Monthly Archives: July 2010

Kevin Higgins’s Frightening New Furniture

Kevin Higgins

Kevin Higgins is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events. He facilitates poetry workshops at Galway Arts Centre; teaches creative writing at Galway Technical Institute and on the Brothers of Charity Away With Words programme. He is also Writer-in-Residence at Merlin Park Hospital and the poetry critic of the Galway Advertiser. His first collection of poems The Boy With No Face was published by Salmon in February 2005 and was short-listed for the 2006 Strong Award. His second collection, Time Gentlemen, Please, was published in March 2008 by Salmon. One of the poems from Time Gentlemen, Please, ‘My Militant Tendency’, features in the Forward Book of Poetry 2009. One of the poems in this collection, ‘Ourselves Again’, appeared in Best of Irish Poetry 2009 (Southword Editions). His work also features in the The Watchful Heart – A New Generation of Irish Poets (edited by Joan McBreen, Salmon Poetry) and in Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (edited by Roddy Lumsden, Bloodaxe, 2010).

In poems laced with the blackest humour Kevin Higgins spares no-one, least of all himself. In this his third collection of poetry, he takes the reader through the hubris of boom time Ireland and out the other side into a strange country where everything is suddenly broken again. Just when Ireland imagined itself to have finally escaped history, the statues of virgins and freedom fighters are on the move again. Higgins goes all the way into the dark to investigate what’s left when youthful political idealism – his ‘old political furniture’ – gives way under the sheer weight of what actually happens. As ever, the City of Galway is one of his pet subjects, and he takes time out to bring to hilarious life its bookshop romancers and women who decide to be fascinating.
Read an interview with Kevin and his wife, fellow poet Susan Millar DuMars, in the Galway Advertiser.
“important emerging voice”
The Irish Times

“a social critique as lithe and imaginative as that of the con-merchants who run the show… A satire which eschews moderation and openly admits its own savagery can only succeed.”
Justin Quinn, The Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry, 1800-2000
“He is the only one of my Irish contemporaries who makes me laugh out loud regularly, not just because the work is funny, but because it has that great sense of character behind it, where one pictures the speaker in all his curmudgeonly grumpy-old-man-ness glaring at the reader wondering what the hell they’re laughing at!”
Nigel McLoughlin, Iota
“The left should hurry to welcome this collection. Here is poetry that we can identify with, that tells of our hopes and fears and doubts and questions, that puts our lives on the map too. The fact that one of our own can tell such stories in a way that is so powerful and satisfying is something to be proud of.”
Joe Conroy, Red Banner magazine
“This is work which raises the question of what the political poem can be, for us now, in our several cultures.”
Siobhan Campbell,
“wonderfully inventive imagery”
Laurie Smith, Magma
Ourselves Again
In the park our ice lollies
fall victim to the June bank holiday heat,
while in glass rooms numbers moving
through dark computers
declare the future
Tomorrow, we’ll have our double glazing
taken out; the crack put back
in the ceiling and a draught
installed under every door.
I’ll attach a For Sale sign
to the seat of my pants.
Gangs of the angry unemployed
will bear down on the G Hotel
chanting “Down with Daiquiris
and Slippery Nipples! Give us back
our glasses of Harp!”
In pubs nationwide, the carpets of yesteryear
will be reinstated, and there’ll be meetings
of Sinn Fein The Workers Party
going on permanently upstairs.
On our knees, we’ll ask
for the unforgiveness of sins
and life not lasting.
We’ll be ourselves again
and then some.
House Guest
after Elizabeth Bishop
For eighteen months
he’s been staying
until the end of next week –
harder to pin down on any calendar
than the precise date of his world
uprising of the workers,
which he writes down for you nightly
on that day’s anti-poll tax leaflet.
All the first week of January, fried slices
of the Christmas pudding his mother sent him
in the post are breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Work or the laundrette would get in the way
of his plans for the planet.
Your one bedroom flat is starting to smell.
When not away on a demo chanting
“Victory to Iraq!” his afternoons are spent
doing despicable things to worse women
in your bed. The pile of twenty pence pieces
on your bedside locker diminishes daily.
Yesterday, he was rushed to hospital
to have the y-fronts he’s worn
for the past six months
surgically removed.
Today, he’s what
emerges from your living room
sofa bed to tell you
where you’re going wrong.
A School Boy Goes Home Early
Twenty five years after me, you moved
through a chaos of blue uniforms
down those same break time corridors
towards the day you became
a list of things that’ll never now happen.
Parties you won’t be going to.
Cities you’ll never visit.
A wedding day at which
you’ll never arrive.
You couldn’t see
that even the worst weather
of your worst day
would have given way
to something else;
that you could have lived
through anything
but this.
Together In The Future Tense
On a day that, for now, sits
unopened under the tree,
you’ll push me uphill in a wheelchair;
say things like: Augustus John,
as you’ll know, was obsessed
with motorcars
and think
people know what you mean.
Every other Wednesday
we’ll take the wrong medication
(you, mine and I, yours)
and the results will be
magnificent. I’ll be forever answering
the question before last.
In our thoughts we’ll commit
grotesque typographical errors:
for Athens read Athenry, for Ralgex
read Canesten, for Disabled Toilet
read World Weightlifting Championships,
for Swan Lake read Loughrea.
The once absolute monarchy
of my brain will grant autonomy
to my bits. Our bladders will be busy
writing their declarations of independence.
We’ll be our very own festival of befuddlement;
as the light on the Aegean Sea
becomes a small boy
taking his ball home for the evening,
and the stray dogs wander off.
from Frightening New Furniture (Salmon Poetry, 2010)
Order Frightening New Furniture.

