Our featured publication for October is How to Grow Matches by S.A. Leavesley, published by Against the Grain Poetry Press.
‘Uncomfortable, powerful, and compelling, these poems demand to be read. And to read
them is to ride a discomfiting turbulent current expressed in images of clocks with disparate rhythms, clouds that dissolve into “dark angels of rain”, piles of spent matches that might make a bonfire. And burning is what these poems do: searing through skilfully controlled anger at the invisibility of women, their lack of a powerful role model to follow, they are ready to burst into flame, urging women to “reclaim their share”.’ Gill McEvoy
‘What immediately strikes me in Leavesley’s poetry is that sense of being spoken to directly, forcefully. The anger – at impossible advice, at the hidden and neglected work, at mere survival against the odds – is always balanced with craft and an impeccable sense of timing, and a vision which ranges from the orchestra pit to the research laboratory, via geopolitics, extinction and the recurring nested image of the matryoshka doll. An essential pamphlet.’ Luke Kennard
How to grow matches
Take the long matchsticks:
those like pink-tipped bulrushes,
those Gretel’s step-mum
might strike to light her oven.
Snap one – like a sharp blow
sideways behind a man’s knees.
Then another and another
for each jibe or slight.
Note how easily the wood splits
after years of hidden anger.
A felled forest at your feet,
and still the pile grows!
Lay the toppled pieces
against each other’s thinness,
rested on crumpled paper.
Now you have a bonfire.
Don’t think of Moses,
not Guy Fawkes or Jeanne d’Arc,
but of waking every day
to stroke your curves
into those clothes,
hip-sways and lip expressions
condoned for your office
as a woman.
And his open mouth is an olive grove
Imagine a green slope,
the neat rows of trees.
Sun pools in your eyes
and laps the hollows
of your upturned face.
Of course there are shadows:
a semaphore of leaves
tattoos the earth’s skin
as your passing bodies
sketch their form against grass.
Everything is a dance:
birds, flies, the cicadas’
Words are many, as many
as the grove’s virgin olives.
Take one softly in your mouth,
let teeth close on flesh
as if trapping the wafer trace
of a butterfly wing.
Hold it gently, gently
bite harder. Enjoy your tongue’s
flutter and tingle
until you hit stone resistance.
Stop dead, suck each word clean,
then spit out the pit.
Forget beef, forget chicken
On the day you decide, you open
the fridge and notice how his choices
have overpowered your tastes.
You take out the eggs.
Each shell cracked now
is a spillage whisked to lightness.
One finely sliced onion. The tip
of your knife presses down on a pepper:
the red curves of clean cuts.
Throw this in the pan’s sizzle.
Let pale cubes of potato fry
in these fiery Spanish juices.
Watch heat lick this to a moon
as big as your plate, thicker
than your paper tongue, softer
than his steak, and speckled
with spice. Reclaim your share.
Eat only as much as you like.
Wear the pose as if born with it.
Don’t curve a smile beyond 45 degrees
for fear you’ll appear too keen.
Selfies are allowed on social media,
but spontaneity must be planned:
angle and light fixed for that natural look –
as if glancing up from a book in hand,
or somehow portraying that you have a life
outside your own pages.
Do not blink, twitch or admit
to an un-identical twin beyond this image
who can’t control their own ageing.
Do you see now, Dorian?
Look, here’s where we’ll start,
just as I did with Becky Sharp.
Tilt your face to one side,
then shoot from above
to minimise shadows and chins.
Don’t be downcast if it’s tiring.
Youth is a hard art to master
at the time, now past.
Above all, practise your nonchalance.
I taught Narcissus well
but he still changes his profile pic daily.
Previous publication credits for these poems are Magma, Synaesthesia, The Chronicles of Eve Anthology (Paper Swans Press), respectively.
S. A. Leavesley is a poet, fiction writer, journalist and editor, fitting words around life and life around words. Overton Poetry Prize winner 2015, she is author of four poetry collections, two pamphlets, a touring poetry-play and two novellas. Her poetry has been published by the Financial Times, the Guardian, The Forward Book of Poetry 2016, on Worcestershire buses and in the Blackpool Illuminations. She runs V. Press poetry and flash fiction imprint.
How to Grow Matches is available to purchase from the Against the Grain Poetry Press website.