On a cold Sunday, cocooned in my morning blanket, poet Neil Laurenson sent me a message. “Would I like to have a look at his poetry?”. I wasn’t going anywhere, so trapped in fact, I could hardly move. So I said “yep, no worries, I’ll take a look”. A few minutes later a big block of red and that iconic face flashed into view. The words Exclamation Marx! stamped hard. Dad joke or manifesto? I would soon find out. The whole thing seemed a little dated. Brexit was storming and I wasn’t really sure of what was coming my way. ‘Wait a minute?’ I thought, pausing for what seemed like an eternity. The traffic stilled, the birds ceased. It was so quiet, you could hear a pun drop. Yep, cool! I wriggle in my pillow and read on. I am a big fan of the pun, that painful past time that can turn a roomful of people into a cringing mass of spasmoids. Seems Neil can’t help himself. It is only a person of high standards, left leanings and straight out talent that can get away with it page after page. Somehow he pulls it off. Though Neil doesn’t seem to get it right with politics, with the missus, or his god for that matter, at least he can turn it his way with a few punchlines. Sometimes, just when you think he has a brilliant thought, where no turn of phrase can be tampered with, Neil just can’t help himself. Like a game of jinx, he said it last, so I am stuck here until the end. In under an hour I was lost in it, just enjoying it for no other reason than the sheer spontaneous stupidity of life. I was trapped in a room with the Trotskyites and hey nothing wrong with that. Some pieces felt throw away, best heard delivered rapid fire on an open mic, but some really had me smiling. So yes, there is a lot of comedy in this poetry, like rally’s down my local town hall in the 80’s. we are advised at the start ‘TO BE READ ALOUD’. I like that, but my inner voice can turn it on and assume the persona required. It starts with a cute play on words in an education system that is far removed from the ideologies of the left. It’s pomposity and thought process very droll. It does have a poeticism to some punchlines, I would love to have more moments, like Death In Basingstoke, “the cat watched the halo of flies above the mouse he had killed three days ago” There is of course more recent findings and I don’t mind a little blue, the jab in the ribs. My favourite being The Ringmaster’s Confession “for three and a half years I have wanted to swing from her chandeliers” ooh er missus, smirks aplenty. Lots of stabs at past and current pollies, the uncovering of Thatcher’s papers and her aversion to dildos, well hung parliaments and the rest. I like it when Neil shows his absurd side. Like in Spoke Too Soon and what happens when you swallow acorns and the tender wind in the willowesque play of Mole. Exclamation Marx! is not something that I would dip in and out of regularly, but Neil Laurenson, the poet from Worcester, definitely made the sun stream a little brighter through my blinds that day. You can connect with Neil via twitter, you can support Neil by purchasing via Silhouette Press
There is a lot of spirit in this issue. I’m sensitive to these things and this seriously vibrates with the stuff. Poetry, photography, short stories and performance, all here. I slowly peel back the clear plastic sleeve to see who’s inside. Hand Job Issue 10 gave a call out for all things a little…um, strange. An ‘Occultist Realism’ theme. You know, something Alistair Crowley could peruse while dunking biscuits in his tea. Jim Gibson and Sophie Pitchford searched far and wide on this one. No stone circle was left unturned. The tin foil hat brigade reject slips were sent out quick, leaving them with a stellar bunch of writers to accommodate the page. So, we start with Granton Leviathon. I grab my blanket and get stuck in. Like Renwick’s grandchildren, I stare up into the old man’s face and let the tale unfold. ‘Tell us of the Granton People eater’ we whisper. We are all ready for a candle-under-the-chin story, but my ears are settled on what is going on next door. Magdelena is frustrated. Promises of a new home, a new life back in her homeland once they save enough money is not coming quick enough. So she kicks her no good husband out into the cold night. A lighthouse and a six pack is his destination. Will he meet the monster himself? Of course! No one writes domestic squalor with comic accents quite like Joseph Ridgwell can. Funny, edge of your seat and nasty, his Granton Leviathon is a great start. Another component of this surprise package of a zine is the bonus poetry performance CD of artists who have been in this and past issues. Joseph turns on the mic and bursts out first with his do-it-yourself, no airs, no graces, just himself and some chintzy back up tapes. It has all the clunks and amateur fades of a bitter bingo caller. I dig it muchly. 8mm is all tequila and mucho macho, and reminds me of his brilliant novel Burrito Deluxe. He spins a few on this bonus CD, Arose From The Dead, The Kiss and Satan’s Garlanded Pimp, all with cheek, irreverence and fun. I’m excited because I have Raif Mansell in my ears at the same time reading him. I remember other poems of his when I was catching up on the evolution of Hand Job. Bang On is a lesson in synonyms and love ‘the moon was hanging with the sun in the sky‘ a touching poem of a father and daughter, and the influence from all that surrounds them. His soft delivery exactly what the title suggests. A Waiter In Kingston Upon Thames just as thoughtful and hopeful. The Holy Hydron Collider is next forming a weird synchro as I can hear the popcorn festival of Angels & Demons on the background telly as I type. So its links to the Hadron Collider and