Ann Drysdale’s Quaintness and Other Offences

Ann Drysdale

Ann Drysdale is a British poet, born near Manchester, raised in London, married in Birmingham, ran a smallholding and brought up three children on the North York Moors and now lives in South Wales. She was a journalist for many years, writing, among other things, the longest-running by-line column in the Yorkshire Evening Post, which she later made into a series of books. Her recent publications have included two memoirs, Three-three, Two-two, Five-six and Discussing Wittgenstein, both from Cinnamon Press, and a quirky guidebook in the Real Wales series – Real Newport, from Seren. Of her four volumes of poetry from Peterloo, the most recent, Between Dryden and Duffy, appeared in 2005. A fifth collection, Quaintness and Other Offences, was recently published by Cinnamon Press. She is also the current holder of the Dylan Thomas prize for Poetry in Performance.

Ann Drysdale’s fifth collection of poetry displays all the familiar skills of this witty, assured and deeply humane writer. Her handling of poignant subjects is informed by her astute intelligence and sharp eye; her feeling for form is matched by the precision and dexterity with which she uses language. Varied, immediate and accomplished, her work speaks to a wide audience.
“Ann Drysdale has a way of adding wit to form that turns the poem on the page from a squib to an arc-welder.”
– Peter Finch
“The thing about Ann’s poetry is the thing with all poets worth a damn. It’s the way she says something you couldn’t say in any other way. The poem skewers the meaning, just like that.”
– John Whitworth
“Ann Drysdale is one of the poets whose work has become part of my life.”
– U A Fanthorpe
“This is poetry that speaks to you personally, touches, makes human contact, a rare and crucial virtue that transforms good poetry into essential poetry. The direct, authentic voice shines through. It’s like talking to a sensible, straight-talking (but eloquent) person after spending an evening with a room full of delirious ranting bullshitters.”
– Paul Stevens
Let’s do Lunch …
Oh, where is it heading and where will it end?
Liaison of lovers or food with a friend?
I answered yes, please but my heart said no, thanks
As I suddenly saw myself swelling the ranks
Of the ladies who lunch with their Afternoon Men
Again and again and again and again
With rillettes of rabbit, or moules marinière
As the only connection between any pair.
Lunch isn’t dinner, which ends up in bed;
We part on a pavement with everything said
And you ring me up later but don’t talk for long
And I feel in my water it’s all going wrong.
There used to be music but not any more
So I know where I am and I’ve been here before,
A little bit tipsy, a little bit high
On the scent of the cheek that I’m kissing goodbye…
Old Spice…  AramisEau SauvageVetiver
First wind of the end of another affair.
I am becoming my grandmother…
Sooner or later, in the great scheme of things,
Women are ambushed by their transformation
Into their own mothers. Mirrors tell them,
Or echoes of some little tetchiness
That still itches under skin that has thinned
To let it out again.
Not I;
I have skipped a generation and will soon
Become my grandmother. It has begun.
No longer can I pass a crying child
Without wiping its nose on my pinny
Or any dog without extending my hand.
I find all kinds of treasures in the street
And take them home with me in a string bag.
I touch flowers, move snails out of the way
Of passing traffic. All these things I do
Regardless of the present company.
The transformation has not gone unnoticed;
Somebody left a hurt newt in a bowl
Outside my door, convinced that I could help it.
And now at last I am the world’s Aunt Jessie;
Old, fat and ugly, but – hurrah! God loves me!
Daily I hit the road in shapeless lace-ups
Dap-slapping my way across East Anglia,
Now and then turning my face up to heaven
Like a tanned leather bottle full of questions
To diagnose the illness of the wind
And look for little ways to make it better.
To Camelot
Yobs untie the cabin cruiser
Left to rot beside the river,
Drag her down and turn her over,
Push her out onto the water
     Just to see if she will float.
Big boots crushing frosty sedges
All along the water’s edges,
Hurling missiles from the bridges
     At the dented, dying boat.
First she proudly breasts the current,
Rides the river, heir apparent
To the beauty of the torrent,
Off to face her final moment
     Elemental and alone.
But the yobs continue throwing,
Conscious of their power, knowing
They can still control her going –
     One more curse and one more stone.
Laughing with the joy of wrecking;
Shattered screen and splintered decking.
Listing, lurching, bobbing, jinking,
Now she founders, now she’s sinking –
     Yeah! Titanic! Gissa shot!
Little bits of broken mirror
Catch the sunset on the river
Where the song goes on forever
     All the way to Camelot.
The Red Mud of Lydney
On a field trip to Gloucestershire, not long before he died,
The tired leaves of autumn were committing suicide
To the threnody of drizzle that was clearly in cahoots
With the red mud of Lydney that was sucking at my boots.
We were following our colleagues to the villa on the hill
With Philip in the wheelchair, doing splendidly until
We heard a noise behind us such as speedy people make
And turned and saw a four-by-four that wished to overtake.
The cure for our predicament was well within his gift;
His flat bed trailer might have offered us a lift,
But he gave the horn an irritated toot as if to say
That he was heading up the hill and we were in the way.
The man in the Land Rover didn’t try to pass,
He made me lug the wheelchair through the lateral morass.
He watched me as I struggled but he wouldn’t meet my eye,
Just raised his own to heaven with a hissy little sigh.
It took me every ounce of strength to haul it off the track
And I knew as I was doing it I’d never haul it back.
He found a gear and roared away and left us helpless there.
Oh, I would’ve pulled my forelock if I’d had a hand to spare.
Each time I see the wheelchair standing empty in the shed
Still muddily encrusted in that special shade of red
It galls me and appalls and transports me back again
To the loneliness and hopelessness of Lydney in the rain.
Acid Trip
     Willow bark, willow bite
     First drug I’ve done tonight
     Wish I may, wish I might
     Muddle through another night
Ye tiny clots, cumulative contusions
That block the pathways and create confusions
Become as dust dispersing in a river
My willow wand shall banish thee forever.
     Strip the willow, set it going
     Hold the rhythm, keep it flowing
    Ease the valves that stop and start
     The secret chambers of my heart
Sing a song of sunshine
Boozy bottoms up
Five and seventy milligrams
Swirling in a cup
When the stuff is swallowed
The traffic starts to flow
And all the little corpuscles
Go marching in a row!
     Acid trip, acid trip
     Take another little nip
     Wish I may, wish I might
     Wish again tomorrow night.
Note: the acid involved here is not Lysergic acid diethylamide
but Acetylsalicylic acid. Sorry.
The Bingo Bus
The ladies of Winchestown are going south for the ’Ousey.
Flashing their passes, they accrue on the sideways seats
At the front of the trundling bus as it growls down the valley.
The twitter is constant; a narrow, high range, like bats,
Unmoderated in its content, for who can overhear them
Other than dogs and peculiarly sharp-eared children?
They all chew gum. In their youth it was thought unseemly
So they chew very fast to make up for so much lost time,
Redeploying the involuntary motions of old mouths.
They take on their gum like ballast before boarding.
They work it as they talk, quick-flicking it like the shuttles
Of the flannel weavers in days even they don’t remember.
Tongues toss the soft pellets like small boys in blankets;
Teeth, false and furious, catch them and roll them ready
For another somersault as the tongues move in again.
And so it goes – allez-oop!à bas!encore!
A non-stop pantomime of death and resurrection
All the way down to the ’Stute in Abertillery.
Note: ’Stute – the Miners’ Institute. Once every South Wales mining town had one.
from Quaintness and Other Offences (Cinnamon Press, 2009)
Order Quaintness and Other Offences here or here.
Visit Ann’s poetry pf page.

