Poetry Drawer: Definitions (On Naming Things) by Richard Helmling

That line, that grey smudge, in the sky—like a shadow of something moving out beyond the world
Was it a passing ship? A sail wide as limbo
The mind reels at the distances, knowing they can only be fiction, that only the self is real

Lost now (because a petrified forest is really just a field of rocks)
I sit down in the shadows of the palm fronds reaching over me with dagger fingers
What am I—but a sinking wetlands, methane-rich refuse rotting into usefulness?
Or really
I think I am the output of some formula—a reductive algorithm
Definitions slip through the cracks between their own words, eel-slick and mucosal
It’s June now, and this too must pass, this uncertainty
Things do, pass, always

 Richard Helmling is a teacher and writer living and working in El Paso, Texas.

Books From The Pantry: We Could Not See The Stars by Elizabeth Wong: Reviewed by Yang Ming

The tracing of one’s ancestry has gained some form of public interest in recent times. People go to great lengths to find out their ancestry by doing DNA tests such as 23nme or trawling through history records. The quest to seek out our ancestry, and even all the way back, clearly shows us our innate desire to discover our sense of belonging in human civilisation. So reading We Could Not See The Stars, (published by John Murray Press/Hachette UK), a debut novel by London based author, Elizabeth Wong, feels timely.

Set in fictitious Malaysia, the story opens with Han, a young man who goes on a fishing expedition with his supercilious and arrogant cousin, Chong Meng, in their sleepy fishing village, Kampung Seng. They seem to run out of luck under the sweltering heat as ‘the salty sea heat stuck to the pores of their skin.’ One day, Han encounters a mysterious man by the name of Mr Ng who arrives at the village, asking about his deceased mother, Swee. Why is he looking for his mother all of a sudden? The thing is, Han barely knows his mother since she died when he was five years old. Han’s grandmother describes her as one who doesn’t speak of her past, ‘as if she was not fully present in the net. As if her thread was a stray one, woven loosely with the other lines, threatening to unravel as life tugged on it.’ Mr Ng’s appearance unsettles Han. But Chong Meng is impressed by this man’s stories of his travels and the tales of his golden tower. Han’s life changes when his mother’s spade – the only thing that is left of her – goes missing. Han thinks Mr Ng has something to do with the disappearance, and sets out on a quest to retrieve his most precious possession. It is later at the Capital that Han finds out, on a faraway island, across the Peninsula, and across the sea, the forest of Suriyang is cursed.

Those who wander in and return will lose their memories. An expert in Naga Tua island, Professor Toh believes the forest is hiding something that does not wish to be discovered. Is there something sinister lurking in the forest that is causing people to lose their memories? Will Han ever find out who his mother is?

The novel is a blend of speculative fiction and human drama. It is split into 8 parts with each detailing the characters’ perspectives and their connection with the enigmatic forest of Suriyang. Wong skilfully crafts her narrative by setting up pivotal plot points in each chapter, and it grips you as the story unfolds. Right from the start, we are introduced to a host of characters – each with various motivations. The problem with writing this sort of ensemble is that writers often fail to accomplish what the characters set out to do. But in this case, Wong manages to pull all the threads together towards the end of the story as the characters’ lives collide with each other.

Wong is also a keen observer. Her on-the-ground research at a fishing village in Malaysia certainly pays off. Her lucid prose exudes authenticity and playfulness. It’s also filled with intricate details about the Hei-Sans archipelago of nine hundred islands, and the people who inhabit these islands. When Han travels on a train to Hei-Sans archipelago, she whisks us away to Western Range, a new mountain that is ‘hardened to become the spine of the Peninsula’. She further describes the structure of the mountain, ‘as the spine was being pulled apart by tectonic forces, some cracks, like the Spirited Pass, had grown until there was more crack than rock, and together they had formed a continuous, thin crack splitting the Western Range along its entire width.’ Her attention to such details stems from her training as a geologist.

Ultimately, We Could Not See The Stars is a profound meditation on continuity, identity and belonging. What happens when we do not know the people who have gone before us? What does that make us? Swee poignantly finds out:

Their full names were inscribed on the walls of the docks, a reminder of the people who had passed through the place. These were home-world names – names that existed only in song, and sung the history of their families and clans. How else would a person know their place in the broad sweep of time? If one did not have a home-world name, no one would know who they were, nor their forefathers, nor ancestral homes. A person was nothing without their home-world name, a speck written out of history.’