the god particle is pretty fresh in my mind. Ben Williams confirms that these scientists’ gods are in for a bollocking, theories fly by like short stories, their own gods dangling from their keyrings. Time for some photography and Hand Job‘s own Sophie Pitchford nymphs it in the buds and brambles of nibbled mushrooms and shows us some nature shots. We ask the forest for answers, we see them in the trees and soil. Onto The Shine Of John Donne where ‘everything glistened like the inside of a drunk God’s puppet-theatre’ I’m an avid follower of Miggy Angel‘s work. His poetry, photography and collaborative ventures are exceptional. This metaphysical story on the stairs glows like a dustbin fire and tears into you. No truer tale could teach as much. Besides hosting a premiere performance poetry night called Speech Therapy every month, Miggy is also editor of the wonderful ‘not for profit/for prophecy‘ Burning House Press community. It is a must to explore this supportive and encouraging project. Azeem Ali’s symbols and simulcrae have me staring for a while and ready to tackle Dead Witches and that old chestnut fear of being different. Cody Yeo brings the rituals of both parties through a tight dialogue and brings to the fore the truer evil. Ian Cusack’s The Wicker Man is as mad as putting a toad in your mouth. I love its cantakerous rant. Terence Corless never stops impressing me. So pleased to read his short story Gladys. An intriguing, mystical, sad and joyous mind bomb of a story. Bonus thrill is his aural contribution Taking It In produced by Penny Ashdown with Music by Matthies -LS. Thoughts swallowed when the sensurround kicks in. There is a cool abstraction by illustrator and collager Blair Frame, his contribution If Death Can Fly, So Can I swirls with everyone’s own meaning. Dean Lilleyman reads like a hallucination with Moon Burns The Sun. A ritualistic trance into another realm, shifting shapes raw and instinctual, in and out of his own night sweats. The poem Changeling by Michael Murray skips inside its folkloric beat ‘with crumbs for dreams and a blob of butter where my heart was’, loneliness is a strange creature. Thrilled to see a piece from Dean Cavanagh. This poem I’ve read dozens of times. Like a casino floor of Dante’s that’s been closed for renovations. The dice man’s reflection twists in a modern fury of randomness and manipulation leaving me with a beautiful fear, a calm inside an uncontrollable future. Yvette Robinson and Jennifer Skip’s photography looks like a switched on absurdist revival. Closer investigation reveals a deeper meaning on gender, body image and the media. Their photography from promotion during The Festival Of The Body held in Leeds in March stops me in my tracks. More words and Michael Murray is resurrected inside the vivid world we enter in dreams and vice versa. Onto the world of a cashless society. Paul Case’s story of Mr Fitzjohn’s frustrating transformation in The New Bank shows the futile circle we get ourselves into. The pages now thinning I see Jason Jackson’s name. His childhood once again reminisced. A haunting of Worms so perfectly recalled, where dream becomes real becomes dream, just perfect. The words keep flowing as I pop my headphones back on and get all snug inside Holly Watson’s (The Conventry Conch) The Carboot story. This has me in stitches. Later, she has Nanny Pams Jeans on. Holly sounds exactly how I read her in my mind. The sweet, straight delivery of her own prose has perfect comic timing. She just has to share more of these aurally. Holly is getting quite a fan base with everyone I share her work with. Listening to her read is just a joy. Hollow Hyms – Captain Of the Rant Vs Hair Explosion blasts nice bass beats between a spleen let loose, waxing on the homogenisation of our world, his passion wilted with frustration. The orchestration around the strong lament is enough to take this to the level of an extraordinary recording. Ian Cusack pops in between lunch and records this exclusive Universe Of Life. Having read Ian over the years, it is a delight to hear the strength and nuances on the lines he has cooked up. He is a great story teller, his no thrills intros like calling the next patient inside his surgery. Poisoned is grim, but what a story, I adore this CD so much, hands free, all ears. Dean Lilleyman’s I Get Into Town Early, is a piece from his novel Billy & The Devil. I have heard him recite many pieces before, usually uncomfortable squirmers, absolutely fantastic. His latest The Gospel According To Johnny Bender has been launched and ready to check out. Meetings And Tales by Yessica Klein and read by Anya Oderyakova flies over your mind. Words rest where they are needed. Line by line, the delivery is mesmeric. Lay on the grass, let the light in. This is a beautiful collaboration. When I first heard the collaboration of We Bleed Ink I was gobsmacked. The poetry of Miggy Angel (Words/Voice) combined with the brilliant sound sculptures of John Freer (Instruments/Production) are mesmerising. Freer’s audio poise is sublime and if they don’t release all the pieces they have in their back catalogue soon this emptiness inside me will remain forever. Their audio piece, The Saint, strolls the pavement until it has the guts to spit the truth. Finally something slips onto the ground. A folded A4, Jim Gibson residing on each side. These two pieces highlight his own skill with prose. You become the observer inside the melancholic haze of childhood, black and white moments. A great way to end this fantastic package of lit and performance that Hand Job has produced. Limited edition so get your hands on one quick. Also out RPM – A Micro Zine and Children Of Snakehill, all available here.