Suzanne Frischkorn’s Girl on a Bridge

Suzanne Frischkorn by Lori Schaller

In addition to Girl on a Bridge, Suzanne Frischkorn is the author of Lit Windowpane, also from Main Street Rag Publishing (2008), and five chapbooks, most recently American Flamingo, (2008). Her poems appear in numerous journals and anthologies including, Ecotone, Indiana Review, Margie, North American Review, Verse Daily and Conversation Pieces: Poems that Talk to Other Poems, part of Knopf’s Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series. A 2009 Emerging Writers Fellow of The Writer’s Center, her honors also include the Aldrich Poetry Award and an Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism. She serves as an Assistant Editor for Anti-.

“Good citizens beware: Suzanne Frischkorn has let Girl on a Bridge loose on the world and she’s spreading the word about the furies of femininity and the madness of motherhood with its ‘stone weight of home’. These poems burn holes on the fairy tale pages of domestic fantasy and uncover the treacherous (though more exciting) narratives of those women who dare stray from the path or, at the very least, who celebrate their desires: ‘What’s more flattering than being wanted by a mouth that waters?’ This book of finely-crafted verse holds up its poetry like a lovely razor blade.”
– Rigoberto González
“Suzanne Frischkorn is a fierce and fearless poet. In Girl on a Bridge, she first upends our dainty notions of girlhood and then leads us into the wilderness of violence, madness, fear, and love  – and does so with beauty and tenderness.”
– Julianna Baggott
“Bee stings,”
he called
the bumps
under my t-shirt.
I had a crush
on Roger—
his blue eyes,
his blond hair.
That day
on my porch steps
wrecked my posture for years.
Great Lash

     You wear too much eye makeup. My sister wears too much.
     People think she’s a whore.

