottage in Northumberland. Her poems are all about her adoration of language and how it connects her to the many passions and parts of her life. She is working class, a wife, a mother, bisexual, a poet, an artist and maker. She has written lots of poetry books and is also a late-diagnosed autistic which has helped everything finally make sense. Her poems are published in many magazines and anthologies. She co-edited the Culture Matters Witches, Warriors, Workers women's poetry anthology with her bosom friend Fran Lock. She is currently doing an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University. Her next collection, Be Feared, is due out in November from Nine Arches Press.

the world is so big

By Fran Lock

a whiskey light where you might melt to know me. it is never coming.
a city night, all dangerous and fragrant. it is never coming. culottes in
spring are never coming: pale calf consumed by their shy mulberry
swish. the january sales will not be coming. the gelatin resentments
of a friend in tennis shoes, who's tearing up and hates you. first-bliss,
the nice perhaps of a hand. no, no, no. they are not coming. the sacred
wood. it is not coming. the clerk who holds my mourner's gaze, replete
with passing. she is not coming. the great and glistening tropes of old
dead men will not be coming, underlined or otherwise. my vivid adult
self, as she frequents the red and white striped awnings. now she will
not come. there will be no mornings. i will not dress my doting gloom
in coffee: poet, savant of hysterical sympathy. i will sing neither my
plights nor my fauverie desires. at nineteen, i am sotto in a sauntering
kingdom. my berlin-bowie cheekbones are turned up to eleven. i am
quiet gone. the world is so big. i'm a bug on the windscreen of its wide
horizon. it is dying's slick art that drips from me. how a footballer's
wife drips diamonds. how a brown dog's mouth drips wet grass. i will
not get lost, in the catacombs of loose amusement, wandering. bleating
in a fitted sheet, where shame is the interval and the circuit. it won't
bother me. women, shining in the strict garments of their monday
hustle. glamour as a lump of shit shimmering with flies, as a prophet
of your choice in a beard of bees. i won't have to care. windows
that open onto nothing, my eyes. not a latte or a beach or the boozy
ridiculm of living. the world is big, but the dead are without edges.
the absolute obscenity of emptiness. to be cupped by nothing. air.

Charcoal Lover

By Julia Bell

If not you, then who? Is what you said,
when I asked you why you loved me,
as if I were a foregone conclusion.
Then who?

I thought about this for a long time,
and all your possible suitors.
What do I have that they do not?
How did I win this accidental competition?

And then when we were getting ready for bed, I realised,
that it is not my strange good looks, or my air of experience,
but my charcoal toothpaste that won you over.
Something that the gummy locals and their brilliant teeth
have known about for centuries.
A new way to repackage you to me,
not as an immigrant then, but a source of native wisdom.

When we brush our teeth with soot, we look insane, homeless.
Like the shopkeepers with their mouths stained from khat or betel juice,
or yellowed from all the tobacco.
We look like urchins, ready to run off into deserted, dusty houses,
like lovers; like what we are: burned residue of the stars.

Julia Bell is a Writer and Reader in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She has published three novels with Macmillan in the UK (Simon & Schuster in the US) and new book Radical Attention is now with Peninsula Press.

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Jejunum

By Pauline Sewards

Amy’s life – a closed orbit from Boston to Boston.
Born in Massachusetts, died in Lincolnshire.
The surgeon fixed her with his knife,
she suffered from ulcers and gastric pain

Born in Massachusetts, died in Lincolnshire.
Jejune means hollow; the intestine empty at death,
she suffered from ulcers and gastric pain,
after the operation her guts became infected.

Jejune means hollow; the intestine empty at death.
Was surgery her choice? Was she given options?
After the operation her guts became infected.
Common causes of ulcer: hunger, ethanol, stress.

Was surgery her choice? Was she given options?
The surgeon fixed her with his knife.
Common causes of ulcer: hunger, ethanol and stress
Amy’s life – a closed orbit from Boston to Boston.

Pauline Sewards is a Bristol-based poet and founder of the regular event in Easton called 'Satellite of Love'. Her first collection This is the Band was published by Burning Eye in 2018. Her latest collection, Spirograph was published by Burning Eye earlier this year.