I’d heard of Open Pen Magazine a few years ago. A quality lit mag free to punters and available at selected shops and venues around London. I was curious. So after convincing a friend to traipse around some haunts and see what he could find, nab and send me a copy, I discovered the rumours to be true. This is high calibre short fiction in my hands. This is a publication I regularly wanted. But woe is me Downunder, not an easy ask. Though joy of joys, I discovered that Open Pen Magazine has brought together their finest pieces over five years into an anthology.
Editor Sean Preston has chosen well. This is brilliant lit with an ease you can dip in and out of. Though once you start it is hard to stop. I went the chronological route and dug into two stories by Will Ashon. You can tell Ashon has a gift of getting inside the heads of others. A perfect writers empathy, imagination, compassion and experience shows throughout these pieces. The first with D.E.A. (Minor). Travis is a music journalist. Old school, battered as a school satchel. Travis’ career is dissolving inside a changing world, his powers of press dwindling if not vanished. A case of mistaken identity and unfortunate events questions his decency after a life of extreme love and hate, lives raised or ruined in ink. Then there is Dawn Into Night. Another strangers bed, and many questions she wants herself to answer.
Interspersed throughout are some exquisite micro fiction by some exceptional micro masters. An anthology on their own, too short and too clever to describe in words less than the length of themselves. Punchy and smart lines, poetic cleansers on love, ghosts and the human condition. Lots of light hearts as well.
Peter Higgins piece Smoking In The Library had me in smiles with insights into an illustrators M.O and The Gloves. A passionate, real and confessional moment. Spotting a homeless man on his ride to work everyday, a compulsion to help has worried him. Questions arise about his reaction. His own prejudices getting in the way of this conflicted Samaritan. Darren Lee’s The Grudge Elephant is a stand out piece for me. Tense and clever psychological analogies and a surreal air make this one of my favourite short stories in this collection. Then there is Mickey Awful. Name and nature, this story plays out before your eyes. He is so horrible and likeable at the same time, an antihero for the kitchen sink set that I couldn’t take a breath from. Love In The Time Of Ketamine, mind altering as a sport, insanity borders perfectly expressed by Xanthi Barker. Dialogue that reads like an eavesdropper. This style continues into Baby Faces. This story drifts with a dreamlike melancholy, not sure if this scenario is sci-fi or timeless, a myriad of other stories spread tendrils through my mind. Ben Byrne’s beautifully written Waiting For A Hurricane & Low Tide At English Kills won’t let the truth spoil a good fantasy or fantasy spoil the truth. I adored Lazylegs. Two lives simultaneously told, it swirls in and out of itself like a string of DNA, Kate Smalley Ellis’s stories are bliss. Then there’s Ian Green’s Haar. “A sea-mist thicker than any fog that would roll in with the tide and swallow the world” A story you read by lamplight and chill, his other piece Laika with a tissue close by. Annabel and Sadie are a mother and daughter with a rather shattered relationship. Rehab and tears lead to a plan to get Annabel back into herself. Pure Fields is a beautiful dappled light of a story to get lost in and swoon. There is something I really dig about Anna Harvey’s writing. A kind of Bronte in a council flat, full of lessons and good outcomes, unlike the horror of Max Sydney Smith. Now I understand the placement of things, a good editors eyes for contrast. The Boy Who Bit His Nails more metaphor than real, is a sharp and stinging tale of nerves. Onto The Heart Of Sunday Morning a colourful thesis of drugs and love, a twilight zone of the middle classes. If, Then by Jo Gatford goes through the nuances of a relationship falling apart perfectly. Her second piece Take Off Your Shoes lures a mysterious juju and this writer definitely has me following. Nearing the end of a book that has really grabbed you from the start is always one of mixed feelings, anticipating the twists, the bang of cymbals, finishing something you want to go on forever.