Our cornfields were paved in asphalt, sulfur
lights snuffed our stars. When one of us had
no shoes, we went barefoot, walking streets
laid with tar. First we coated lashes blackest
black from tubes of green and pink, our eyes
lined kohl. If it was Thursday we found
boyfriends and waited by the liquor store for
anyone to buy us Smirnoff. Anyone at all.
          We were not sweet girls.
We were not sweet girls, yet we wore silver
chains with silver hearts & crosses, onyx
rings, blush, lipstick, powder. Hair flipped
by vent brush before entering a night without
stars. Our parents were line dancing, were bank
tellers, were absent. We were a family that knew
          nothing about its members.
We cut school and watched Foxes.
We cut school and drank vodka.
We cut school and got stoned,
did our makeup, walked the streets.
One of us got out. One of us ran
into our connection working a shoe store,
one of us glimpsed another with a baby,
one of us marries her Thursday night
          boyfriend and shatters her image.
We were not sweet girls, no. If there had
been corn, or stars? Maybe the deep
sweet girlness would have surfaced ― dreamy
          fresh-faced girls ― petals listening to rain.
When the Sun Came Out They Disappeared
The town woke to moths.
Overnight a quiet storm
smothered the appetites of birds,
and papered the utility poles.
                                                 It’s a sign of drought
when all the signposts disappear,
when an entire town disappears
draped in white winged moths,
papery, and dry as a drought.
The town prayed for a storm—
a deluge to knock down poles.
There was not a branch left for the birds.
Not a single perch left for a bird.
A white slight of wing, and the town disappeared.
Wings stacked upon each other, pole
after pole blanketed in gypsy moths.
The town woke up to a storm
of white wing, and disappeared.
                                                       Like children disappear
their whereabouts known only to birds,
forgotten in archives, alive only in the storm
within a parent’s heart, their bodies found after a long drought.
An omen, these moths,
          of all that will disappear.
It remains to be seen how much utility the poles
retain. If white wings portend drought,
do tens of thousands white moths
portend the death of birds?
                                            Will the birds disappear?
                    What is this storm?
A white papery gypsy storm
that settles on the utility poles
and makes a town disappear.
A slight of wing brings barrenness, and drought
They could have warned them, the birds,
                                                   You will wake to moths.
A storm of moths takes a town
its birds, its utility poles,
                         and just as with drought, life disappears.
from Girl on a Bridge (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2010)
Signed copies of Girl on a Bridge are available here.
Read more of Suzanne’s work.

Arlene Ang’s Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu

Arlene Ang

Arlene Ang is the author of The Desecration of Doves (2005), Secret Love Poems (Rubicon Press, 2007), and a collaborative book with Valerie Fox, Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon (Texture Press, 2008). She lives in Spinea, Italy where she serves as staff editor for The Pedestal Magazine and Press 1. Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu, published by Cinnamon Press in 2010, is her third full-length collection.

Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu is concerned with images and perception; the intricacies and strangeness of human relationships. Her language, sometimes surreal, challenges expectations. Always sensual and inventive, this is poetry that surprises; poetry with a rapid heartbeat that demands the reader responds. Ang deploys sharp crafting and a unique voice.
“This is a fresh and remarkable work that explores relationships and perceptions with great imagination and finesse. Sometimes bold and always graceful, Ang’s poems demonstrate her true mastery of the surreal.”
– Jayne Pupek
Dream Experiments Involving Polaroids
Before my mother goes to bed
bearing the extraction of her breast, she has
to walk away from me.
She keeps slipping on the floor.
She is halfway to saying
goodbye. Instead she turns around
and takes a snapshot
of my face looking in on her
from the French window. She slips again.
The nightdress climbs her hip
and shows the moon
all the veins where the blood went
wrong. She is weeping now.
The picture in her hand has captured
only the wedge of my red shoe.
In the next five hundred dream states,
she will explain to everyone
this is how much she loves me,
that I will always remain a living person to her.
The soundtrack is that of a body crossing
itself over and over. She has
no notion of how little they understand
what she says. It’s been like this
every time: we meet, we fail
in our attempts to take photos of each other,
we don’t talk, we don’t go into details—
like which one of us is dead. Or isn’t. 
Dead Girl Found Curled Up in Snow
She is an ear.
She is a sea shell
taken—like a taste
for destruction—
from the sea.
Her body
to the beauty
inherent in snow.
The needle
splitting the vein
on her arm
has fallen into
a trance.
Her fingers curve
as if halfway
into the interpretation
of Clair de Lune.
It is time
for her to leave.
She is nameless.
The ice holds
her blue lips together.
She doesn’t wake up,
doesn’t know
the hollowed womb
she’s left
on the ground,
or later
how more snow fell
and erased all
trace of where
she didn’t belong.
Ant trails
lead to the peach on the counter. It is overripe,
and your nail has left an open wound. Streetlight bathes
the kitchen into a shipwreck. A plate—chipped
in several parts—awaits the fruit, like proof of civilization.
With age, the tendency to live birthdays alone
ingrains itself in bone. Candles are stowed under the sink
for black outs. It is customary to collide against
the fridge in the absence of light. The dreamt-of pain
rubs against your knee, picking up on reality.
What is sleep, if not a finger pressing unconsciousness
upon the body? Something always drips out:
blood, juice, tears. The counter doesn’t distinguish
your reflection from the fruit rot. After ten years,
it’s still shining and—for the granite—it’s enough to go on.
Once you’ve killed an ant, more arrive because
it is in the nature of workers to take the dead away.
The Bearded Lady
sonnenizio on a line from Ros Barber
On a morning like any other, she wakes to find
a slit in the curtains unsheathing the sun
across the bed. She calls her cat, a summons
that reverts back to silence. As she rises,
she leaves her hair behind—dark brown
and curling on the dishevelled sheets.
She undresses. The half-light gives itself
to inspecting her body. She has lost her beard
and a chunk of left breast. She has only
just begun. She turns her head to the pillow
where she had laid to sleep a husband
and two dogs. And there, she finds
what she was made to find: the dead mouse,
a sheen of blood ripening its half-closed mouth.
from Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu
(Cinnamon Press, 2010)
Order Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu.
Sarah Sloat reviews Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu on Goodreads.
Visit Arlene’s website.

