Kirsten Irving was born in Lincolnshire, lives and works in London and is one half of the team behind cult handmade magazine Fuselit and collaborative poetry press Sidekick Books. She won the Live Canon International Prize in 2011. In 2010 she co-authored the concept pamphlet No, Robot, No! and her pamphlet, What To Do, was released in 2011 by Happenstance.
“Don’t go over the hill, or look too long into the well, or go carousing with strangers, or you’ll never never never come back. With the haunting quality of nursery rhymes but the complexity of a dark and smoky wine, these poems brood on absence and abandonment, outcasts and anomalies, monstrosity and mistakes.
At the heart of the collection are a suite of tightly focused, often impressionistic character studies ranging from cannibals to schoolgirls, but Irving also finds space in the shadows for desperate love songs to pilots and robots, satiric odes to tyrants and deft engagements with popular and literary culture. Whether turning the features of a pinball table into an emotional debris field or recounting unnerving sexual encounters, these are rich and rangy poems of a defiantly unusual character that linger in the mind as much for their controlled dissoncances as their uncompromising subject matter.”
“Irving takes the familiar and introduces a rogue transformative element. These poems look you in the eye and won’t look away before you do.”
– Chris Emslie, Sabotage
“Lean, needle-sharp, questing, intelligent and tuned to human vulnerability. She can strip sexual longing down to its exposed nerves.”
– D.A. Prince, Sphinx
“She takes a surreal situation and uses it as a vehicle for exploring the ’embarrassment’ of adolescence and difference.”
– Hypocrite Lecteur
Sometimes you won’t see him for months
and then a two day booking. He is either
shy, famous or masking an affair,
because the register is a devil’s own mess:
Spearman, Bear, Boomer
Frenzy, Hang-Jaw, Blusterer
Snatch, Horse-Wolf, Dangler
Eagle-Head, Truth, Shield Shaker
Some visits he strides into the lobby
full of piss and vinegar, yodelling.
Then there’s his spy mood:
quieter, eyes bright, nose in a paper.
On occasion he sends his secretary
to bagsy the room in his absence.
There are days when he turns up
soaked in sea water, incoherent.
You smell girl or dog. You think
he is ill, or that the eyepatch
is medical. On his next arrival
he whips it off as shed costume.
He laughs off the ruffled hair,
the occasional mark on his tie,
the torn, dragged fur coat that follows him
up the paisley stairs.
Hurt, the chef asks why he never eats in.
You say it doesn’t matter; he pays
enough that he can eat the rose bushes
should he wish to.
He blinks at each new Saturday girl
like a robin at a strawberry.
Later that evening, he’ll slump in
worse than drunk, limping,
demanding the master key
through a fat lip, in the greyscale voice
he’d use to announce his betrothal
or a snake tensing in his shoe.
He says he hires or bought the gear;
the rest is a question of keeping
his mobile switched on for bookings,
working jacks and a sense of humour.
Don’t believe him.
He has spent his strong-kneed years
watching the mist clear
with his teacher, stroking wet ears
at the base of a mountain
called Sir Mountain. Knotted
at the ankle in damson gi,
he sat out two, maybe three
of those years in the company
of one man. Year Four, he carted
a black baton across the Himalayas.
The ebony could not stray more
than two inches from his lips; nor
could the screeching bird, whose claws
tore his shoulder, be spared.
The initial tests: the vine tied
to the mock-mic, that must remain
unkinked at all times; days of rain
and the shifting of moraine;
the smile that must reside
in state, on the external wall
of a scream-Bastille, despite
banshees and the half-light
obscuring track numbers. The kite,
says Inoue-sensei, is small
by the standards of a tiger,
but the end-of-worlds test
to an unlucky worm. Just
as the holder of lists
can be the slave or the master,
and the torturer,
whose howls knife
your ear, may be dying himself
or struggling to life,
like a fly after winter.
To a Thin Man
Tonight the stars are pumpkin hearts for you, Jack,
a zillion chipper candles for your cause, Jack.
Which ghoul are you tonight? The merry scarecrow,
parading into town to fierce applause, Jack?
Perhaps the headless Hessian, your skull
tossed gaily from atop your bone-sewn horse, Jack?
Those knitting needle limbs, your tailoring
the work of imp or jinkininki claws, Jack,
you spider through my nights. I wake at dawn
and pull myself together for my chores, Jack,
but fall into the gully of your grin,
so easily. The jolts the mind endures, Jack,
beat any voltage, any cut-and-shut
remodelling and any phantom force, Jack.
Love must not come from hearts, for, stitched up tight,
my chest holds nothing but a nest of gorse, Jack,
and, teal and bloodless as I am, I know
you’re a humbug-suited humbug, and I’m yours, Jack.
To a Crashed Pilot
It’s dark and you cannot patch up the wing
that way. Don’t take off in this piss-abysmal light
or else you will come down a fifteenth time
and I can’t keep on fixing you this way
when I know, biting my fist, that the light
will find you chalked-out for the fifteenth time.
It’s a knock-out age. I was fifteen
when you told me you’d show me the light
and fifteen when you fell the first time.
Undaunted, you lick tape around your goggles.
The engine lies and lies that it’ll make you light
like dust. You’ve fifteen millet seeds of time
before the moon appears to laugh at you again.
She waits until you’ve given up on light
and taken off, then springs. You’ve cried out fifteen times
that she is a monster. So why do you chase her?
Grass does not bother growing in this spot. There’s light
but little hope that you’ll not fall a fifteenth time.
“I got it! The variables were off – it’s so simple!”
you cry. I turn on my flash light
and hunt bandages for the fifteenth time
then leave them on the rough spot of the lawn,
saying, “I almost wish you’d die.” He makes light
of it. “Fifteen? Surely not. Well this time, this time.”
Tonight I’ll make no supper for you to throw
back up from your bloodied heap. There’s a light
dancing by the gate. I’m fifteen again. It’s time.
Straight to you
Winter is always Nick Cave
baying that he’ll come running.
So what now for the skaters?
Bent and brittle as cold wax,
splayed in low-scoring positions
on the ice. A crooked ankle here,
a dislocated shoulder,
fluttering from their wounds.
Winterbucks will see no more revenue,
no more couples gawky with nerves,
clinging to the side, or to hips.
The daffodil tape yarned round the rink
does not flutter.
Backup and the splatter team are foxed,
and have crunched off to get cocoa
and talk picks and drills.
The crowd is dense and fierce.
The kids can’t stop staring,
as if someone might pick up the strings
any second, dance the sequinned bodies
back to life. Maybe force out
a jerky triple salchow, their blades
carving white trails
across the moth of blood.
Nick Cave, I see your scarp forehead dip,
your chickenbone finger
tap the contract.
The policy only covers
and colliding chariots.
Hang it, come running anyway.
Damn you, yes. Through the streets
in your liquorice suit
like a howling tar baby
and find the man brushing glitter
from his red right hand.
from Never Never Never Come Back (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Order Never Never Never Come Back.
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