Despite the multiple storylines, the novel celebrates a mother’s sacrificial love and the longing to leave behind what’s important for the next generation. That’s powerful, yet at the same time, makes us question our existence in human civilisation.

We Could Not See The Stars is published by John Murray (Hachette UK). The novel is now available in major bookstores, including Waterstones, Amazon UK, Booktopia Australia and Book Depository.

Poetry Drawer: Dancing a Whirlwind: Golfo de Morrosquillo: Magdalena Sunset: Enter Iris and Luna, Stage Front: La Boca Summer Day by Lorraine Caputo

Dancing a Whirlwind

A morning shower
            barely has left a
                        print on dry earth

& now a bright breeze
            dances joropo
                        around us, around

Mónico playing mandolin
            his aged-mahogany face
                        wrinkled in a tranquil smile
Around cuatro & guitar
            caja drum & maracas

A bottle of cocuy passes ’round
            an anciana sings, her
                        cinnamon hands clapping
Women chat, adjusting costumes
            a child cries
                        & is comforted

Rosa the singer & Luis
            the spoon-player
                        begin to dance amidst us
Fine soil billows ’round
            their steps & twirls

joropo – traditional music & dance of Venezuela, originating in the llanos region
cuatro – a four-string instrument like a small guitar
caja – box
cocuy – an alcoholic brew of a cactus plant
anciana – old woman

Golfo de Morrosquillo
            (Tolú)

Full moon rises above
            tejas & thatch roofs
The gulf rolls evenly
            around the breakwaters
                        onto the grey sand
A crab flees from
            the rising tide

Families take a dip
            in the night-darkened waters
                        stroll on the seawall, the beach
Three boys play kickball
            with a plastic bottle

Along the malecón
            scented by grilled foods
                        people eat & drink
Bicycle taxis pass &
            horse-drawn carriages, the
                        clop of hooves lost to
Music blaring from
            restaurants & discos
Vendors spread their cloths
            with jewellery, incense
                        under streetlamps
Women yet corn-row
            hair with quick molasses-
                        coloured fingers
Sunglass salesmen walk
            café to bar

& the musicians still wander
            accordion ’round neck, caja
                        drum, guarachaca stick in hand

Magdalena Sunset

(Mompox, Colombia)

Waterlilies float swiftly by on the river’s current.
Bells clang for mass at Santa Bárbara church.

In front of a colonial house on the river walk
speakers blare music, Inside, amidst balloons
& streamers children sing a birthday.

Dressed in vivid paisley, shoulders stooped with
passed generations, doña Julia sits on the steps
to the río, talking to herself.

Two Scottie dogs laze in a window niche of their
ochre home trimmed melon & jade. One rests
his muzzle on the wrought-iron grill.

With a splash of water, a man jumps from the jetty.
Dulled light of almost-evening sheens on his tanned skin.

The boats have abandoned this narrow channel
of the Magdalena & this terminal stained white
concrete & brick flaking, vacant windows staring.

In the cool evening sung by gecko, toad & cricket, a boy
sends his kite aloft. Families chat outside in caned chairs,
a foursome plays Parcheesi on an iglesia patio.

The disappeared sun paints loud indigo & purple
reflecting in the swift water. Shadow-treed banks
reflecting waterlilies still floating by.

& some other church clangs its bells for mass.

Enter Iris and Luna, Stage Front

In a momento
       the town is plunged
              in inky darkness.

Scattered whistles & cheers
       echo down the streets,
              echo the groans
       of men, their TV soccer
              game disappeared
       before their eyes.

These lanes fill with
       families & couples
              who watch the

Stars emerge, now freed
       from the glare
              of streetlamps,
       sparse clouds
              brightened by the
       full moon.

A chubby-cheeked boy
       points at her,
              Look, la Luna has an Arco Iris!

Surrounding her,
       a moonbow paints
              this chill night,
       auguring rains
              to come
       before the dawn.

La Boca Summer Day

I. On the Caminito

Corrugated tin of ex-convetillos
is painted in a circus of colors.

Artisan stalls umbrellaed beneath
the clouded sun.

Tourists sip wine at café tables.

A couple is packing their jambox & CDs.
Slight wind flutters high split skirt, caresses
her legs, fishnet stockings.

II. Behind the Façade

Along the cobbled streets the tin of shacks is anemic.
Crumbled balconies, rickety steps, eaten bannisters.
Doors with missing slats open to the breeze off the
rotted Riachuelo. Glimpses of cramped rooms
beyond curtains.