Tamar Yoseloff’s Fetch

Tamar Yoseloff

Tamar Yoseloff was born in the US in 1965. Since moving to London in 1987, she has been the organiser of the Terrible Beauty reading series at the Troubadour Coffee House, Reviews Editor of Poetry London magazine, and from 2000 to 2007, Programme Coordinator for The Poetry School. She currently works as a freelance tutor in creative writing.
A pamphlet collection (Fun House, Slow Dancer Press, 1994) was followed by her first full collection, Sweetheart (Slow Dancer Press, 1998), which was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation and the winner of the Aldeburgh Festival Prize. She received a New Writers’ Award from London Arts (now Arts Council England, London) for a manuscript in progress, which was eventually published as her second collection, Barnard’s Star (Enitharmon Press, 2004) Her most recent book, Fetch, was published by Salt in April 2007, as well as a collaborative book with the artist Linda Karshan, published by Pratt Contemporary Art. She was the editor of A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (Salt, 2007) and the Poetry Editor of Art World magazine from 2007 to 2009. Her upcoming collection with Salt, The City with Horns, will feature a sequence of poems inspired by the life and work of the American abstract artist, Jackson Pollock.
She holds a MPhil in Writing from the University of Glamorgan, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University. She teaches for a number of institutions, including Birkbeck, Spread the Word and the Poetry School. In 2005 she was Writer in Residence at Magdalene College, Cambridge, as part of their Year in Literature Festival. She divides her time between London and Suffolk, and has recently completed her first novel.

“Though she holds life precious, she is not precious herself: alert to Tommy Cooper, paper cups, biros, belisha beacons … Seduction, sharp edges, high seriousness, satire – this book has them all … Fetch, her sensitive, sassy third collection, is her best yet.”
– Anne Berkeley, Seam
“These are dark poems in the best sense of the word, edgy, unnerving, but glittering, too. Tamar Yoseloff can make a visit to the dentist or a lamb curry sexy and sinister. I’ve followed her career from the beginning; Fetch is her most ambitious book yet, and her best.”
– Matthew Francis
“These compressed and vivid poems have a mind and a music all their own. Tamar Yoseloff is emerging as one of the best poets of her generation.”
– Thomas Lux
“Tamar Yoseloff’s Fetch is a delicate book of haunting strength, of strangeness uncontained. These poems are irresistible.”
– Alison Brackenbury 
The Firing

“If I had any chance of recovery, this passion would kill me . . .
I have coals of fire in my breast.”
John Keats
Our bodies, ignited by touch; however light,
flesh can singe with pleasure, the heart
can burn itself to cinder.
We leave relics in the sheets,
our sweat and skin, what’s dead of us.
In the half dark I listen
for the shuttle of my heart.
Blood wells up through a cut
to taste the world.
I am a vessel, open
to your body. If only you could
move through me, enter
the spleen, the coiled intestine.
You are already in
my eye, my brain.
Fire takes the manshape
like a lover: the clumsy arsonist,
the heroic father, the monk
in saffron robes. No matter
what they believed,
how they lived, in the end
reduced to this: a ribcage
forged in flame, curving
like the branches of a tree.
In the story my mother read me,
the tin soldier burned for love,
reduced to a molten heart,
the dancer’s tinsel rose
shrivelled to a dark fist.
I longed for the happy ending.
Strange shapes would form
in darkness as I lay in my bed
at night, wondering
what it was like to die.
I found a bird’s skull in the yard,
ran my finger over the beak,
the eyeless hole,
the smooth cranium,
then buried it in the ground.
A man stands before a wall
of fire, holding a cross
on a chain against his heart.
His likeness is on ivory
and although so small,
I think I see the flicker
in his eyes as he beholds
the woman who held
this image to her heart
four hundred years ago.
To think of the flame
he burned for her
snuffed out, four hundred
years in his grave, his love
reduced from flesh to bone
to soot; but flesh remains
in memory, the feel of her skin
beneath his fingers, like fine clay.
Coal and ironstone, silica, bole,
sea earth, marl, the soil yields
hard treasures, breaks down matter.
In the hill top cemetery the graves
fall in on themselves,
marble crumbles to dust,
loved ones tumble
into each others arms, their bones
knit and form a whole.
Gold fillings, titanium,
a wedding ring, calcium.
What doesn’t burn
is sifted out. A light package
without heavy limbs
and troublesome heart.
When I die, scatter my ash
on water, so I curl the waves
on a cloud of dust,
each particle of me alive
to sunlight, floating,
a little boat of myself.
Published in Fetch (Salt, 2007) and based on the work of
the potter Julian Stair
Gold leaf, cadmium, ochre, saffron—
indelible once set on vellum.
The monks ground azurite and lapis
for perfect blue, took care
to cleanse their hands of poison
that made words sacred.
We place our fingers against
each other’s lips, a vow of silence,
sense the touch mark even after.
I am brimming with words
but none can hold that moment
when our faces, edged in gold
glinted in the water’s mirror,
the invisible sun within us
so I let them fly, lead white
against a white sky.
Portrait of a Couple Looking at a Turner Landscape
They stand, not quite touching,
before a world after storm.
There are drops of moisture in her hair,
in his scarf
                     the colour of a gentler sea, his eyes,
while trains depart every minute, steaming
into the future, where the hills
unroll themselves,
vast plains of emerald and gold
            (she undressed for him, slowly,
            her skin like cloud under dark layers)
after rooms of Rubens and Fragonard, flesh dead
against old brocade
                             (their flesh alive in the white sheets).
There are trains departing.
                                         When they part
it will be night, outside a theatre, near the station,
          and the sky will be blown with stars,
too dim to see in the glare of neon.
They will stand on concrete and asphalt,
                                 the innocent shining sands
lost. The world tilts to meet her face,
he holds her face close
          and something closes in on them,
the weight of silence in the street,
the winter horizon, bright, huge,
the moment before
                              the sky opens and it pours.
The Venetian Mirror

