Monthly Archives: September 2012

Tony Williams’ All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten

Tony Williams grew up in Matlock, Derbyshire, lived for a decade in Sheffield and now lives in Alnwick. He teaches creative writing at Northumbria University, but previously worked as an environmental charity worker, dogsbody in a French restaurant, and custodian of a disused lead mine. He was also a failed child wrestler. He writes poetry and prose fiction. His first collection of poetry, The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street, was published by Salt and shortlisted for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and the Portico Prize for Literature.
“Who are the stars of these brief lives? A boy who steals a trundlewheel. An astronaut. A betrayed wife. A man jealous of his lover’s chickens. Commuters. Glampers. Psychotic twins. What do they have in common? Nothing – except the funny-haha and funny-strange conditions of their lives that bring them joy or misery and make us laugh at them and pity them and love them too.

What happens when you lose both your eyes to squash accidents? When you inherit a shop full of curios? When you fall for the spirit of a famous murderer? When your son’s a tramp? When the one you love is about to kill herself? Or has the Ganges delta in her bloodshot eye? When your butcher doesn’t know anything about meat? Discovering the answers to these questions will knock you sideways – and show that the more we understand about people’s oddity, the more we come to appreciate their essential humanity.

In these tiny stories, written over a period of a few short months, Tony Williams pushes the limits of prose fiction, homing in on the moments that sum up lifetimes and their complicated, bittersweet emotions. Each story crams a whole world into a couple of pages – you can sneak them one at a time whenever you have a spare minute, or gobble the lot – with a cast of hundreds – in a single day.”
“These tiny fragile stories are stuffed to the brim with wit and energy and love. Their architecture is perfect, as if a thousand complex worlds had been painted onto a grain of rice. If you’re like me you’ll want to read them over and over to unearth their secrets and find out why they leave such a long and lovely aftertaste.”

– David Gaffney
“Tony Williams has a special talent for assembling the magical out of the mundane – whether that be pub carpets, satnavs, mattresses or bananas. These short short stories often deal in pain, in death, in loss and loneliness, in absence, in anger and in shame, but Williams always makes sure that fragments of hope emerge, like the music of an oboe, that short burst of happiness that lights up the dark.”

– Tania Hershman
When Rachel left
When Rachel left I started getting these dreams. You’d call them nightmares: I’d wake up sweating in the night, hearing myself speaking the last half of sentences – I daren’t repeat them. Vivid, curly dreams, like pub carpets, as if I’d gorged myself on blue cheese and whisky before I went to bed. Which, sometimes, I had.

In the morning I woke up and stared at the ceiling. The whole room was white, as Rachel had wanted it, and the after-images of my dreams would be projected up, like I was a millionaire with a TV screen for a roof showing the works of Hieronymous Bosch animated by Brian Eno. I lay there and watched it till it faded. The fading made me sad, and one day in the moment before I got up to make a cup of coffee I decided to make the vision permanent.

It took a weekend to put up three good coats of white gloss as an undercoat. I wanted the ceiling to sing. Then I went down to the hobby shop and bought a set of camel-hair brushes and a lot of money’s worth of paint. Crimson, mainly. And gold.

I did the ceiling in a kind of grid, though lizard’s tails and scallops of lace and fronds and beetles leapt over the edges of the squares. In the squares I did stern portraits of the stars – Knight Rider and Princess Di and Brucie and Tim Berners-Lee – and of course a fair few of my mother and other relatives like that. Sometimes I invented a coat of arms if the person didn’t have one and I thought they deserved it. All around the grid I did flowers and horrible creatures, and once I’d done all that I went back and filled in the gaps with writing. I knew what I wanted to say, but the writing took the most time of all because I wanted it to be neat.

Once I’d finished the ceiling I celebrated with a takeaway and a shave. And then I started on the walls – first of the bedroom, then of the landing, and then all over the house. The man at the hobby shop, he’s my friend. I painted each door differently: a map, a giant bar of chocolate, the cover of my favourite book, a door. I painted the inside of the bath with sea monsters and the faces of everyone who’s ever presented Countryfile. I lie in it at night, soaking the paint off my body, naked in the cauldron of the gods.
The division room
Some people go their whole lives without realising they have no soul. Then they get to the division room and a buzzer goes off and they’re herded into a separate queue. They have to watch the others shuffling off to paradise. Sometimes a couple are killed in a car crash and one goes in and the other joins the line of the soulless, and they in particular make a lot of fuss.

‘But I listened to Dvořák,’ they say.

‘I read The Leopard.’

‘I wept over my son’s dyslexia.’

‘I’m a vicar.’

St Peter shakes his head and shows them the x-ray. They won’t believe it. So he borrows a compact from one of the women, blesses it, and holds it up in front of them. And it is one of the small mercies of the Lord that however they stare and search they will never see the terror in their own faces, although they see it in each other’s and know that it is real.
from All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten (Salt Publishing, 2012).