Upon littered walks sit families at card tables,
bottles of beer & mates at hand.

In an empty niche of the Bombonera, a man
sleeps on a broken vinyl couch, zipper open
below his bloated paunch.
A caked glass set on a crooked table.

Across a high-weed lot, boys kick a soccer ball
& there yonder a group plays volleyball
over a frayed net.

On this humid summer day in La Boca … 

La  Boca – a working-class neighborhood of Buenos Aires; birthplace of the tango 

Caminito – “the little street,” name bestowed by a tango song; now a tourist hub, frequently portrayed in photos of Buenos Aires 

conventillos –  tenements with small, cell-like rooms in which late-19th / early-20th century immigrants lived 

mates – a mate is the container (often made from a gourd) from which yerba mate (Paraguayan tea) is sipped through a bombilla (a metal straw with a strainer) 

Bombonera – “the candy box,” the nickname of the home stadium of Bocas Juniors, the world-renowned soccer team of LaBoca 

Wandering troubadour Lorraine Caputo is a documentary poet, translator and travel writer. Her works appear in over 250 journals on six continents; and 18 collections of poetry – including On Galápagos Shores (dancing girl press, 2019) and Escape to the Sea (Origami Poems Project, 2021). She also authors travel narratives, articles and guidebooks. In March 2011, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada honored her verse. Caputo has done literary readings from Alaska to the Patagonia. She journeys through Latin America with her faithful travel companion, Rocinante (that is, her knapsack), listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth.  

Poetry Drawer: baksheesh: magic by Stephen House

baksheesh

i wait on the stairs for the police to come
they arrive and take a statement from me

they don’t seem concerned or shocked
and say there is nothing suspicious about it

it happens daily with foreigners and locals
and at this guest house all the time

and that there is a batch of gear in Delhi
from Pakistan that is extra strong and cheap

two young guys died in the tunnel before
and last night a tourist in a five star hotel

i ask them if i can leave the city now
that i was heading off when i found him

the two cops look at each other and one says
it will be easier for me if i help them out a bit

he puts out his hand and i know what for
i pay the baksheesh with a fifty dollar note

they thank me genuinely and wish me luck
i pick up my bag and walk down the hall

the guy’s body is being taken out on a stretcher
Om Namah Shivaya i say and walk away

at the train station i wonder about the guy’s life
and if anyone will tell his family he’s dead

i reflect on the two times i smoked heroin
decades ago at the same Delhi guest house

i never touched it again as its power grabbed me
and i knew continuing it was wrought with risk

magic

he smiles

i smile
float my eyes into his

he walks to my table
amongst the people and booze clutter
doesn’t say anything when he gets to me
taps my shoulder
gestures me to stand
i do

and heart banging follow him
mesmerised
into a small room off the back of the bar
where an overhead fan clicks

we don’t speak
a magic sits in the silence between us
a mouse scampers behind the sideboard
he ignores it and turns the key
locks the door
stands still looking at me
steps into me
stares into my eyes

we are joined by an unseen force

his phone gives a church bell chime
he says a few words into it
in his language
clicks it off

touches me lightly on the shoulder
unlocks the door

we go back out to the bar

crowds separate us
in a flood of bodies and voices.

Stephen House is an award winning Australian playwright, poet and actor. He’s won two Awgie Awards (Australian Writer’s Guild) , Adelaide Fringe Award, Rhonda Jancovich Poetry Award for Social Justice, Goolwa Poetry Cup, Feast Short Story Prize and more. He’s been shortlisted for Lane Cove Literary Award, Overland’s Fair Australia Fiction Prize, Patrick White Playwright and Queensland Premier Drama Awards, Greenroom best actor Award and more. He’s received Australia Council literature residencies to Ireland and Canada, and an India Asialink. His chapbook real and unreal was published by ICOE Press Australia. He is published often and performs his work widely.

Poetry Drawer: Tyre Swing Hung from Tree: Steps: What I Need: Acetylene Torch: Missive by Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Tyre Swing Hung from Tree

Not a single child about,
just this single tyre swing hung from tree,
one of those thick ropes that you only see
in school gymnasiums that burn the palms
of those forced to climb them,
and the base of the tyre overflowing
with two days of fresh rain,
a couple old gutter leaves
and the word “Bridgestone” still legible
in smudged off white lettering,
the tread worn down,
but not as much as you would think,
a littering of fresh acorns and pine needles
I smell before I ever see.