What style has been chosen to finish this wonderful collection of writers. It really has been an eclectic bunch. Tadhg Muller’s In Lieu Of A Memoir is the elixir for all these writers frustrations and torment of being accepted. A perfectly structured vent of fantastical proportions. His sprinkles of OZ a secret pleasure of mine. We enter forests to seek the mystery there and James Kings’ magical story of a boy and The Giant Tree turns back time and we become immersed once again in the warmth of fable. The madness of suburbia shines in Wildlife Nuisance. Mat Woolfenden has created a character who is quite bonkers and a terror with an air rifle. Mat also has the last hurrah with The Crass Gang. You can’t beat an explosive ending and Mat comes out swingin’. I hope the phenomenon that is Open Pen continues. Spread the word, support the people who give these wonderful writers a place to share their work. Submissions to Open Pen are found here
Get your copy of Open Pen Anthology via their website.
Always find it easy to fall into James Knight’s mind, my imagination primed for his latest collection. The Bird King and I have done this dance before. Other words and worlds he has shared over the years. Good news, the Mannequins are back. A wonderful obsession shared with many. Our showroom friends with their stiff manners, perfect dark side smiles. They are the plastic bones that hold this all together. You will find them wondering around the various levels of his mind, and throughout this book. The windows they tap, tap, tap upon are merely his eyes, riding lifts, popping out at uncertain floors. It is a symbiotic relationship. One can’t exist without the other and they need him more than he realises. The Bird is no king without them. A rewriting of Carroll as Dante has Alice and the rabbit doing very strange things. This bad poets’ alternative holes are filled with an even more surreal reality, 13 of them, his only number. Dr Mort is still alive, closing in on childhood, the past dissolves with every mention. The little poems that sneak in like bookmarks are perfect. The first Patience is a whisper from the back room. Larger characters taking over their stage, like Eve. Epic as an aria “Eve spun a web from midnight, God’s words, frail, dry, got caught in it and shivered to dust” A painting, Sistine in its dream, cracks in the tempera. Objectum sexuality has piqued his feathers, his ‘amorous capriciousness reaches delirious heights‘ and a reminder to hide the furniture when he visits. My dream is to see one of The Bird King’s ‘scenes … that no no one has made‘ mirroring his 13 Deleted Scenes From A Film into a visual feast. Too long a wait, he must do it himself via words, his TV Murder Mystery a gripping story that points the finger at everyone.
This is how these stories read. A three year sojourn. Their roots dormant inside a timeline. A series of tweets sunlit to expand or grab and run with collaborators. Writers and artists like Nicky Morlock’s Transformations and the Norse inspired Nine Realms series. Susan Omand’s beautiful colour illustrations in The Mannequin and the magnificent artist Viviana Hinojosa. Theirs is a perfect match of sublime hand drawn visuals and surreal worlds for those who still believe in the magic of illustration and storytelling. Even I couldn’t resist his squawks. James’ nest is hard to resist. As soon as I saw his tweets for the Glitch Witch, my tongue was rolling all over it. James taking my recordings and passing them on to Adam Wimbush to weave into a soundscape that will manifest sometime soon.
Story after story continue. Orpheus and Eurydice and Perdita In Pieces are beautiful. I could sense big shoes coming and I was right. The existential funnymen paint a bleak picture, “For the clowns, sleep is a rehearsal for death. They keep their eyes open and dream of nothing“. Hallucinations a plenty in 13 Circles Of Hell Hidden From Dante But Revealed To The Bird King In A Series Of Hallucinations Caused By Medicine For A Urinary Tract Infection. After reading realise The Bird King seems normal to me, his state of mind one and the same, infected or not. It all makes sense if you follow the Bird King’s path. Maggots and Sea Of Knives all warm up to his Chimerical Biography, a mission statement for the gang he has created. There are new words for old mythologies, e.e. cummings in upper case and many other sacriliges. A kind of This Is Your Life, celebrating only his mind. The Bird King’s past is all there for us to squirm in and admire. The Mannequins Are More Real Than You is available to download free on Smashwords, so what’s stopping you? You can also pay for something physical via Lulu.