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C.P. Cavafy’s ‘Ithaka’

C.P. Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind –
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
from C.P. Cavafy’s Collected Poems (Hogarth Press, 1975),
trs. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

House of the Deaf Man, a collaboration between Andrea Porter and Tom de Freston

Artist Tom de Freston and poet Andrea Porter explore the dark images Goya created on the walls of his house Quinta del Sordo (The House of the Deaf Man) in the last few years of his life. Using these paintings as a touchstone both artist and poet create a world in which Goya’s ‘Black Paintings’ provide a vital and significant link between the present and the past. The House of the Deaf Man becomes a space where a strange Master of Ceremonies guides you past walls that talk and a woman carries a severed head through a supermarket. In this house a mad band plays on as a man hangs a spoon from his nose and all the king’s and banker’s horses come tumbling down.
Praise for Andrea Porter:
“The fascinating cut glass surfaces of her work, always tug against an undercurrent of darkness and violence.”

– Jo Shapcott
Praise for Tom de Freston:
“[T]hese paintings also put the human form under a merciless gaze; Tom refuses to idealise our bodies, our genitalia, our corpulence or our angularity – a gaze which implicitly acknowledges Lucian Freud’s oeuvre, in its unsentimental, unforgiving and at times baleful scrutiny.”

– Sir Trevor Nunn
Andrea Porter
Andrea Porter’s A Season of Small Insanities is published by Salt. Her pamphlet Bubble (Flarestack) was adapted into a play and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her poems have been published in magazines and anthologies in the United Kingdom, Eire, Canada, Australia and the United States of America. She has had poems in the annual Forward Book of Modern Poetry and in the Poems of the Decade published by Faber. She is a member of The Joy of Six poetry ensemble that has performed across the United Kingdom and in New York. She is a tutor for The Poetry School. She lives in the Fens.
Tom de Freston
Tom de Freston is a Contemporary History Painter represented by Breese Little Gallery. In 2012 he was the Hatley Resident at C4RD. Previously he has been the Leverhulme Artist in Residence at Cambridge University, the Levy Plumb Artist in Residence at Christ’s College and the Artist in Residence at the Leys. Five catalogues have been published on his work including essays by Sir Nicholas Serota, Sir Trevor Nunn, Richard Cork, the Hon. Rowan Williams, Dr. Caroline Vout and Mike McCahill amongst others. His work has been featured in Studio International, Dazed Digital, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times.
Artists’ Statements
Andrea Porter
Over ten years ago I was in London and wandered by chance into the Hayward Gallery. There happened to be an exhibition of Goya’s prints and drawings. As I walked around I was mesmerised. The Goya I had come across was the Goya of the Spanish court, with grand set pieces and formal portraits, but here was a very different artist. I began to seek out other work by Goya and read about the man and his times. The more I read and looked at his work the more I began to see a complex man, a man full of contradictions and strange hypocrises but whose fears, nightmares and dreams were still very relevant to our current times. My reactions to Goya’s highly personal ‘Black Paintings’ has been a long journey. The power of the visual speaks for itself; the word in response has to say something other, something that steps through that visual to another place.
I have sought to let these fourteen paintings be the beginning of a journey leading me to explore both Goya’s world and my own, and question aspects of the times we live in. The continuing marvel of words is that they live in a space that is created by the listener and the writer together; marks on a page weave together sound, imagination and echoes of our own personal history. I have chosen a variety of forms; the sonnet, terza rima, rhyming couplets, free verse to reflect and explore the different worlds Goya’s paintings suggest to me. The paintings have at times almost created the form the poem takes in that intimate dance between rhyme, rhythm, sound, tone and image that Ekphrasis can create.
The joy of the collaboration on this project for me has been seeing how, from images painted by an artist on the walls of his house nearly two hundred years ago, words and art can be energised to present a different dimension and experience that is as relevant to our present world as Goya’s work continues to be.
Tom de Freston
This is not an illustration of Goya’s time in the ‘Quinta del Sordo’ or a modernising of his ‘Black Paintings’. Instead both of these sources have provided reference points for the building of a new world. The eroticism, mysticism and horror of the black paintings and Goya’s deafness as a cruel physical manifestation of a wider set of psychological and biographical contradictions have taken central roles. Andrea’s poetry gave me an opportunity to find new ways into Goya and his work, populating my mind with new characters and voices.
This ekphrastic engagement has allowed us to try and create a world which is elliptical, maddening and noisy, with time and space as an accordion, opening and collapsing to shifting rhythms, a fractured and fragmented realm with signs and signifiers destabilised. The current social and political climate is given nods with Saturn reincarnated as Bashar al-Assad and Rupert Murdoch, the puppet master, the model for a series of theatrical masks.
More broadly the violence and pornography are seen as interchangeable commodities from a ‘society of the spectacle’. Goya’s grotesques are replaced by a new cast of modernised monsters. A bastardised form of Christian Iconography appears in the form of a zombified Jesus turning the crucifixion into a dance at the disco of death, whilst the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are a hybrid chorus line at the endscene of a bad Bollywood move. A single falling figure nods at the Deposition whilst the same figure becomes Auden’s beast which repeats itself in a swirling Last Judgment scene, the strict patternation of which seems more akin to William Morris wallpaper and the Roschach test.
Art History becomes a compost heap of reference points. Goya’s most violent scenes, Titian’s The Flaying of Marsyas, Caravaggio’s entombment and Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa are all restaged in domestic settings. The screaming horse head from Picasso’s Guernica nods to the terror of war, the collapsing of ideologies and the absurdity of an increasingly unstable psychological state. All the reference points above are lifted, mutated and restaged.
The safety of the domestic is polluted to create something unhomely, familiar but strange and akin to Freud’s notion of the Unheimlich. The desire is to create a type of poetic and visual theatre where seemingly safe spaces are interrupted and infested by a white noise of psychological unrest and alienation similar to Brecht’s notion of Verfiemdungseffekt.
Welcome to the House of the Deaf Man, we hope you will enjoy the show.
When you go to the supermarket
place my head in your wire basket
as you wander the aisles of meat.
Be careful my hair does not brush
the sign of two for the price of one.
Let check-out girls catch my eye.