Steps

One way up and one way down,
ants in the cracks like a brazen tactile army
forever on manoeuvres, a long railing in the middle
of the steps for faltering balance, fashion before walking shoes,
and at the top some say the best views
and at the bottom no one says anything,
elbowing past one another on the way to melting
ice creams and dirty fryer grease;
more steps, but not the ones everyone came
so far to climb this time.

What I Need

What I need is nothing from you,
what I want, more of the same,
to flounce the wooden hall out of its spine-creaked incipience
would be a non-starter, the way the man with the pistol
calls all the runners back to their blocks,
numbers pasted across sinewy thighs, a crowd for cheering’s sake;
you can always tell the pleasers, the panderers,
the one-night standers –
I enjoy the quiet and for that no one is required,
only their absence and maybe mine for short stretches,
one quite noticeable, the other a stalking jaguar
through meaty rubricate mangroves.

Acetylene Torch

The oxygen is important,
your tired lungs could have told you that,
but sometimes it takes an acetylene torch behind
heavy boxcar welder face to cut through the metal-precious
way a man can climb on a city bus and think himself
Tarzan of the Apes or your never best lover;
all those sparks that burn right through the pant leg
and cause journeymen Jim to jump right out of his grunts:
runaway unibrow, steel-toed clunkers,
a few pints on the weekend…
that numb is important,
the way we chase it like a man-eating tiger
just out of stripes –
fall into beds imagining jungle-thick waterfalls
that swallow down all the screams
you never once offered.

Missive

I did not write because I felt no importance in such grand gestures
that link a chain with lengthy missive, the ink still wet and already a reply,
harebrained in both posture and sentiment;
I wished upon silent anomalies, constructed a wall of figs for seed dispersal
although I failed to ever entertain such fruitful bounties
as my sense would not allow for such churlish diversions –
have you seen the way the elderly grow crippled well before their time,
housed and snowed and pampered into the afterlife?
I am alive as this gangly spider of a soup here
brought to mild simmer,
a dash of pepper to pry the door,
balls of tissue lying around like snotty little opium
addicts weaning off the big sleep,
at least that is what the scoop of scoops is told;
that thick oily newsprint man trying to keep up with the times
which I would hardly recommend, to you or anyone else.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Setu, Impspired Magazine, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review. 

Poetry Drawer: After the mistake: The carpenter and friend: A Bricklayer Retires by Phil Wood

After the mistake

Lying under the duvet
as cosy as a dormouse,
toes snug within
the solitude house.

Silence settles slowly
along the wishing line:
forgiveness needs to be
kind, is nestled blind.

The carpenter and friend

The oldish chap naps,
a gentle snore, no more
than that; his rocking chair
the other chap made.

When the oldish chap wakes,
they play a game of chess;
idle some chat, agree
a draw. The other chap naps.

A Bricklayer Retires

This wall has legs. The coffin tread
of bricks on grass is a stubborn stain.
But walls do stumble, grass does grow.
Your smile will trouble any wall.

I hear your dancing steps across
the landing floor. I grip my wall.
The humble grass is greening doors.
Your smile will crumble any wall.

Phil Wood was born in Wales. He has worked in statistics, education, shipping, and a biscuit factory. His writing can be found in various publications, including: Fevers of the Mind, London Grip, Snakeskin Poetry, Clementine Unbound, Miller’s Pond, Allegro.

You can find more of Phil’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: Summer Cottage 2020 by Robert Demaree

Summer Cottage 2020

  1. June

Our daughter and her husband
Came up this year
To help open the cottage
And by the time we arrived
Had done things we used to do:
Got the kayaks from the guest room
Down to the dock,
Swept up the thick yellow pollen
Left on the porch
By a New Hampshire spring,
Discarded the paper and mothballs
In which the furniture had slept.

We are older than my parents were
The last time they drove north.

We will pay to get some things done—
Pine straw off the roof;
Other things—the high windows
That face the water—may not get done.
I save for myself one task—I must:
Putting up our sign
At the head of the lane, our name,
The metal loon looking down
Toward the pond.

  1. September

Our daughter came back up
To help close the cottage.
We sat down and watched her
Wash the refrigerator.

82-year-old bones ache
From cleaning, packing, lifting,
From the subtle vibrations
Of two days on the road.

We stood one cold morning
By the side of
The Third Connecticut Lake
Wondering which would be
The penultimate trip north.