“When I first hung it in our bedroom we could not sleep all night,
it was like having the moon for company, so bright it shone ”
Jim Ede
Silver has its day, recedes
to reveal the surface beneath
gone black—
its own Dorian moment.
It reflects back what we have
not been able to understand,
an abundance lost, just hinted
in the etched leaves, tendrils lacing
the frame. What’s inside is
rust, a pox on a lovely face,
still we trade its dimensions
for our own: dumbstruck, vain.
The basilica behind a slick
of rain, gold diminished
to dun. The colour of nothing.
The bulk of it jagged
on the darkening sky.
The end of day, odic light
illuminates a shrivelled rose;
all the sadness we contain
in this drop of rain, its
crystallised gloom.
The ghost hulk of the palazzo
leans into the canal. Narcissus crazed.
Tarnished jewels, pink marble
dulled to flesh. Shiver of a ballroom
out of season, sliver of broken
glass, the first glistening of frost,
as the campana strikes,
mourns itself in echo.
‘The Venetian Mirror’ is featured in Identity Parade
(Bloodaxe, 2010).
Order Fetch.
Visit Tamar’s website.

Matt Merritt’s Troy Town

Matt Merritt

Matt Merritt was born in Leicester in 1969. He studied history at Newcastle University, and has worked as a newspaper and magazine journalist in Cardiff, Leicester and Peterborough. He currently works for Bird Watching magazine, and lives near Leicester. His chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, was published by HappenStance Press in October 2005, and a new collection, Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, is forthcoming from Nine Arches Press in November 2010.

Troy Town (Arrowhead Press, 2008)
“The past is startled into a sudden eloquence”.
Matt Merritt’s poems are startling. Their voice is quiet, their rhymes discreet, but a loch reveals a submarine; a sky, a sudden bird; a landscape, love. This book’s familiars are birds, about which Matt Merritt writes beautifully. The poems are also brushed by the wings of loss, lit by jokes, eloquent with hope.
     Sudden rain now.
     Liquid miles, but hours yet to harden into day.
     The way it always is.
     Remember this.
This work is memorable for the best reasons. Without hectoring, it reminds us of what we know. Irresistibly, it opens new horizons. The reader does not want a poem to end, but when it must, the reward is insight, the exact observation which is love.
Troy Town is humorous, wise, and clear-eyed. These are poems for grown-ups, to which a reader will return, with pleasure and surprise, again and again.”
– Alison Brackenbury
At Home
Window open to the smell of rajma makhai,
wet leaves, the smoke of suburban bonfires,
the roar that rises and fades like a through train
from the black hole of the stadium a mile away.
Spires, cranes, constellations and all light are swallowed
to be spat out God knows where, and the link road
from the motorway is a strand of spaghetti
sucked in slowly. Once you defied gravity
with velocity unthinkable now, broke that orbit
but stopped to toast your own escape.
At this distance, dragged back from the limit
you’re thinking, too much, too soon. No one’s safe.
The Meeting Place
“…within us, balanced like a gyroscope, is joy.”
Tomas Transtromer
Nothing leads up to it.
No sudden voltage, a whiff of ionized ozone mingling
with diesel, damp cardboard and out of date fruit.
Traffic lights maintain their sequence,
diaries continue to get written
in lamplit bedrooms glimpsed from near-empty
top decks. Timetables are still met. But she is there
at the junction of all things, and at once
the better part of you is persuaded
out of balance. Moments fray to a fine thread.
The past is startled into a sudden eloquence.
Nothing need follow.
Only now does it occur to me
as something unseen, maybe a dog in the dunes
beyond (although in the poem it will be a peregrine,
probably) unravels a tangle of them near the outflow.
There is one sharp salvo of low-pitched cries –
knut, knut, knut –
then they spiral like smoke to heaven,
first black as a cloud of summer gnats, now silvered
as the foil they used to fool radar,
to collect themselves again
in the tranquility of the sandbar.
                                            And stand
                                                     Calidris canutus,
king’s men all, commanding the waves to turn back
or else making a point completely lost on history
(though the great Dane’s fondness for them
was purely culinary). Their beaks pushed
into wet mud create a pressure wave,
reflected back and detected by a sensitive layer
at the end of the bill, so any objects larger
than a grain of salt show up like a submarine on sonar.
And they’re airborne again,
                                    only now it occurs to me
that they’re more a shimmering shoal of sand eels,
dissipated in a second, disappearing momentarily,
a stubborn collective thought of explosive energy.
Troy Town
Never too late to learn to trust the path
like rustics running the shepherd’s race
at May Eve. To put aside all thoughts
of dead ends, blind alleys, mental maps.
To put aside all thoughts.
                                   Yet here we are
on hands and knees again, penitent,
bent on special pleading to whatever
it is lies at the centre, certain only
there’s but one place this is heading.
from Troy Town (Arrowhead Press, 2008)
Order Troy Town.
Visit Matt’s blog, Polyolbion.
Read three poems published in Horizon Review.
Read a poem published in Ink Sweat & Tears.
Listen to Matt reading four poems at PoetCasting.