Keep me close and always visible,
you never know when you will need
to raise me up as a bloody trophy,
to rouse shoppers from their torpor.
Never take lightly the authority given
when you show what victory means.

Guard me from thieves.
If I were stolen how could you prove
that a god and right and butchery are,
and always will be, on your side?
Insure me, but a policy of like for like
may cost far more than you can pay.

Post my decapitation up on YouTube,
followers want to see the neck bowed,
the thought severed from the deed.
Become the poster-girl for deliverance,
the strong woman’s role in pay-back,
the lesson about listening to a deity.

Artists never see the flicker in the eyes
as you hack and saw through bone.
‘Two blows’ was their hyped publicity.
Most portray the moment before,
the moment after; the moment itself
disappears up the magician’s sleeve.

Speak softly to me at three a.m.
Whisper sweet names you gave me.
Tell me other secrets; I know
about the knife you use to prise
my fingers from your heart,
the axe I take to your soul.
After the Black Painting ‘Judith and Holofernes’.
On Close Examination
She spins, I measure and that one cuts;
even meddling gods are afraid of us.

Here we loom over you, older than time,
here before you inched from the slime

and knew the endless minutes and years
that plummet past and disappear.

You, old man, are not content with three.
Our face and name have a degree

of licence but number is sacrosanct.
Beginning, middle, end. You can bank

on birth, life, death, it’s solid symmetry.
Two’s company but three’s a guarantee

that time on this earth remains unravelled.
It can be short, shit and badly handled

but the thread is spun until it’s snipped.
You know about death, written its script

into your brush, drawn the cut strands
hung from trees in this bleeding land.

But this fourth fate with the spy-glass
hints quality control will have to pass

our handiwork. Will your short span,
show fuck-ups made by another man?

I see her glass is turned towards the door,
beyond which are all the other flaws

but here is the reminder to own your fate,
an art more difficult than mastery of paint.
After the Black Painting ‘The Fates’.
from House of the Deaf Man (Gatehouse Press, 2012).

Order House of the Deaf Man.

Visit Andrea’s blog.

Visit Tom’s website.

Sarah Crewe’s Aqua Rosa

Sarah Crewe is 30 years old and from the Port of Liverpool. She has work at ZimZalla as part of Jo Langton’s PoeTea project and in In The Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway anthology by erbacce press. She also has work in the upcoming collection The Sheffield Anthology: Poems From The City Imagined from Smith/Doorstop. Her favourite fruit tea is pomegranate and she thinks that water chestnuts are the Devil’s counters. Aqua Rosa is published by erbacce-press.
“Sarah Crewe is the creator of poetic vignettes, an imagery not of the surreal but of the proto-mundane, the elastic and the luminous. She is a poet of distinction in vocabulary, author of a lexicon that reaffirms the everyday in its intensity, utilising a finesse that pales the false poetic posturing of those travelling in the roadmarks of what was. This is a stone’s throw from Maggie O’Sullivan, from Geraldine Monk, this marks a beginning that can bring only hope to those discerning enough to recognise it.”

– SJ Fowler
“Sarah Crewe’s debut is inhabited by warrior princesses, ghost girls, anarchists, elves, Marxists, kittens, brides – telling stories that are part manifesto, part personal testimony. It invokes a world where people’s songs are deeply concentrated and eerily beautiful. In her poems, the Port of Liverpool is a mythical, contrary place, where kisses are blown across the water, but sirens wail. These poems, playful but precise, are full of musical grit and sparkle. This debut introduces a poet who deserves your full attention.”

– Amy Key
Axe Actual
I am cryptocrystalline
I am warrior princess
Amber brown curvature
Artemis of rock world
I am hunter gatherer
For hunter read killer
For gatherer read forage
flint/flash beasts and berries
I bury. I am Queen of the Stone Age
Mammoth bone blood and bouffant hair
I lure creatures over clifftops
I cut, I chop I claw
I ensnare I am effigy
I am Venus Paleolithic
I am Calvin’s killer frisbee
Don’t dare call me primitive.
Swish out maroon and black and swallow
red and kalamata, our food matched
uniform. Art factory shop girls
tapping nails dirty laugh on swipe.
You loved Lempicka and we swapped
life stories between Mapplethorpe keys.
Northern fado under Bourgeois web.
Your Rainer crucifix tides ran straight
into my own moonblood, symmetry
you could not clock on a wage slip.
Yet no sight of you or sound of you
or scratch off you or song from you for
years. You weaved the words sexy Liverpool
mamma into my new ID list.
Keep Portuguese kitten etched in yours.
Ana you stemmed and stretched but he stitched
you up. Voltar-se. You can’t fix flowers.
the ballad of Rupert and Dorothy
you’re famously famous.
red top blue sky scoop snatch
graphics. cervine page three
paradummies divert
from drop zone. but the
screen is down. the munchkins
have been caught out playing
Fred Astaire on tele-
phone wires. your sideshow
bobette crashed the house
on Toto and stole the
wicked witch of Wapping’s
shoes. if the slippers fit
then make sure she can run
in them flight J96
Qantas Kelvin butler
monkeys onboard to serve
now fly my pretties fly
wide awake club
s t o p b r i e s t o p. no mercy in midnight blue.
barrel shaped subtext. 30’s slimkins pact.
Kurt Geiger newsnight lust.
function and comfort
fuck this I’ll take them
off anyway

deflation. Andrew time has not worked out.
British Gas 80s logo blue fire spheres
Coppola’s Dracula castle fort. if
your bones chill again i’ll invoke Prince
of Darkness. or Jack.