Back at Golden Pines
We are trying this morning
To remember how things work,
The TV, the toaster,
Computer, coffee maker.

Robert Demaree is the author of four book-length collections of poems, including Other Ladders published in 2017 by Beech River Books. His poems have received first place in competitions sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and the Burlington Writers Club. He is a retired school administrator with ties to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Bob’s poems have appeared in over 150 periodicals including Cold Mountain Review and Louisville Review.

You can find more of Robert’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Poetry Drawer: Frog kiss, number 9: Betty’s dirty martini: The power of knitting: That super cone on the marquise: Letting go of the broom by Emalisa Rose

Frog kiss, number 9

Leaving Manhattan, we hopped
on the ‘7’ as the moon reappeared
through the autumn of branches.

Ensconced in the smoke and the
steam, your mid shelf cologne
and acoustics of wheel clanking

screeches through the twilight
of tunnels, we rode the downtown.

You got off on 3rd, leaving me hauling
this vintage of books and the harvest
of veggies we bought at that fair, plus
you took my umbrella.

Leaning in for a kiss, I brushed back
with a hand gesture, and knew the
first date, would not have a follow up.

Betty’s dirty martini

Her last months, plagued with pain,
tubes all in ties, and a myriad’s
maladies, Betty, next door, now in
hospice, whispers she’s ‘ready’.

Requesting a couple of beach days,
80 degrees, no wind, no clouds, sitting
on shoreline with a dirty martini.

“Please water the lilacs on our mutual
lawn, hon,”

“ and feed all the strays that frequent the
cul-de-sac.”

She says she will signal when she arrives
there, wherever ‘there’ is, with three
yellow leaves on my porch steps.

The power of knitting

“Knit one, pearl two,” she clicked
on the needles in repetitive rhythm
and rhapsody, making those sweaters,
afghans and baby booties.

When her hands grew arthritic and
eyes clouded over, she vowed to
to complete all her knitting, before
her condition would doom her.

You had your first child. He went
home in a blue and white cable stitch.
I watched as you wrapped him in
Grandma Kate’s blanket.

That super cone on the marquise

Pop says it’s the last time. It’s a three
hour drive and they don’t need the
aggravation. Mom says to ignore
Uncle Bob; she visits to see Aunt Lenora.

They’re fighting up front, while me
and the skinny sis are ignoring each
other, with not much in common, ’til
the big wheels roll by and we make

silly faces at them, unbeknown to her
in a couple of years, we’ll we winking
instead.

Dad pulls in for custard; a big super cone
on the marquise, shouting in silver
fluorescence.

Back in the car, the sis and I snicker,
knowing too well, we’ll all be right back
here again, in four or five Saturdays.

Letting go of the broom

It’s the third time it happened.

I spilled orange juice on her
cherrywood floor, and she said
not a word.

No sponge, no frenzied mop,
no berating me to be careful.

Before that, I left fingerprints
on her grandmother’s mirror.

I looked at my mom; she’s missing
some beats, for the last month or so.

Six months before, she’s be on her
knees, on the floor, scrubbing it silly
with her tonic of brillo, bonami and
bleach.

As it starts to sink in; she’s moving
away from herself, as the years stop
defying and become the conventional.

And maybe she is, but I’m not quite
ready, to let go of that image of her
and her pail full of prowess.

When not writing poetry, Emalisa Rose enjoys crafting and drawing. She volunteers in animal rescue, and tends to a cat colony in the neighborhood. She lives by a beach town, which provides much of the inspiration for her art. Some of her poems have appeared in Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Spillwords, Origami Poem Project, and other special places. Her latest collection is On the whims of the crosscurrents, published by Red Wolf Editions.

Inky Interview: Poet Thomas McColl with Claire Faulkner: Review of Grenade Genie with Kev Milsom

Can you tell us about your collection, Grenade Genie?

Grenade Genie, published by Fly on the Wall Press, is very much a book for people who want to read poetry that engages with, and says something about, the world in which we live. The book is split into four sections: ‘Cursed’, ‘Coerced’, ‘Combative’, and ‘Corrupted’, and within those four sections are poems which are all very much rooted in real-life, albeit with often fantastical elements. Inside these pages you’ll find, for instance, two-headed doctors, fashion-victim gorgons, a literal library, commas that kill, a little-known terrorist group called The Pedestrian Liberation Organisation, and grenade-encased genius.

