Chris Emery lives in Cromer with his wife and children. He is a director of Salt, an independent literary press. He has published two previous collections of poetry, a writer’s guide and edited editions of Emily Brontë, Keats and Rossetti. His work has been widely published in magazines and anthologised, most recently in Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010).
“At the centre of Emery’s third collection are a series of narrative poems that reveal an astonishing range of personas, from the set of Mission Impossible, an extra from Gojira, porn stars, bombers and executioners — even Charles Bukowski turns up to take a leak. There are Pennine journeys, war zones, the Norfolk coast, the Suffolk coast, riots, bad hotel rooms and crazy conventions. Even the secret life of peas. Interspersed among all these are poems concerning the mysterious ‘M’.”
“The poems in The Departure possess (and are possessed by) such intent, detailed, living brilliance, it is like reading a series of captivating novels compressed to their musical essence.”
– David Morley
“Chris Emery’s poems are like highly compressed short stories that we enter at high speed. Once in, the place is full of vivid detail keeping our head turning. A good deal of the world is there with all its proper names, staring back at us as if it desired calm but knew things were on the move. Sometimes surreal, sometimes baroque, at other times darkly playful, the world is as in ‘Snails’: “Tonight we will pile them, pile everything of them/ into the whorl of a bucket and then we will fill it/ to the top with forest tears and let the silence do its work.””
– George Szirtes
“In his aptly-named new collection, Chris Emery shows he still has the talent to surprise us with a perfectly-managed change of direction and range, showing (in the words of one of his poems) a new “fantastic ordinary face”. A fresh accessibility is achieved with a richness of striking and imaginative language that will impress his existing readership, and reward the new one this book is certain to attract. There is plenty of humour here alongside genuine political commitment, a lot of real human feeling between its sharp satirical edges, kissing as well as broken teeth. Anybody interested in the contemporary poetry of these islands will have to read this book.”
– Ian Duhig
“There’s an immediacy and something familiar in the way the poems of Chris Emery’s new collection address the reader. They impel us to engage, to join the moment, the experience, the thought, and to consider what’s being prised open or experienced. The ease with which he develops irony and yet is freshly lyrical is almost reassuring. This is a very sophisticated and controlled poetry, language rich, but also surprisingly and at times gloriously tangential. What matters most is that it urges us to confide, to share – written because it has to come out, but also because we might like to listen. Emotions work with sensations and retain the intelligence that has so characterised Emery’s earlier writing. Who are we, where am I, how do we all relate to a wider world with its still and frantic moments? This book expands horizons, acerbic and poignant, constrained and ecstatic at once.”
– John Kinsella
On Leaving Wale Obelisk
Did we shuck our suits that leaf-dense noon,
leaving serious careers in lemon light?
The high clouds, early swallows, the day moon
weakened, nothing farmed, nothing tight
above the summer marriage of grasses,
and all that luscious time receding in
the corporate years’ climbing excesses,
just a vacancy before the children?
We made our love pledge there. It leaves you
in chromatic episodes like this,
doesn’t it? Not quite nostalgia, but who
could have imagined ageing like this?
We had climbed up to lie on the piled hay,
the tow-coloured earth all nice and neat
and with everything to come our way,
lovers of the smashed-up wheat.
Each morning he coughs up entire corridors
The saturated ceilings bulge, the ball lights wobble
in each beige apartment.
This morning, he wanders out warning
the twelfth storey rays.
Knocking on doors,
tapping the struts and laths,
testing the slop on the floors with a block-toed foot:
he never wears galoshes. He is
connecting the impressive lips of the world.
He readies himself for the day’s accountancy.
When Judith comes to clean the tower
she is permanently bent into the letter R,
ripping up piles of scarlet tulle,
picking up bran-coloured skirts, fans, court shoes, masks.
She hates his beard and throbbing basso profondo.
She calls him a fat goat. He tugs his beard and asks
her to open any door, this way or that. She’s had it with him.
She keeps her head down.
He shrugs his shoulders and walks off boasting to the dead.
There’s always tomorrow.
More floors. More doors. More ticking frames.
This world will never tire of locking up its women.
‘The Girl from Ipanema’ floats out
from the Sole Bay Inn as we take note
of the ash-grey granite
of the two-up two-down opposite.
It has a charcoal push bike
leaning on the door’s black velour.
The grocer’s swells with fruit;
the brewery sports its brands
with a tame gold veneer.
The lighthouse pokes its tibia
into the sloe-blue night,
fathoming out the sea’s soft rushes.
We hear the darker pebbles
with their foam hems, faintly clacking
their blind buds together.
All these comings and goings
where the beach’s groynes order
the waves’ chemical procession.
Our landlady’s pensive as a courtesan.