Scotch is needed
must move for whiskey
stuck by the fire
your blue blood is trauma
Dagenham creeps into
view. shift to Basildon
a grimace. mutual
wonder at Dave Gahan’s voice

red wine hands full
tannins curse me
stick to my lips
’til Monday morn
please understand
how much I want
those bloody shoes

i eat German stars
pink leopardskin fur
gilet Breck Road girl
root out in your dreams
what I can or can’t
Simone says
Put your hands
On your head
Banshee bird dance
First right after
Next set of lights

Split the Red Sea
Wave to Babel
Bow your berry head
To the Greco grotesque

Simone says
Cover your ears
The boy who says fuck
Can’t possibly be yours

Be your own Boudica
Climb red-black chariot
Scratch itch for Euston
Wake in Bloomsbury haze
Hair pinched at platform
And wild eyes to boot

Simone says
Roll up your sleeves
In dishwater prose
In pugilist bleach

Wrap your tits
In net curtain
Keep close to chest
Hope brash best front forward
Can hide swinging brick

Simone says
Listen love
i’m not Simone
On reaching road
Her mind is changed
I can be Simone,
Rosa, Ulrika
Whatever you want

Simone says
Put your hands
On your hips
And hope for
A sea change.
My grandmother as Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ
the King Liverpool
Spiky bridesmaid. A crown of thorns through a workhouse site. They kissed your toes at La Plaza De Toros. Miss Porcupine, a hue of lilac and blue. Beautiful. I’m never home until i see you. I worship at your feet, I play at them also trying to filch luminous sweets from your chequered pink pockets. You are just 44 years old, post war, your beauty was rationed. I hear you everyday. Raised in Little Italy, but all that was roman was the crypt and your nose. Virgo runs screaming from an archbishop’s ghost in an early morning fog. I can still hear you sing in the key of H, to the world’s largest organ never built. Palimpsest of carols over Tridentine rites. A sun ray slices diocese flags, through sandstone shadow. Four dress designs, but three times a lady.
from Aqua Rosa (erbacce-press, 2012).
Order Aqua Rosa.

David Cooke’s Work Horses

David Cooke was born in 1953 in Wokingham, although his family comes from the West of Ireland. In 1977, while he was an undergraduate at Nottingham University, he won a Gregory Award.

His first collection, Brueghel’s Dancers, was published in 1984 by Free Man’s Press Editions. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published by Night Publishing in 2011.

David Cooke is married with four grown-up children. For many years he was Head of Modern Languages at a large comprehensive school in Cleethorpes. In recent years he has earned his living as an internet bookseller.
Work Horses (Ward Wood Publishing, 2012) opens with poems that look back on David Cooke’s upbringing in an Irish family in Berkshire, then surprises by taking the reader further afield into Russia and the Muslim community of Sri Lanka. In earlier collections Cooke examined questions of identity and belief from his own background, while here he continues to explore the theme of migration in new historical and geographical contexts. Family relationships are still central to the poems, with thoughts about his own lost faith coinciding with his daughter’s conversion to Islam. Cooke’s musicality, cadence and craftsmanship continue in the poems of Work Horses, while their plainspoken eloquence makes them accessible even when the themes covered are at their most complex and though provoking.”
Reviews of previous collections
“The ghosts of a West of Ireland family haunt these poems, but Cooke is not treading ground already made familiar by others. Growing up in England, he is a poet whose ‘making strange’ grows naturally out of his exile between two countries.”

– William Bedford, Agenda
“Along with his understanding of the poem as a made thing, Cooke exhibits a flair for investing the ordinary with new significance. Experimental in the best sense, technically impressive, and rooted in the actuality of everyday experience, David Cooke’s poetry is immediate and memorable.”

– Ian Parks, Endymion
“Cooke is a convincing and rewarding poet whose work deserves a wide readership.”

– Peter Bennet, Other Poetry
Nevsky Prospekt
Having survived the impoverished years
with a patience that comes from impeccable
breeding, Nevsky Prospekt makes its way
like the grand narrative of history –

from Moscow Station where we arrived,
bleary-eyed on the night train and felt how air
was chiller, to the state rooms of the Hermitage
which later we duly admired.

The slightly crumbling neo-classical
facades were the pastel shades of icing, pale blues
and greens, while the yellow, an ocean of paint
picked up as a cheap job lot,

is said to create the illusion of warmth
in the depths of winter’s depression.
There were amputees on the pavement,
their stumps bound tightly in parcel tape,

and bored touts like jesters
in brightly coloured boiler suits.
Loud hailers that crackled all day long
were promoting city tours

and not proclaiming some new invasion.
Beneath its theatrical drapes, a shopping mall
was being scrubbed for the future,
the age of the oligarch and the business lunch.
At Varykino
You insist upon living till the life you’d live
has damned you, your intransigence
forcing you on like a train that pounds
its rhythms across some hard white terrain.