Storytelling festival and auction

I Am Somebody! is a youth organisation that uses storytelling to bring together 18 to 21 year olds from all races, cultures and classes in Cape Town. Using life and archetypal storytelling, the organisers run a two-year mentorship programme with young people to develop their self-awareness, get them to connect across the invisible barriers of race, culture and class to understand one another and build relationships based on compassion and trust. They help young people develop their innate gifts and then use these to address needs and issues in their own communities.
The mentees will research issues in their own communities and identify one area they would like to tackle. The group will then bring their individual research together and using the skills, knowledge and resources of all the communities represented, they will develop creative solutions to their problems. The organisation’s aim is to use the talents of all communities to start developing solutions to Cape Town’s problems from the ground up.
“Storytelling, you know, has a real function. The process of storytelling itself is a healing process, partly because you have someone there who is taking the time to tell you a story that has great meaning for them. Stories differ from advice, in that once you get them; they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you.” 
– Alice Walker
Visit Warren T Te Brugge’s blog to read a short article and watch a video clip.
RSVP to Toni Stuart on 071 5733 597 or by Wednesday, 21 July 2010.

Lost Voices: A Tribute

Dr. Graham Ellis writes:
“Many have songs but are silenced before they can sing. Many of the voices lost to HIV/AIDS will never be heard. The talent lost cannot be calculated. Many of those who are lost never ‘hit the Big Time’. The language of their hearts never reached their lips. I don’t know how many or who they were.
Mzwandile Matiwane was one and I knew him briefly.
He wrote poetry while in St. Albans jail where he spent about 14 years. He told me that poetry saved his life there. In 2006 he sometimes appeared at ‘Off-The-Wall’ poetry evenings in Observatory, where he masqueraded as ‘the Hobo Poet’. In the harsh Cape winter of that year he lived under cardboard beneath a bridge near Cape Town Castle.
On one of my trips to drop him off at his ‘home’ he asked me to take care of some of his handwritten pages of poetry. The first page opened with a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘One always hears in the writings of a hermit something of the echo of the desert, something of the whisper and the shy vigilance of solitude’. His health deteriorated and in 2008 he moved back to his mother’s home in Port Elizabeth. He passed away shortly thereafter. In a phone call to him a few days before he died, he said: “It feels as if I am walking against the wind”.
Lost Voices is an attempt, not only to honour Mzwandile’s tragic life, but also the many unknown voices that we have lost to HIV/AIDS.
I have been joined in this project by the remarkable playwright and performer, Monty Jola.
Monty was Mzwandile’s friend and mentor. His acclaimed play, A New Struggle, will form the centrepiece of our short evening of poetry, music, dance and performance. Our collaboration became possible when we teamed up with Dr. Ashraf Mohammed and the Peer Group Educators of the HIV/AIDS Unit of Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
Proceeds from the evening will go to Mzwandile’s mother and to Monty Jola’s Township Theatre Performance Group.
We look forward to a memorable evening.
Thanks for your support!”

Beverly Rycroft’s Missing

Beverly Rycroft

Beverly Rycroft was born in the Eastern Cape. She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand. She worked as a teacher for several years before turning full time to writing and journalism. Her articles have been published widely both locally and internationally. Her poems have been published in local literary magazines such as Carapace, New Coin and scrutiny2. She lives in Cape Town with her family. Missing (Modjaji Books, 2010) is her first collection of poems.

In 1997 Beverly Rycroft was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. The poems in her debut collection, Missing, chart the experience of facing mortality, illness and the hope of recovery.
“This astonishingly moving debut collection reads compellingly as one complete story. Missing covers the archetypal journey from sickness and near-death to transformation and hope. Rycroft wears her exquisite poetic technique lightly – through rich and deftly crafted images, the poems are profoundly inviting, readable and memorable. I could not put it down.”
– Finuala Dowling
The telephone, once a domestic creature
has turned into a raptor.
At nine last night it sprang, the first attack.
The Doctor’s voice spinning from it
steamed warm
and sticky as fresh entrails:


When I dropped the receiver back
the shriek became a burr again.

This morning it perches beside my unmade bed
wings folded, eyes shut
feigning sleep.

I’d like you to look at your X-rays
On the sixth floor we’re almost eye level
with three white clouds that have
strayed into the maze
of buildings around Wynberg Hospital.
They’ve no language for
where they’ve been left, lost
above the traffic
and hawkers selling fruit
and taxi drivers we can hear
even from behind the double-glazed windows
of the doctor’s room.