It’s a book that has a lot of variety in terms of subject matter, but with one main theme that runs through the whole of the book – namely that, ultimately, everyone and everything is expendable, and while this knowledge can generate either a sense of hopelessness or the nothing-to-lose strength to rail against it, one strength of poetry is that, even if only the former gets expressed, the latter is automatically achieved, and in a very concise way too, making it all the more effective, and the main reason really why I’ve chosen this form to write in.

I enjoyed reading many poems in the collection, I found ‘Security Pass’ and ‘Jackpot’ particularly relatable. Do you have a favourite poem in the collection?

Thank you. I’d say the title poem, ‘Grenade Genie’, is currently my favourite. It’s about someone possessing genius and wanting to use it to change the world but, finding that it’s encased in a live grenade and requiring the spark, has little choice but to pull the pin in order to release the genie inside that will grant his wish, except that, of course, the explosion kills him, and his atoms (which form into lesser versions of himself) then proceed to get all of the credit instead of him. However, by pulling the pin, this person wipes out the establishment that was blocking all progress – an establishment of atoms from a previous explosion – and so it goes on (as it always has and always will).

‘The Phoney War’ was another poem which stayed with me after I’d read it. Can you share where the inspiration for this poem came from?

Thank you again, not least because the ‘The Phoney War’ is another personal favourite of mine in this collection. It’s ostensibly a simple poem about two young children – two brothers – in the 1970s, in their living room, playing at being World War Two Tommies fighting the Jerries, but it’s the ending that gives the poem its resonance, and it took a long time, and many drafts, for me to get that ending right.

I seem to have managed it, though, as various reviews of the book have described the poem’s ending as ‘devastating’ and ‘heart-wrenching’, which was very much the effect I wanted to achieve, especially as it’s based on a true event, so the ending isn’t just a device, it’s something real, something that was really felt by the person who was affected, the grandmother there at the kitchen stove who, unlike the boys (with their ‘umbrellas for rifles’, ‘smoking pencils, feeling tough’), had actually lived through the war and experienced, first hand, how terrible it was.

Whenever I’m introducing this poem at events, I say it’s a ‘poem about childhood, and play, and when reality intrudes on play’. And though the poem represents me as a child, it also represents me now, as a middle-aged adult who’s come to understand, much more, the significance of how harmless fun for me in the past wasn’t always such harmless fun for others.

Do you have a set writing routine? How long does it take you to write a poem?

I don’t have a set writing routine as such – it’s simply writing as and when I can – but I’ll seize any opportunity there is, and always find some way of making time for it, for all I know is, if too much time goes by without me being able to get my fix in some kind of way, I’ll soon become quite grouchy.

As for writing an actual poem, the length of time it can take has, in the past, ranged anywhere from a day to upwards of 25 years! But that’s the thing, while the writing of an actual poem can be quick, the editing of it (and then re-editing of it over, over and over again) can end up taking almost forever. For instance, a poem that’s in the book, called ‘Statement by the Pedestrian Liberation Organisation’, was first published on the letters page of the Islington Gazette in December 1994 as a very short 8-line poem; then, in July 1996, it was published as a 17-line poem in DirectAxiom, an anthology put out by the direct-action pedestrian rights group, Reclaim the Streets; then, by the time it was used for a film-poem I did in March 2010, it’d expanded into a 45-line poem; then, finally, in November 2017, it was published as a radically altered 54-line poem in the online magazine, ‘i am not a silent poet’ (which, apart from a few further tweaks, is the version which appears in the book).

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve taken to reading writers’ biographies lately, and at the moment I’m reading Jubilee Hitchhiker – the life and times of Richard Brautigan, by William Hjortsberg. I discovered Brautigan’s writing relatively recently, starting with one of his novels, Sombrero Fallout. I’d been thinking, for quite a while, that I needed to try some Brautigan, and one day when I was in the Waterloo station branch of Foyles, I decided to do just that, and picking Sombrero Fallout from the three or four books of Brautigan’s there on the shelf, I read the foreword by Jarvis Cocker that really sold it to me, and I’m glad he did as, on buying the book and reading it, I found it really was every bit as good as billed – quirky and wise, instant and profound, and about nothing and everything, all at the same time.

Do you have any books or poems you’d like to recommend to us?