Adulterous and anachronistic, a stubborn
glow illuminates your doomed affair
as when, like a ghost reborn, Strelnikov
told you the private life is dead;

his rectitude a new kind of purity
whose thought is doctrinaire,
his speech a bridled mob
that makes you seek your chances

beyond the margin of events.
Arriving at Varykino, you find a house
that is wrecked in snow, a past’s discredited
chattels forgotten beneath its sheets.

There is no sense beyond gesture
as you rework the pattern
of days stripped of consequence, awaiting spring,
its new growth pushing beneath untrodden snow.
Shadow Boxing
The closest my dad ever got to poetry
was when he savoured some word
like pugilist, or the tip-toe springiness
he sensed in bob and weave,
his unalloyed delight in the flytings
and eyeball to eyeball hype
that went with big fight weigh-ins.

I, too, might have been
a contender when I did my stint
in the ring, my dad convinced
I had style and the stamp of a winner.
But in the end I just got bored.
You had to have a killer’s instinct
to do much better than a draw.

In the gym the lights are low.
It’s after hours. I’m on my own.
The boards are rank with sweat
and stale endeavour. Shadow boxing
like the best of them, I will show
him feints, a classic stance,
trying always to keep up my guard.
In the Peradeniya Gardens 
On our own again, and never so free in years,
we had risked the embrace of a different climate
then sweltered in its unaccustomed heat;
discovering that day, quite unexpectedly,
what might have been the Gardens of Eden,
laid out by a squad with theodolites.

And Peradeniya was music in a tongue
called Sinhala whose fleeting syllables
I knew I couldn’t pin down, sharing
in the vision of those who had governed
two centuries here, their flawed hegemony
sustained by profit and a few good intentions.

With time to ourselves, we strolled along
the royal palm walkway, our steps enlivened
as we sensed how native light had softened
a stern perspective; then wandered on
past ayurvedic trees, an orchid house,
and the glazed composure of a lily pond;

its stillness mirrored in the utter calm
of the young couples we saw around us –
hands held like statues, their passion subdued
to the norms of public display, the strict
regimen of courtship and betrothal;
our own daughter, too, accepting its rules.

The gardens were the legacy of a marriage
that was now long over. Around the perimeter
fruit bats rode the thermals like prehistoric birds,
and the giant Java fig tree, its branches
propped, the sprawling system of its roots exposed,
had risen up in chaos from its central lawn.
from Work Horses (Ward Wood Publishing, 2012).
Order Work Horses.

Poetic writings from Gérard Rudolf’s Orphaned Latitudes

“Gérard Rudolf was born in Pretoria, South Africa. He spent most of his childhood in Cape Town and it was dreamy, secure. When he was a boy, he was utterly convinced the world had been monochrome before he was born—all the photographs in the family albums, the old movies on TV, all of it black and white. He spent hours trying to figure out how and when the world changed to colour. He roamed over the neighbourhood with friends creating strange worlds in empty lots—all Cowboys and Indians, and Star Wars, also some Huck Finn. Gérard studied the usual subjects, but school bored him. He stared out the windows. His head was never where his body was. It still isn’t. His teenage years were in Johannesburg, and he played rugby to please his father, but never had any great interest in sports. At 15, he faked a neck injury to get out of playing rugby and that might be considered the beginning of his acting career. After school, Gérard was conscripted into the army for two years because it was compulsory and his family didn’t have enough money to send him into exile. When he was 18, he did a tour of duty in the Angolan War, but he had no interest in shooting strangers. After that, Gérard resolved never to wear a uniform or take up arms again. He studied acting and became a successful actor. He loved the collaborative nature of acting, all the oddballs and geniuses, and that no two days were the same. In 1998, he founded a professional acting school in Cape Town—he wanted to give something back to the industry that had saved him from the 9-5. But in 2002, he found himself burnt out. He’d fallen out of love with Cape Town and her with him. His life was burning down around his ears. He felt as if he were sitting in a deck chair with a cold beer watching everything go up in smoke. Gérard quit acting, got divorced, and moved to the United Kingdom two days later. He is still trying to piece it all together. He started writing to orient himself on the map. Orphaned Latitudes (Red Squirrel Press, UK) is his first collection of poetic writings. In 2010 he returned to South Africa. Gérard is not as dark and moody as people think. He blames his face for this misconception. He lives in Johannesburg.”