No one’s forced me here.
I’m free if I wish to catch
– for five rand only –
a ride to
or Cape Town Central Station.
If I wanted I could
take a train to the east coast
disembark at East London
hitch to Transkei.
I’m told long-horned Nguni cattle still bask
on the Wild Coast rocks and
get called back each evening
by barefoot boys in school uniform.
I’ve seen for myself the clouds
that sprawl and slur untranslated
across that sky
beneath which poverty
     and death
are quite unremarkable.
Dying women should not wear lipstick

dying women should not wear lipstick
or pink-checked mini skirts that shriek
sexy! and shoot right up
past their skinny knees
towards their truncated breasts.
they ought not to wear
pillbox hats that lodge on their stubbled heads
like stranded yachts or put on
stiletto heels or shiny earrings
or even oddly-matched shoes. they
must stay at home and
wear brown scarves. they must
turn their dying faces away from the rest of us
and not eat ice cream on Sea Point promenade
or enjoy spring
or breed hamsters.
they may not run in the annual school sports day mothers’ race
and definitely never win.
of course they are allowed to cry.
but only in the privacy of their own
locked rooms
and only when holding
a pillow over their
warm and dying mouths to stop
their children from knowing:
     there is something a little more
     than dying going on in there.
For Thomas in California

Do you lie awake at night
– cousin Nolan asks –
and worry about your kids?
I knew someone else – he sighs
She looked fine, just like you.
     Until she died.
And the woman who cut my hair
at the hairdresser’s in Cavendish Square:
She had an Aunt with the illness
who’d been one hundred percent OK.
     Until six months ago.
Then there’s the nurse in Wynberg
who sews prosthetic pockets and enjoys
keeping me up to date with each
fresh death
amongst her dwindling
I save them all up for you, Tom
for Sunday nights
when you phone and I can finally fume:
I’m going to live
to bury all those people who think
I won’t make it

I wait for you to tell me:
Don’t say that
That’s awful
People don’t
mean to
be unkind

But you just say:
Hand me that shovel, girl.
I’m gonna help you dig.

i don’t remember what
made her cry that day
– her brother teasing? her sister ignoring her? –
running to where i sat
in the armchair of the sunny lounge
that was before they allowed
a prosthesis to lie
over the healing scar
and i only remember
– long after she’d stopped –
how hard her skull felt
on the bones of my chest.
What I plan

I plan to eat oat snaps (more than two)
while drinking Lady Grey tea
in a house at Plettenberg Bay overlooking
the mountains and a sea
rolled flat as pastry by the fussy wind.

I plan to not-plan or anticipate
the abrupt scream of metal
or the phone call at 3 am
or the silent busy-ness of my own
multiplying cells.

I plan to forgive myself if I do.

I plan to lose myself – often –
in the temporary
or chilled)
to sit out the turbulence when it mauls
at the equator of my muscle and bone
I plan to remember I’ve kept afloat till now.
And remembering better times I plan
to call them once again to account
to hang them from my warped mainsail
like worn and mended sails that shout:
Here you have held the wind.
from Missing (Modjaji Books, 2010)
The Launch 
You are cordially invited to the launch of Beverly Rycroft’s Missing:
Date: Saturday, 17 July 2010
Time: 18h00 to 19h30
Venue: Kalk Bay Books, Cape Town
Enter your details here to be added to the guest list.
Visit Reach for Recovery.

Andrew Philip’s The Ambulance Box

Andrew Philip

Andrew Philip was born in Aberdeen in 1975. He lived in Berlin for a short spell in the 1990s before studying linguistics at Edinburgh University. The Ambulance Box, his first book of poems, is published by Salt. It was shortlisted for the first book category in the 2010 Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Awards and for the 2009 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.

The Ambulance Box is a timely reminder of the range and power of the lyric. This is a powerful debut, and Andrew Philip’s is a significant new voice.”
– Michael Symmons Roberts
“Andrew Philip is part of a significant group of younger Scottish poets. This is poetry which achieves its ambitions nimbly and without fuss. In doing so it talks, quietly but urgently, to us all.”
– W.N. Herbert
“It is rare to encounter a voice of this kind in which a burnished clarity of utterance seems the only conceivable response to life experienced as a profound yet daily miracle.”
– David Kinloch
“‘This dove is here for the duration.’ With precision and delicacy, Andrew Philip explores what it means to live by faith in a ruptured world.”
– Lorraine Marriner
The Ambulance Box delights readers with a dance through images and words that express powerful visionary and and spiritual experiences … [and] encourage us to explore the visual and linguistic connections that link art with faith and uncertainty; art with loss and discovery; and art with the artist.”
– Rosie Shepherd, Magma
The Invention of Zero
Andrew Philip

What like was it
       this abundant world
where nothing was not—
       no neat ring
shackling us to absence,
       no way not
to count or be counted—
       where everything
filled without this
       empty nest of a number
perched in the mind,
       everything swerved
its wide white oblivion;
       and could we,
given the state of our knowledge,
       live with the lack of it
unable to quantify
       certain populations
in the wild, the exhaustion
       of our reserves,
the number and intensity
       of cries in the night?
Andrew Philip

for Aidan Michael Philip

this is the arm that held you
this is the hand that cradled your cold feet
these are the ears that heard you
whimper and cough throughout your brush with light
this is the chest that warmed you
these are the eyes that caught your glimpse of life
this is the man you fathered —
his voided love, his writhen pride and grief
Order The Ambulance Box from Salt.
Visit Andrew’s website and blog here.
Listen to Andrew reading four poems at PoetCasting.