Most poetry books should come in waterproof editions for my preferred reading nook. So to another in the series of my ‘bubble reads’ Thomas McColl’s, Being With Me Will Help You Learn is a meaty book of observations that starts off with a mind twister. A clever play on words to warm up the room with the poem, I. This starter smirks through itself, name drops the biggies and gives us a glimpse of his style, intelligence and humour to come. Moving through this collection is a polite sarcasm. I see his streets that ride through the lines, the windows he peers in, his friends, family and dreams. I’m usually wired to enjoy poetry that lets go of its manners more. So I perk up when he delves into finding his anger, enjoying his spleen via Noise Nazi, his darker passages “screaming at the cold, cruel world that made him go insane” in Chip Shop Aquarium. Tom’s amusing imagination, feather tickles its way through the everyday, giving it a good old ponder. Work, gambling, nose picking, fame, the simplicity of watching a girl at the bus stop. This is what Thomas chats about and he has a unique perspective, that packs punch when observing socially unjust circumstances like in The Chalk Fairy. His target, homelessness and “London’s one big crime scene every single day of the year”. Self effacing, we get to hear about first times, first jobs, first lust. His thoughts on his working life is a scream, his poem Self Discovery gets my biggest giggle. Overall, an eclectic style, often tongue in cheek that connects, many moments of reflection best delivered when the microphone is turned on. There is definitely a lesson or two for all of us here. You can purchase Thomas McColl’s Being With Me Will Help You Learn through, Listen Softly London you can connect with him on twitter.
And so it continues. This is early Ridgwell. Young and traveling down under. No money, no fixed address. Grabbing work wherever he can find it. Usually reeling with boredom or tossing it in due to the unrelenting madness of those in charge. Back in the Cross, Joe resumes his bender. Debt and a run in with a mean gang of cockatoos sends him into a pit of depression and into some pretty awkward and dangerous situations. Watching short lived lives has taken its toll on his soul. Avoiding the great fall, Joe is reacquainted with England via some dodgy member of ‘The Family’ who is on his way to Sydney and into Joe’s life. An unwelcome situation of ‘minding’ until some heat blows over. With no other choice than to look after him, Joe takes us via short stories to the eerie energy and the tracks of the Megalong Valley of the Blue Mountains, the crazy world of carnies down south to Victoria and visits to all the classic dodgy clubs that the Cross and its environs has to offer. When he’s not being confronted by pissed off sugar daddys or shooting sulphur crests by the wall, luck beams down and sends him off on the next adventure. Joe is touched by the arsey fairy. Seriously, look it up if you don’t quite understand the vernacular. Maybe it’s only in his fictional life. Though it’s been a crazy stay so far. The curse of Kings Cross’s resident witch Rosalee Norton seems to have touched him at times. But just when he’s reached the depths of despair, when there seems no way out, a miracle occurs. Each story here is a holiday slide show, a montage of schemes and hangovers, an amazing race of scams, booze and surviving as a stranger in OZ. Forever dreaming because ‘Aren’t those who lose dreaming lost?’
The Cross is a three issue treat from publishing zine giant Martin Appleby. Paper And Ink Zine is his main vein, but you will also find Martin delving into the nest of contributors, like here with Joseph Ridgwell, spreading the word of great writers via a one off, or editing some of the writers that have appeared in his zine over the years. Grab yours quick as it is a limited edition. Parts One and Two available here, Part Three coming soon.
Also hot off the letterpress is Joe’s latest short story Jamaica. Three is the magic number, so yes, another trilogy, this one released by Pig Ear Press and is available now. You can’t beat gold ink on 160gsm Murano paper, silk thread endpapers from India, text digitally printed onto 120gsm ivory acid-free paper with hand-sewn binding can you?
Drool… gotta get me some of that!
It opened on the page I was supposed to see first.
The line “the white lights” from the poem First Day.
“I didn’t cry
when I was born, but
trying to take it all in“.
The first time I read this, I was in a beer garden on a hot summer’s day. The sun was bouncing off graffiti on sky blue walls. There were groups of friends and couples at the tables. No one was talking, no one was listening to each other. I was alone, but I had a book of poems. Eyes slipping into an occasional scan of the space, I could see a guy staring down into his phone oblivious to the beautiful girl opposite, staring at him, licking the salt from the rim of her Margarita and I thought even the thickness of this paper means something. I love this little book, the spacing of words, its pace and jump seems distracted by another scene to come.
The juxtaposition, the pleasure of shared experience.
She continued her small tongue flicks and sips as I dipped into haikus of urban loneliness, heartbreak, searching, nature and light. Flourishing poems of the everyday with eyes set to kaleidoscope and perfectly piercing ways of expressing how he feels. The moments when he is inside that stillness, the beauty of observance, one makes little gasping breaths.