She reads the papers in the empty lounge.
Her mornings ‘re scooped out between regulars.
Her red jowls mark out
the egg and tomatoes of each sallow breakfast.
All for the taking. The perfect scallops
of roof tiles on beach huts, painted like teeth.
The slow sedans in this temporary commune.
Now starlings in pyrotechnic, half-baked flight
swoop to eaves sharpened with gorgeous,
apostolic light. So much to claim,
as the sea’s womb bursts and adopts
one column of light
from an aching corn-yellow moon.
We’re spruced up, mediators in an evening
swollen free from cities, chalking up meaning
below the swashes of power lines.
Remember this weather. Summers silted up
like the vanguard of some redemption.
Just pan left and take a wide angle
as the score changes and we change reels.
Now that swollen moon drops and kicks up
a class finale. The brass dampened, throbbing,
as the strings come swooping in with
Fred and Ginger, dancing the perfect closing steps.
The New Play at The Astoria
I’m watching the Baltic light decline by slow degrees.
Stage left, a gold pagoda, behind it a starry lake reduced
in the sumptuous evening. Now, the leads, in masks, isolate
their rich emotions inside the crowd, working.
Our interest lies with the bodies of the women, though,
who, while impressively restricted, are imagining their gloves.
There is a charmingly repetitive soundtrack off stage.
Beside this, the weathered temple script leads off
to tiny birds. Underneath, things develop.
At first the implications of each soft movement
seems wondrously vague, but soon the changes in our scarlet
backdrop seem peculiarly prescient, and we are enabled
to see a remote undressed yearning grove. We can’t stand it.
We begin itching. Some of us are fevered enough to break loose.
The protagonists are undeterred and begin slowly waving back.
Each of us is placed into a separate fog. This is how it begins.
Up the pissy steps we find nostalgia’s vein-blue glamour
sweeping under chandeliers and a dominating
stairwell, cloistered bridges and gantries
and dark batik where hoteliers in sulking combat sit.
Maybe they’re fed up faking it with crimplene
for mauve itinerant weddings, or watching
the unhitched come past name-boarded rooms
straight from the sales circuit to some daft do
on sill linings or Mitsubishi extractor fans –
all scooting in from Bromle and Burnley
on £20k contracts with options for export.
The car park is all sun-roofed Mondeos.
The cladded bars are putty coloured and flooded
with Sky Sports where youth’s peeling edge embarks
on suited years of margins, on the way to a dad’s
divorce or dividends, drizzle and Droylsden’s
best kept secret, moored to all those structured terms.
We sidle up among the winding men intent on
feeding this necrosis of signage and pull up
a pew to spot a few lame souls reading
the monthlies in Edwardian kitsch. So
gone up in the world and yet gone off. The tide
has turned, the boats have sailed and all of us
are stranded in this little local absence, making from it
what we can, not filled with laughs or money, carried
over six pints of Boddies and a go at the vids
before the bells call time and Sugsy coughs up
on the cards and Darren shuts up shop on his Chinese
bonded plastics tale; he’s almost bagged it now.
Our lives are made between such repetition,
like the Manchester-Hollywood boudoir thing,
where ideas still die among the lazy girls
and rooms of cheap cutlery. Bed time now.
The salad bars are gaping still in stolidly lit suites.
Six flights up we separate into our cares like fish,
along the corridors’ empty lungs in our exit
from home. We hit the fungus-shaped bed
in yeasty air and muzak, the telly freeze-framed
on a grinning line of chefs, shot in some
spittoon-shaped atrium in Gatley.
How many of us strip before the atrocity of the mirror?
Unpeeling selves like a bridge into some white error
of arse and thighs, the tide mark of pubic hair greying now.
The air con whistles and shifts its haunches. The toilet groans.
Sleepless at three, we draw back jacquard curtains
on the soaking brick Elysium, all eyes up
for what refocuses on icy city panes, those body smears
catching vacant light like a Vaseline ghost and in
those whorls we see the mad swifts’ shrieking circuits
echoed over torpid crowds and feel, or half sense,
each torso lifting in the livid air, towards a trace-setting
where hopes perpetually pour.
Dear crows, I don’t mind
that there’s nothing left to chew
in the wild banter.
Our days were mushroom
fat, loyal and dark. We knew
every rotten truth.
In those blood thin years
we came to see the mirror
inside our losses.
So the wheat fields breathe
and our car fills with evening’s
taupe, miles of it, crushed.
from The Departure (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Launch of Chris Emery’s The Departure, with Sophie Collins and Peter Daniels
Date: 19 April 2012
Time: 18h30 to 20h30
Venue: The Book Hive, 53 London Street, Norwich, NR2 1HL
Tel: 01603 219268