The last books I read are all ones I’m able to recommend – all pamphlets, as it happens: Rodney Wood’s When Listening Isn’t Enough, Julie Stevens’ Quicksand, and Damien Donnelly’s Eat the Storms, all quite different from each other, but all three of them quality reads. I also recently read a pre-publication version of Darren J Beaney’s The Machinery of Life, and it’s now been published, complete with my written endorsement, so it’s already very much on record that I’m recommending that one!

Has the pandemic / being in lockdown impacted on your creative process at all?

It hasn’t in terms of actual writing, but it has in terms of me being able to promote my work, and I felt the impact keenly right from the off, with Grenade Genie being published pretty much just as lockdown began, in April 2020. I’d been all set to go on what would have been my first ever proper tour, having organised feature slots at various live events and festivals in London and further afield – including a 60-minute solo show at the Leamington Poetry Festival in July, and shorter headlining slots in Coventry, Birmingham, Rochester and Saltburn – but then, just as pre-orders for the book began to be taken, the first lockdown began, and slowly but surely all the dates I’d organised got cancelled.

However, I was immediately positioned to get straight into the swing of the ‘new normal’, for the organisers of Winchester Fest, who’d booked me for a live in-person event to be held on 18th April, the day after my book was published, decided to go ahead anyway with the event, but online, and so facilitated the launch of my book via Zoom with a 60-minute feature – and, with events now only able to go ahead if they went online, opportunities began to arise which otherwise wouldn’t have happened. For instance, I ended up being a featured poet in the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, based in Virginia, USA, a festival which I’d normally have had to travel to in order to participate but now could be a part of from the comfort of my home in London. And new opportunities arose regarding radio as well: Shows which, previously, I’d have had to travel to in order to talk in the studio, I was able, now, to be a part of without leaving London and, in this way, I ended up being on Rick Sander’s ‘Brum Radio Poets’ show on Brum Radio, and also on Hannah Kate’s ‘On the Bookshelf’ show on North Manchester FM, and I managed too to get poems from the book featured on BBC Radio Kent and BBC Radio West Midlands. So, while there have undoubtedly been some disastrous elements to lockdown, I’ve found, too, that it’s been, to some degree, a case of ‘what one hand taketh away the other giveth’.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you share details of any other projects you’re working on?

I’ve written both a novel and novella, and while neither of these manuscripts have found publishers yet, extracts from them have been published as standalone stories in magazines such as The Ghastling, Sick Lit and Here Comes Everyone. Other short stories of mine have been published in magazines such as Bare Fiction, Smoke: A London Peculiar and Fictive Dream, and some of these short stories, collected into a manuscript, were longlisted in the Mslexia First Drafts Competition in 2017.

Your writing encompasses many different themes. How do you decide whether to develop an idea into poetry or fiction?

Well, I’ve always written prose in tandem with poetry, and while it might be my downfall that I’ve never solely concentrated on one form or the other, one good thing is that there’s been much cross-pollination, with poems morphing into both flash fiction pieces and short stories, and vice versa. For instance, the first poem in the ‘Combative’ section of my book, entitled ‘Shopping with Perseus’, started out as a piece of prose, a 721-word story that was first published in the urban feminist literary magazine, Geeked; then, after being edited down to 500 words, it won first prize in the Third Annual Stories of SW1 Writing Competition; then, finally, after being edited a little more, was changed into being the poem that’s in the book.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Not really – as I think a lot of things were covered there in the above questions – except to say that my book, Grenade Genie, is available from my publisher, Fly on the Wall Press (and direct from me if you’d like a signed copy). Cheers!

Review of Grenade Genie by Kev Milsom

It’s always great to have an interesting quote at the beginning of any book review; something that gives a teasing indication of what is to come, like an intriguing starter on the menu of a new restaurant, yet to be explored.

In this case, the quote is indeed intriguing and succeeds in pulling us in for further exploration: ‘25 brief studies of the cursed, coerced, combative and corrupted’. 

Thomas McColl has completed a collection of poetry, published by Fly On The Wall Press, who are certainly not unknown to us here at Ink Pantry, as we have also interviewed Isabelle Kenyon, Elizabeth Horan and Colin Dardis from the same publishers. 

Thomas has a fine pedigree in writing, collaborating with Confluence Magazine, The High Window, Never Imitate, and Write Out Loud. He has also performed poems from the book on BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio WM, Brum Radio and London Soho Radio.