— Edited extract from Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard) 
Orphaned Latitudes is a landmark collection from a major new voice in contemporary poetics. This is a mature and complex autobiographical work, full of music, movement and with a flawless sense of sound and drama. Rudolf’s prose poem experiments at times approach the transcendent in their strength and honesty. The evocations of South Africa of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s in these pages are heartbreaking, hot and vividly seared with colour and scent. The poems move with muscle in the air … mesmerising, masterful and controversial.”
— Anthony Joseph
“Rudolf’s anthology of poetic writings engages with personal and universal themes affecting the human condition — love, death and dislocation. He has produced a gem of a book that shimmers with emotion. There is certainly a lot to be admired in this original work, it deserves to be read and reread many times.”
— Laura Fish
“Last year several bloggers mentioned Gérard Rudolf’s Orphaned Latitudes from Red Squirrel Press. Well, now I’ve read it, and I can see what the fuss was about. I connected with it immediately, and it gripped me until I finished it this morning. Gérard is from South Africa, and many of the pieces?/poems related to his growing up in that country. What I know of it (apart from the botany and the geology) is mostly what I’ve learned from newsreels, but now I have a better understanding from the inside, of what it’s like to experience life there. It’s stunning. Go read!”
— Colin Will
“This may be my favourite book this year. It abounds with feral energy — pulses with passion for people, places and a lost landscape. The landscape is the township, the veld, the politically charged Africa of the ‘great crocodile’ PW Botha. The beautiful and beleaguered heart of South Africa is evoked in a healthy brew of tumbling prose and perfectly executed poetic vignettes. Autobiographical and exacting, it machetes a swathe through personal observation, love and loss, referencing obscure (for us) South African pop bands, Paul Auster, Boris Pasternak. Shimmering in the heat of this cauldron of words are the family, friends, loves and at the heart of this book an emotional map of a beloved country torn apart and a man also perhaps by political, personal, tragic, comic and calamitous change. Recommend would be too mild a word for this book. I insist that you read it. Insist that you see for yourself how powerful literature can be, how daringly delivered and how fearless and how the personal is always universal and impinges on us all. Yes yes yes.”
— Kevin Cadwallender
A Short History of Aloes: He is still there, square inside that old afternoon, holding an air rifle. He shoots a hole in a fat aloe leaf. Sap bleeds from the hole. The sap is thick; the texture of golden syrup, cough mixture. He pokes his index finger in the sap. He holds the smear of aloe sap on his fingertip close to my lips and orders me to close my eyes and to stick out my tongue. I trust him. I trust him because he is my brother. I do as he says. He drags his sap-smeared fingertip carefully over my tongue, orders me to close my mouth, to swallow. The sap is bitter — more bitter than anything I have ever had to swallow before. I gag, collapse onto my hands and knees like a dog. I puke until every muscle in my small body aches. I puke until it feels as if my ribs might rip through the skin, until there is nothing left to puke. My brother laughs. I am four years old. He is thirteen.
I trust him until he dies twenty-three years later in the heart of the country.
In the veld near the mangled wreck,
a patch of aloes in bloom —
their flowers: yellow brushes dipped in red paint.
Their bitter lessons wait
patiently for unsuspecting tongues.
You are Here, 1957 — 1993
(Inspired by Karoo Moons, Richard Mark Dobson
& Ruben Mowszowski. Struik, 2004)
Still dark.
You are in a car.
Black road ahead.
Poles bend past the side window.
Bushes blur. Koppies drift. Far off mountains move slower.
The smell of drought.
You are driving through sameness. The sameness of life.
You speed up. Hot tyres drone on cold tar.
Below the tar, a forgotten dirt track.
Deeper still insects tunnel. Roots. Eyeless things.
Now, dig deeper.
Crystalline forms. Fractals.
Below that shells and bones of ancient fish.
Petrified ocean old as stars.
Walls between mind and matter melt. Glacier slow.
You are here.
You live here.
You have always been here.
Terrene, clotted with rootedness.
You are stone. Sand. Dust. Powder. Particle.
The past is the present. The past brought you here.
Time is the endless fence rushing past.
Yet there are other parts to the moment.
The moment is connected to fading stars.
Solar winds billow beyond imagination. Air in your nostrils.
Air made by plants.
Time here is time termless. Earth and sky.
Dig here and you emerge among the stars.
Die here and you’ll be back in the cradle.
Life here begins where astronomers’ laws never existed.
Then the sun.
It flares over the far horizon.
Swallow scud from a thorny bush.
First light.
Memory with Stop Signs
Wavering, pissed and hungry he stands alone at
my door again.
I give him a sandwich, a blanket, coppers I find
in my pockets.
Without even trying to recall my name or a word for
thank you,
without a backward glance, he returns to the love
of no one.
How many times, I think later, listening to rain
on the roof,
has such a man, like any of us, taken a different path and found
only STOP signs?
Last Days of the Comeback Kid
During the last months, they said
the Comeback Kid stopped reading newspapers,
left them untouched and neatly folded
next to his easy chair like a pile of fresh table cloths.
They said, during the last weeks,
the Comeback Kid lost all interest in hunger and thirst,
ignored sustenance as if he was a holy man fasting for insight.
They said he lost all sense of place, time, space,
that he became a drifter, a man adrift, flotsam.
During the last days, they said,
the Comeback Kid slept almost nothing, emerged at noon,
a retired boxer who’d had his fill of fights.
They said the Comeback Kid became a man of halves:
half asleep, half awake, half sad,
half interested, half there, half not.
By the last day, they said,
the Comeback Kid was made of wispy things:
skin rice-paper-thin, hair of cobwebs,
limbs brittle as drift wood, leaf-flat body, reed-thin voice.
Then, in his final hour, there were the last quivers,
breath the sound of a canned blizzard.
And during the last minutes, I imagine,
the Comeback Kid became his own shadow,
blue eyes black as squid’s ink,
arms flung open like a skydiver frozen in free-fall,
a landscape gathering darkness at the end of a day.
You leave the room,
set off down the street,
burning history as you go.
          The room becomes meaningless.
We all have to get used to meaningless rooms:
gleaming wooden floors creak with old age,
the day’s fragrant warmth loiters in the desolation.
          Desolation can be so peaceful.
I look out through a window:
leaves forming, trees more lush, more moist,
flaming with compassion and feminine abundance.
          Abundance does not spread, famine does.
One day I’ll trip on the windowsill,
fall into the street, spread-eagled in the dust,
one day, when I’m bored with god’s blue sky.
Overnight Commercial Flight
At 34 000 feet I dream with eyes wide open:
An air disaster — human limbs and unclaimable
luggage hang from the jungle canopy like ripped laundry.
Securely strapped to my seat (21D) and in the impact position,
the smell of aviation fuel, blood and crushed cherimoya trees
lull me to sleep among the chaos and shrapnel
of 20th century engineering, haemorrhaged wiring,
tourist trinkets, complimentary peanuts and fucking ready meals.
Africa is restless, restless at night.
At 3:45 a.m. I am still awake with eyes firmly shut.
Inside my head I water old thorns for the sake of flowers,
and hold my breath as we cross the equator
from South to North — an old spice carrying clipper
on return from the Old New World to the New Old World.
But sudden turbulence jerks me back to the 21st century,
forces recycled air from my nicotine-starved lungs
and I think of the small black box that won’t record
my exquisite modern annihilation after all.
Africa seems endless, endless at night.
A Sixteen Line Portrait of Fredrik in His Garden (Behind His Red House)
The first hot and nameless day of spring.
All afternoon he turns and tills the silent space,
snip-snips a decade’s chaos from 14 apple trees,
furrows soil to lead astray the pending drought.
Now, six o’clock, slumped in a dog-tired chair,
he studies his slog, sips blister-black Hungarian wine.
To the south, he heard, locusts ate entire territories to the root,
elsewhere it rained frogs, fires laid waste to farms, gardens.
Somewhere behind him his wife’s pitter-patter in the house,
the nameless child inside her still only the size of a peach stone …
Yet, the garden must be ready, ready for The Arrival. Fleckless …
This garden will be their child’s first full view of the world.
Now, eight o’clock, a giddy-laughter of wild geese
wades through the thick orange-skin dusk to the sea.
Soon night will close in around him like an eyelid
and he’ll sleep the sleep of conquerors inside his red house.
from Orphaned Latitudes (Red Squirrel Press, 2009).
Visit Red Squirrel Press.
Watch some film poem collaborations by Alastair Cook and Gérard.
Read an interview with Gérard at LitNet.