So, let’s peek into Grenade Genie and see what lurks within. We start with the ‘Cursed’ section, which contains seven poems. The first of these is ‘No Longer Quite So Sure’. This poem is very strong on visual imagery and it’s easy for the reader to sit back and relax into the words being relayed to the mind. Alongside the creative, descriptive vocabulary, here’s a message here; namely one of social observation and relevance. Metaphors fly around and each of them is related in a way that the reader can quickly interpret and identify with. In this way, a simple bus ride is cleverly morphed into likening buses to bison and citizens become grass. 

‘The council is yet to cut back
the branches of the trees on Newman Road,
which means that, halfway through
my journey to work on the bus –
and always just as I fall asleep
in my usual seat on the upper deck,
with my hooded head at rest against the glass –’

Strong, underlying messages within Thomas’s words continue with ‘The Evil Eye’, a poem about damaging addictions to technology and different forms of online manipulation.

You’ve allowed yourself to get caught in a cobweb
spun by a social spider that sucks you dry of information,
then leaves your hollowed-out exoskeletal frame
to rot on its website.’

Thomas uses the opening ‘Cursed’ section of the book to comment upon such powerful subjects as refugees, government cover ups and more.

Keen to explore what lay within the second ‘Coerced’ section, I read ‘Security Pass’, a highly personal exploration of how our identities become less personal and individualistic within a large company, or business – perhaps the author relating to his current job within the House of Commons, or perhaps his former career within a famous, High Street bank. 

‘I’ve just been made permanent –
yet already I know I’m completely expendable’.

The writing style which Thomas employs is very effective. You can ‘hear’ his voice within the poems and it’s clear that his passion for social commentary is expressed very well. While the topics are clearly very personal, the expression of his thoughts are relayed in a way that the reader can easily relate to. Thus, we share Thomas’s journey, rather than be admonished, or feel threatened, by it.

Fine, flowing examples of Thomas’s social commentary occur throughout this poetry collection and, I found that at every turn, I was intrigued by what he had to say – again, largely down to the way in which he writes and how he expresses his personal thoughts and observations so well.

In ‘Jackpot’, Thomas asks us to join him on the platform at London’s busy Oxford Circus underground station, likening the rush to get on a train to being in some form of human lottery.

‘Here I am at Oxford Circus station once again,
allowing myself to be part of the human jackpot
that’s released each time a train pulls in.
I don’t know if anyone else ever thinks this,
but whenever I’m on a train that’s entering this station
and I’m watching the branded posters on the platform wall
whiz past my carriage window,
I’m reminded of playing a slot machine.
OK, this one has a single horizontal spinning drum instead of the usual vertical three –
but it’s not like the odds are stacked
any more in my favour.’

We’re even welcomed into joining Thomas, back in the heady days of the late 1980s as he goes out on the town in Birmingham in his twenties. It’s clear he hates his bank job and wants some release from the pressures of working life (who hasn’t been precisely there?) that he describes so eloquently (and realistically) in his poem, ‘Nightclubbing In Brum, 1988’.

‘I look a right sight
as I’m travelling into Brum on a Saturday night.
It’s hard enough making the grade
when still a hapless teen at the tail end of Thatcher’s decade,
and though one plus
about these times is that I’m able, still, to smoke a fag
while swigging a can of beer
on the top deck of the bus…’

‘Last week, I tore my trousers and lost a button,
and being as I work for Lloyds Bank in Sutton
(high standards in that posh part of town),
I don’t want yet another dressing down,
for it’s 1988,
and though everyone says how much they hate
being made to wear a suit
(that’s more often than not a Mr Byrite one to boot),
I at least get value out of mine,
but some consolation! – Roll on 1989’…

In short, Grenade Genie is a fine collection of stylised, creative poetry, expressed in literary terms that anyone can understand. Highly recommended.

Books From The Pantry: Bleb by Sanjeev Sethi

Congratulations to Sanjeev Sethi. His new collection of ‘wee poetry’, Bleb, has been published by Hybriddreich from Scotland. Here is a glimpse into his new work..

Memento Mori

Campestral locales furnish
the song and dance routine
with a context. Ill-lighted
rooms caution me of you.
When their consciousness
darkles, I am snug as a bug.
Why does sadness complect
my cheeriness? Is alertness
a curse?

Imponderables

The happy wear no brassard, nor those
with the black dog baying at them. In-
ternalized emotions blaze inexperienced
deliveries. During the phase, it’s advisable
to be wary of moonshine. It hikes the fit.
Falsity obscured in papyrus will singe in
its conflagration. Every deletion has its
erasure dust. Weightlessness is illusory:
guilt is the grief.