‘Formerly’, a collaboration between Tamar Yoseloff and Vici MacDonald

(Hercules Editions, 2012) is a collaboration between Tamar Yoseloff and Vici MacDonald, who share a desire to commemorate forgotten corners of a London now fast disappearing. The sonnet is the classic elegiac form, but Yoseloff’s are irregular, anarchic; the perfect companions for MacDonald’s grainy photographs of superannuated shop fronts, council estates and industrial sites – defiant structures left behind by the sweep of mass redevelopment.
Tamar Yoseloff’s most recent collection is The City with Horns (Salt, 2011). She is the author of two collaborative editions with artist Linda Karshan and editor of A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology (Salt, 2007). She lives in London, where she works as a tutor in creative writing.
Vici MacDonald lives in London, where she works as an editor and art director. She is a founding editor of contemporary art magazine Art World, and author of a monograph on the Australian sculptor Rosalie Gascoigne (1917 – 99), renowned for her poetic assemblages of found text.
Formerly is a direct and quietly urgent dispatch from a familiar but disappearing London, a lonely, seedy and dilapidated bedsitland of regrets and furtive longings, all covered by ‘the fine dust of misery’.”
– Owen Hatherley
Formerly is a wonderful series of photographs by Vici MacDonald and loose sonnets by Tamar Yoseloff responding to London’s continual dissolution and reinscription of itself as a contemporary city. The poetry, though often humorous and with ephemeral subjects, is always fully achieved and as richly-textured as the photographs, making the nebulous tangible again, as Frank O’Hara suggested poetry should. This is the best collaboration between these arts that I have seen since Fay Godwin and Ted Hughes’ Remains of Elmet, and I cannot recommend it too highly.”
– Ian Duhig
“Tamar Yoseloff’s verse boxes shadows while Vici MacDonald’s surfaces change before our eyes. This is the London we have been looking for down the ages, from Dickens to Sinclair and Whistler to Kossoff. It is here and now but only for a moment, you have to be very quick and catch it while you can …”
– Josh McFadyen
Tamar Yoseloff on Formerly
“This project began with a mutual fascination for dereliction. I’m attracted to places that have been abandoned, forgotten, allowed to fall beyond repair, ‘places where a thought might grow’, to quote Derek Mahon. London is full of these locations, and mostly we walk past, too distracted to question what happened there and when. Sometimes just a boarded window or a ghost sign on a wall will be all that remains of human activity. I’ve always found a strange beauty in these places because they are the ruins of our modern lives, our great structures, our Tinterns. The city moves quickly, is unsentimental, so these poems are my attempt to capture what is already on the way out, momentarily halted in the photographs.”
Vici MacDonald on Formerly
“I am fascinated by the mundane poetry of commercial facades, and the images here result from decades spent photographing them. Things which attract my lens tend to disappear shortly afterwards, so most of these scenes exist no longer: only the uprooted gravestones and unreachable ghost signs linger on. Once, I saw such fading corners as poignant reminders of outmoded aspirations and long-lost good times. But of course it was the passing of my own time I was capturing  – life flicking past with the speed of a camera shutter as the city evolves relentlessly on. London’s mouldering walls and windows, its gravestones and ghost signs, will long outlast me; and for generations to come, their poetry will endure, too.”
Fat chance you’ll ever break out of here,
this depository for great mistakes
you’ve made your home. Just enough room
for a bed and a stool, a cell of sorts,
for a man of thin means. Lean times.
But I’m a girl who’s capable
and culpable, who knows the value
of a pound. You can’t resist the give
of my carapace, my caterpillar lips,
my capacious thighs. I’ll never sell you
short. You’ll never let me down.
For the first time, you are full
to the very brim with the milk
of human kindness. Moo.
Quickie Heel Bar
Ladies, here’s the shit:
your skirt’s so tight you can barely walk,
your stillies clack clack like a ticking clock.
You strut to the bar for a rum and coke,
scan the joint for a bloke with a wad,
some blow to share, a flair for words:
I’m your Cyrano without the hooter,
your Romeo with a better future,
your Casanova with a Rolodex,
your Ronaldo with Italian treads.
I can go all night like the Duracell Bunny,
not being funny. I’m a bull in the ring,
I’ll make you ring a ding ding, no bull.
Ladies, get your coats, you’ve pulled.
Limehouse Cut
You slumped into the night. That was it:
I fling myself at exits, breezeblock walls,
I haunt abandoned lots, urinal stalls,
anywhere that bears your mark (the flick
of the switch and then the dark, the quickie fuck),
any place you had me, any way;
like they said you’d do, you chucked me away
like trash; like shit on your shoe, I’m stuck
in the past; I’m pissed. Now I splash my tears
over the ragged towpath of your estate
and wait for rain to wash the morning clear,
and wait for love to incubate from hate,
and wait for spring to strip the sky of soot,
and wait for pain to crack your concrete heart.
The Rose
Your memory’s turning tricks; a sudden
blush as you relive the bump and grind,
the slap and tickle. It was all a giggle,
didn’t care about the consequences, cold
light of day, and all of that: a dab of
La Vie En Rose behind the ear, a skinful,
and you were set. No regrets, that’s what
she sang, no regrets, but you forget
what it was like when you could clench
the thorny branch between your teeth,
dance all night for the boys. Your heart’s
playing tricks; the stop / start / stop,
that voice, clear as a bell in your mind:
Hurry up, gentlemen, please, it’s time.
from Formerly (Hercules Editions, 2012).
Order Formerly.
Read Tammy’s first Formerly post at Invective Against Swans.
Tammy writes about Number 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth.
Read about Formerly’s launch (and some thoughts on the olfactory properties of books).
Read about the Poetry Society workshop based on Formerly.

My Awesome Place: The Autobiography of Cheryl B

My Awesome Place: The Autobiography of Cheryl B (Topside Signature), the highly anticipated book by poet and curator Cheryl Burke based on the manuscript that remained incomplete at the time of the author’s death in 2011 will be published on 23 October 2012. The autobiography offers a rare authentic glimpse into the electrifying arts scene of New York City’s East Village during the vibrant 1990s, through the eyes of the young writer during her rise to prominence as the spoken word artist known as Cheryl B.
In the months following her death, members of Burke’s close-knit writing group, who had met continuously for nine years, worked to compile her drafts, essays and emails into a completed manuscript which was eventually synthesized into its final form by Burke’s close friend, novelist Sarah Schulman. The book’s narrative, from a liminal space between fiction and memoir, tracks her struggle to translate her working class New Jersey roots and define herself as an artist against the background of an unforgiving city, a series of disastrous girlfriends and boyfriends and an intense, intimate relationship with drugs and alcohol. By the time Burke emerged, sober, in 2001, she had witnessed — and made major contributions to — one of the most remarkable artistic transformations that New York City has ever experienced.
“Historians are only just now beginning to deal with the transformations in art and culture that the East Village experienced in the 1990s,” said publisher Tom Léger. “My Awesome Place will quickly earn a place as a seminal text from this turbulent period in American art.”
Cheryl Burke (1972 – 2011) was a journalist, poet, performer and playwright who came of age in the vibrant 1990s East Village art scene. Her performances at the Nuyorican Poets Café, Bowery Poetry Club, the National Arts Club, P.S. 122, St. Marks Poetry Project established Burke as a young luminary and during her career she performed at venues throughout the US and abroad.
Her work was published in Ping Pong, BUST, KGB Bar Lit, Go Magazine, Velvet Park and dozens of other journals and magazines, and anthologised in Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press, 2007), Reactions 5 (Pen & Inc, 2005), The Milk of Almonds: Italian-American Women Writers on Food & Culture (Feminist Press, 2002), The World in Us (St. Martins Press, 2000), Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache (Alyson Books, 2004), His Hands, His Tools, His Sex, His Dress (Haworth Press, 2001), among others.
Burke was a graduate of both New York University and The New School. She passed away at the age of 38 from complications related to treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My Awesome Place is her first book.”
Visit Topside Press.